Torontoist Environment Editor Chris Tindal is currently engaged in a federal by-election campaign. This weekly column is an attempt to offer a behind the scenes glimpse into what it’s like to be that mysterious Other: a politician.
As you read this I’m somewhere in the Centre Block of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, likely between the House of Commons visitors’ gallery where I will have just finished watching question period and the Railroad Room where I’ll be absorbing the budget speech and offering my reaction on behalf of the federal Green Party. While most people are obviously examining today’s events through the lens of its national significance, it also has very local significance for me. If enough opposition parties decide to vote against this budget, then the by-election campaign I’m currently engaged in will come to an abrupt end within the week, to be replaced with a general one. It’s a big day.
Meanwhile, the campaign continues back home. One of the things I always wondered before becoming a candidate was how the candidates relate to each other on a personal level during the campaign. Do they talk to each other at all? Are they candid or guarded? Do they get along on a personal level? The answer varies dramatically depending on the personalities involved. Here’s a brief snapshot.
Ever since Mark Warner was fired as my Conservative opponent for being too focused on progressive and urban issues (and not focused enough on the national “cookie cutter” campaign), we’ve met to chat over some pints every few weeks at a politically-active pub on Parliament street. It’s an interesting relationship. When Mark was still the candidate, we traded barbs with some frequency and generally treated each other as sworn opponents. We even had a few debates via email, even though no one else was able to observe them (at least, I wasn’t BCCing anyone). As soon as he was no longer the candidate, however, our conversations suddenly transformed and now resemble more closely those of old friends than political adversaries. (My understanding is that Mark has had similarly friendly conversations with Bob Rae and El-Farouk Khaki.) A few nights ago Mark apparently felt guilty for keeping me out so late and away from my fiancée Claire, so he bought a rose for me to give her as an apology. Half a year ago, neither one of us would have seen that coming.
Over the past year, of all my opponents, I’ve gotten along with El-Farouk Khaki the best. He has been the most genuine and friendly. We’ve made it clear to each other that we don’t have any particular desire to specifically go after each other’s support base or attack each other’s campaigns. Our sights have been set higher than that. Unfortunately (and, perhaps, inevitably), that appears to have started to change. Right before our first candidates debate a week ago, El-Farouk, Liz White (the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party candidate) and I were having a discussion about El-Farouk’s many large metal rings. I made some (admittedly awkward and not very funny) joke about how they must come in handy when he gets into fights. El-Farouk looked genuinely offended that I’d even joke about him getting into a fist fight. Then, when he made his opening statement, he begun by recounting our conversation to the whole room, except the words he attributed to me were much more violent than the ones I’d actually used (he quoted me as saying the rings were for when he wanted to “beat someone down,” among other colourful imagery). It seemed like an attempt to paint me as someone who advocated violence. Over the course of the debate he took a few more swipes at me, so I guess the truce is over. Oh well, that’s politics. Hopefully it only lasts the duration of the campaign. On my end, I’ll still continue to tell people that I think he would make a good MP (which I do).
Most of my friends are very interested to know what it’s like to meet and debate Bob Rae. I don’t really have a good response. In a strange coincidence, I continue to feel like I know his daughter (we have some mutual friends and have hung out a few times) better than I know him. The first time I met Bob was by chance, outside the Starbucks on Church near Wellesley. I introduced myself as his nominated Green opponent, but he kept moving almost as soon as we finished shaking hands. Later, I’d hear from one of his campaign workers that the rumor going around the campaign office was that the Green candidate worked at Starbucks and had served Bob a coffee. (I’m unclear as to whether Bob started that rumor himself, or if it was the product of a game of broken telephone.) The next few times I spoke with him (at his nomination meeting, at a community festival, at Bill Graham’s farewell party) he never greeted me by name, leaving me to suspect that he couldn’t remember it. The above photo was taken at one of those events, and I have no reason to believe he thought I was anyone other than a random supporter. So, unlike with my other opponents (and Bill Graham during the last election), I can’t say I’ve ever had a conversation with Bob. I’ll keep trying, but he doesn’t seem that interested.