My time with Stephane Dion was an unusual one. Whenever I’ve met the leader in the past I’ve always retained a polite demeanor, listening intently to his words, quietly nodded in approval and always graciously thanking him for speaking with me. This past weekend was not the same. I had the opportunity to drive the leader on his tour through Ontario. Our trip took us from Pearson International to Mississauga, through Hamilton, Brantford, Welland and the Niagara region before returning back to my home turf at Ryerson.
At each event I’d drop Dion and his staffers off at the front door then go to park the car. Typically I’d arrive at the event before Dion and his crew would as they were quickly escorted to a holding room. So I’d saunter up to one of the people working the door and explain, “No I don’t have a ticket…I’m driving Dion” trying not to look like a pompous ass and demand special treatment. “Yes I know I’m wearing jeans and sneakers and everyone else is in a suite and tie,” I would think. Luckily for me, business attire is not a bona fide occupational requirement, especially when one is a volunteer.
Dion would then enter the room to synchronized clapping and shake hands and give a speech. On our first stop he had just released his platform “Balancing the Carbon Budget,” so he spoke at length about the need to stay competitive while protecting our environment. Over the weekend I heard the speech numerous times and I enjoyed the variations in it. No more Paul Martin’s “30 years ago when my father and Lester B. Pearson developed medicare they blah blah blah,” like I heard one million times during the last election.
As we built a rapportover those many kilometers, my friendly small talk and quiet agreement noises turned to substantive policy questions. I asked why he would be so vocal about the Anti-Scab bill when typically the leader doesn’t get involved in Private Members Bill. He explained how Private Members Bill needs not only deal with small matters and how it could have a great impact. Our comfort levels developed further, and soon I was naturally swatting his newspapers and briefing notes out of the way of my navigation system. I’d also joke about how cold it was driving him, because I wasn’t allowed to warm up the car before picking him up. I even muttered a swear word under my breath in his presence as I nearly rear-ended a Mercedes in the worst snow storm ever. The last thing I want to do I roll the car when he’s on the phone with David Suzuki or Al Gore.
But perhaps the best moment was as we approached Ryerson I explained the concept of the event, who would be there, what we were looking from him. I made him promise he wouldn’t say that youth “are the future” since we hate that shit; besides “We got now, we don’t care who got next.” He stared blankly at my Jay-Z reference.
He was greeted with drunken enthusiasm as we marched into the bar. Green beer sloshed as the applause began. Dion moved through the crowd and quickly slipped away from me.,I didn’t feel like staffing him, and had my eyes on the green beer myself. Other VIP’s moved through the St Patrick’s Day mosh pit waddling like penguins in the tightly packed bar. I settled in for some green beer, my shift was over and it was time to get loose. Dion spoke, he didn’t say we were the future, I was pleased, he did however say “We’re not a party that just cares about the next election; we’re a party that cares about the next generation” That was a Jay-Z-esque enough for me.
Jay Telegdi- Toronto, Ont.