ELECTION CHATTER (Day 1): Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie somehow works groundhogs into his election blog series
People & Places

ELECTION CHATTER (Day 1): Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie somehow works groundhogs into his election blog series

DAY 1: Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie launches his election campaign blog by pondering insanity, groundhogs, and other uncertainties on the campaign trail.

Back in the early 1970s, psychiatrists at what was then called the Ontario Hospital for the Criminally Insane came up with a great idea to cure psychopaths and serial killers. They would crowd them into a small room, prevent them from leaving, and force them to learn co-operation and empathy. For 100 days, they would be cut off from visitors, mail, radio, TV, newspapers. They were not allowed to smoke cigarettes. The lack of physical space was supposed cause them to make small concessions to each other. They would learn empathy. But the Hundred Day Hate-In was a failure. Rather than communicate with each other and change their ways, the inmates spent their time in isolation looking out the window, watching groundhogs frolic in the green fields of Penetanguishene.

Imagine being locked for 37 days in a steel tube with Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff, or Jack Layton, plus their handlers and a bunch of reporters. Certainly, there’s a psychiatry thesis in there somewhere. It may not be 100 days, but the potential for crazy-making must be about the same. And, as most of us know, there are no groundhogs at 40,000 feet.

That’s why anything can happen in a campaign. Canadians always say they don’t want an election. Unfortunately, we cannot export our ballots to Egyptians and Yemenis, who have faced tanks to win the right to vote. Nor, yet, have we outsourced our politics to Calcutta or Xinjiang. So we are stuck with elections and the strangeness they create. Serious issues will be reduced to slogans. The workings of a $250-billion-a-year government will be explained in platitudes. Strangers will come to your door. People in very expensive suits will say how worried they are about your job.

None of them will take your kid to the dentist, although Jack Layton would probably do it if his hip didn’t hurt so much. As for your laundry, you’d probably have to explain the workings of the machine to Michael Ignatieff. You could count on Stephen Harper to feed your cat, when he’s in town. The guy loading your garden shed onto a flatbed truck with Quebec plates is Gilles Duceppe.

But to get an honest answer about how the books will be balanced without big hits to the Ottawa Magazine readership, about Canada’s ongoing military adventures abroad, the real cost of new fighters, about real reforms to make government open and democratic, would take more than a Hundred Day Hate-In, let alone just 37 days of entrapment in buses and planes.

There are lots of uncertainties. Will Demerol make Jack Layton an interesting speaker? Will Michael Ignatieff be caught wandering the darkened streets of Whitby seeking a meal of human blood? Will Stephen Harper’s hair be caught in the wind, hurling it into flesh of a fresh young Tory campaign worker, a member of the rally prop guild? Will Gilles Duceppe’s addiction to crumpets, marmalade and boiled sausage be exposed? Or will someone find a secret PCB dump behind Elizabeth May’s house?

As certain as Peter Mansbridge’s head will shine tomorrow morning, something unexpected will happen in this campaign.

After the Hundred Day Hate-In, one murderer said “I’ll shine people’s shoes, but I can’t love them.” Politicians may feel the same way about us. And, in their efforts to shower us with money, flowers, compliments – anything but real love – we should find some reason to either dance with the one that brung us, or seek out some new action with the strange dude with a coffin in the basement.