Some lasting impressions

8 Apr

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, stumping for Vaughan MP Julian Fantino, dropped in on the Joe and Mary Padone household in Woodbridge on Thursday.

That’s what this election campaign was missing: a good media scrum.

The campaign cycle leading up to the May 2 federal election has only a little better than three weeks to go, but the faceoff between Conservative incumbent Julian Fantino and Liberal challenger Mario Ferri in Vaughan hasn’t seen a lot of firepower. The promised explosion from Tony Genco’s breathtaking defection to Fantino’s camp hasn’t really panned out, the NDP has been silent and the showing by the Greens (they with the multi-purpose Norbert signs) has been as yet a circus. The leading candidates have both had occasion to publicly state their positions, but there hadn’t been any events.

Enter Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who knows how to stage an event.

When the Conservative re-election buses rolled into town on Thursday, the whole affair — from Fantino’s re-election effort in Vaughan to Harper’s national agenda — took on an air of importance, and the election seemed to be about something after all.

I was part of the media scrum that descended with the Harper-Fantino entourage on the Padone family residence on Embassy Drive in Woodbridge. While a few brief sentences can do no more to describe the scope of the event than they could to capture the entirety of the Conservative platform as outlined by Harper and Fantino in the Padones’ backyard, I do believe two impressions I came away with pretty well put into perspective the essence of this election.

First, the entire event was a picture of efficiency. For all the negative press Harper gets for his tendency to control his environment, I was impressed with the choreography (not to mention the courtesy and good humour of his people) in moving a lot of people and equipment in and out of the staging area inside a very tight window of opportunity. And watching the prime minister, himself well-choreographed and prepared, I was struck by this thought: Harper’s brought his A game. He’s in it to win it!

The other thing of note was a remark by Fantino. Yes, he mentioned “coalition” probably as many times as Harper did in referring to the opposition parties — without ever feeling moved to define the transgression — but a remark he made about the spirit with which members of the Bloc Québécois occupy the House of Commons was sobering: Bloc members won’t even come into the House in the morning, he said, to sing the national anthem with the rest of Canada’s MPs; they wait until the anthem is done, and then file in.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff will be in Vaughan to stump with Ferri on Saturday. I haven’t had occasion to be part of an Ignatieff event so far in this election cycle, so I have not yet formed an opinion. I will say this: Harper is going to be a tough act to follow.

For his own sake, if not for yours, Ferri needs to have Ignatieff draw a do-not-cross line between himself and the Bloc when he is here on Saturday. Coalitions by definition are not contrary to the spirit of parliamentary democracy, so the “coalition” idea the Conservatives use as a wrecking ball may not be fairly used against either Ferri or Ignatieff, for all I know. But coalitions forged such that a party which makes a point of not pledging allegiance to the country gets a hand in its governance should be a concept that disgusts any potential prime minister.

Dan Hoddinott

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