"Hey, so will we be getting media advisories about Harper's events in the future?"
"Yes," the senior Conservative staffer told me.
"Oh, okay, cool. It's just that we didn't get one today. Any reason for that?"
Senior Conservative Staffer mostly ignored me for a few beats. Then I repeated my question. He sighed. "Well you're here, aren't you? You figured it out."
And that is a pretty good summary of day one.
The opening act of a 78-day Kabuki theatre entitled 'Harper's Big Gamble.'
The head of the Conservative Party, the leader of the Best Country In the World™, walked into the Governor General's mansion at 9:55 a.m. Sunday. He emerged at 10:15. In the intervening 20 minutes, the country went from a sleepy summer day at the cottage to a non-stop pander fest that no ordinary human has the power to stop, temper, or even avoid.
The 42nd general election is afoot.
It's pretty easy to be cynical about the whole thing.
"Everybody knows the election date and the campaigns of the other parties, as near as I can tell, have already begun," Harper told media on Sunday morning. "I'm beginning our campaign today."
Imagine a sly grin on the prime minister's face as he says it. That's the sign he's putting you on.
Every party has been campaigning, in earnest, since the House of Commons rose in late June. In some ways, they've all been campaigning since they first walked into the place in 2011.
But now we all get to call it an election.
Harper, breaking with tradition he's set for himself, took five questions from media. They all centered around two ideas: how much will this election cost, and won't the extra-long campaign benefit you the most?
"A worthwhile amount," and "I wouldn't say so at all." Those were the answers.
Harper propped up each of the tent poles for his campaign: we need a steady hand on the cash register, we need a steady hand on the big red button, and we don't need inexperienced ideologues.
'Inexperienced ideologue,' by the way, was virtually what everyone called Harper when he was first elected. Now he's an experienced ideologue.
By the time I wandered away from the Governor General's abode, Thomas Mulcair was delivering a statement across the river, in Gatineau.
"Wages are falling, incomes are stagnant and household debt is skyrocketing," Mulcair told reporters. The first two, by the way, aren't particularly true. "Middle class families are working harder than ever but can't get ahead."
Mulcair refused to take questions from journalists. Because, hey, why bother?
Justin Trudeau picked up on that.
"Unlike the other guys, I tend to take a lot of questions," he boasted in Vancouver. He took an unending stream of questions before hopping off to the city's pride parade.
Harper closed out the first day's campaign trail with an event in Montreal. He stumped in the anglophone, predominantly Jewish riding of Mount Royal, where he's hoping to pick up a seat. He tuned his message to Quebec voters — fighting the Islamic State, promising a voice in cabinet for infrastructure funding, and banning women from wearing what they want at citizenship ceremonies — in hopes of getting picked up across the province. Party strategists are sure they can win a basket of seats in the rural parts of the province.
"Don't let them tell you Conservative values aren't Quebec values," Harper said in French.
But signs were clear that this election wasn't the same. Gaggles of anarchists, socialists, and nondescript activists assembled outside. (It's not quite clear how they got there, as the event wasn't made public.) They blocked the bus carrying Harper's media pool and slapped 'STOP HARPER' stickers all over it.
That campaign bus, by the way, is currently housing less than half a dozen journalists. (Five, at last count.) To be there, they're shelling out $3,000-a-day, $12,500-a-week, or $78,000 for the whole campaign (plus tax.) When Harper shows up at an event, media gaggle in tow, those paying journalists will get four-of-the-five questions Harper will answer. Local media will get one. Someone like me—travelling on my own, occasionally showing up at Harper's events—will get, ostensibly, none.
Inside the event, before Harper event took to the stage, a FEMEN protester managed to make it a step inside the door before being wrestled away. She was pinned to the floor as she screamed "Harper! Dictator!" on repeat. In their style, she managed to get her breasts out of her shirt while under arrest.
From the sounds of it, others tried to get in. Banging on the doors throughout the building had security scrambling all through the community centre where the event was being held.
Harper took no questions at the event. Two local reporters, genuinely confused, asked a Conservative staffer why. He shrugged.
I got a similar response while I tried to bicker with the senior staffer who refused to explain why we weren't actually told about this event beforehand.
There's some excitement around this election. This is the first election in five years. So many things are up for grabs: Senate abolition, pot legalization, the future of our fight against the Islamic State, the possibility we may finally afford trans people full human rights protections. To that end, it's like an interminable march towards Christmas Day.
On the other, this promises to be the mostly tight-regulated, neutorically-scripted, superficial, meaningless election in Canadian history. It may well be a stunning reaffirmation of everything wrong with our system and it may be met with frustration, followed by helplessness, followed by disinterest. The microtargeting of a small subsection of the population may deliver a victory for one party or another that, for all intents and purposes, is an empty mandate that should force us to question whether this election is even legitimate. If the majority of the country doesn't vote — not out of laziness, but disgust — what's the point?
If that sounds pessimistic, it is.
And it probably won't get any better. While in the first week I got scoffed at by Conservative staffers — people who carry more weight in our political system than the entire population of PEI combined — tomorrow it will be NDP staffers, and the day after it'll be Liberal tykes.
One way or the other, I'm loading up the car and heading cross-country, in the ill-begotten hope that I can find a reason to actually tell people to go out and vote. Because, right now, I don't have one.
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