6 min

Enza’s night with Day

Camera crews wanted a big smootch

Credit: Peter Nogalo

In the dreary southwestern Ontario city of Chatham, the roads are largely abandoned. Nevertheless, on this Saturday night, en route to the Wheels Inn, Chatham’s largest – and as far as could be told, only – hotel, I did not speed.

There are images that enter one’s mind on the way to Chatham to watch a drag queen participate in the first Canadian Alliance leadership debate. They usually involve Enza running down Chatham’s main street as fast as her “100 great legs” can go, big religious men wearing plaid in hot pursuit. Remember The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert I thought. Drive slowly.

I shared my expectation of the evening with MP Scott Reid, half the Alliance’s Ontario caucus.

“Like Coober Pedy, you mean?” he asked, instantly citing the Outback hamlet where the natives kicked the crap out of Felicia (played by Guy Pearce). “Rough town.”

Alliance MPs are not supposed to quote from drag queen movies, and Alliance members are not supposed to applaud them. But both happened in Chatham, as the Alliance appeared to learn a lesson of Canadian politics: The litmus test of modernity is how one is perceived to treat queers. That Enza could participate at all, given she was an unregistered candidate, is a good first clue; it didn’t want to be seen as being anti-transvestite by barring her.

Still, some Alliance stereotypes lingered: A flag adorned the front. A faded portrait of the Queen sat on an easel in the corner. The crowd was white and old, typified by the couple at my table, a man – who either had Tourette’s or one too many, I later surmised – and his ice queen wife.

They started leafing through Enza’s brochure, which urged them to choose her “to lead the Alliance out of the closet and into the 21st Century.”

“This doesn’t look good,” the man muttered. I wrote it down. “Now look,” said the ice queen. “He’s writing it down.”

Alliance members are a paranoid lot, blaming anyone with a notepad for Stockwell Day not being prime minister.

A leaflet supporting Day underlined the point. It shows people, all white, waving Day banners and climbing Parliament Hill. Its title is, “Stockwell Day will complete his Godly mandate,” and one of the banners reads, “Christians unite.” Everyone is smiling except a group in the back. An arrow labels this angry group: Merciless reporters.

Enza’s leaflet held more promise. In it, she pledged to uphold the hemline theory of the stock market, following Bay St’s adage that as hemlines rise, so do stock prices. She wanted Quebec to stay in Canada, saying it’s “too stylish and sexy to lose,” not to mention providing Céline Dion for the benefit of drag queens everywhere.

She wanted child care for hookers, and support for farmers – who provided milk for her bath. There were serious promises, too, such as more housing and health care, but it was insufficient to satisfy the grumpy man in the red tie.

“This is a joke,” he said. “You going to write that down?”

I did.

The other half of the Ontario Alliance caucus also happens to be Canada’s blondest MP and before the debate started, Cheryl Gallant was busy making her rounds.

“Hello,” she said to the table of Day supporters next to mine. “I thought I’d come over to let you know I’m not Enza.”

The real Enza entered the hall a few minutes later.

Seven cameras followed her to the table at the front where she pranced, posed and showed her legs. It was clearly novel, since the photographers remained entranced as Bob, the moderator, opened the debate, oblivious to the cameras fixated on the drag queen sprawled on the table in front of him.

Enza took her place on the stage with fellow candidates and Alberta MPs Diane Ablonczy and Grant Hill. Day was conspicuously not at the table, which was to become a recurring theme to the evening. Hill spoke first, about how to run joint candidates with the Tories. It was a boring speech.

“You’re not writing,” said the grumpy man.

Day’s turn was next and the crowd was clearly on his side, erupting into cheers of “Stock! Stock!” as the former leader made his energetic way to the stage.

Even the grumpy man smiled as Day launched into an articulate speech in stark contrast to Hill’s offering, that, if bottled, would cause Nytol stock to plummet, slutty hemline or not.

“They called us bigots,” Day railed to the crowd’s approval, “We’re being told that it’s simple and naive that people want respect for the family.”

What this respect entailed, he didn’t say. In a rah-rah speech about not being dead yet, he got to policy – “democracy, lower taxes” – as Bob was banging the glass, indicating time was up.

And then he left the stage. We would learn later he’d spent the evening behind a table of Stockwell Day CDs at the back of the hall. Could it be he didn’t want to be seen with Enza?

No, said perhaps the only candidate ever to boycott the candidates’ table during a debate, “The one opportunity I have to talk to people is being back here – it’s not Enza.”

After Ablonczy reminded the crowd the Alliance used to be growing and popular until Day assumed the helm, it was Enza’s turn.

She was gamely introduced as “Mr Anderson,” though it was indicated she preferred to be addressed in the feminine. Her measurements were announced to the crowd – it’s a 38 chest – as was the fact she is never a brunette. I wrote this down, much to the chagrin of the grumpy man.

Then Enza spoke. Hill looked ill, though curiously, given some of his thoughts on homosexuals – which involve illness – Enza spared him.

Ablonczy sat frozen, perhaps waiting for her time in the Alliance’s family committee to be mentioned. This committee was noted for its homophobia, led as it was by Eric Lowther, who so riled Calgary queers they stood in line for hours to defeat him and elect Joe Clark instead.

She, too, was spared. As was Day.

As Enza began her speech, a few of the 300 people present headed for the door. One table stood and left. But no one booed Enza. No one heckled. And in a speech that was neither clever satire nor stinging indictment of the code Day had used only 10 minutes before, no one was given a reason to, except the grumpy man.

He said I was, “writing a lot more than with the others.”

“The Canadian Alliance scared a whole lot of voters [in the last election],” said Enza in her strongest attack. “At best, many voters were afraid the Alliance was the party of the anti-abortionists and the religious right.

“At worst, voters believed that the Alliance was a political shelter for closet racists and bigots and homophobes,” she said. “I don’t believe [the Alliance] is a home for racists and bigots and homophobes and that’s why I am here tonight.”

This coming less than a week after Saskatchewan Alliance MP Roy Bailey said a “Chinese chap” (he’s Filipino) not born in Canada shouldn’t be veterans minister, nor should an Indo-Canadian minister be in charge of grain shipments.

And about a party that in nine years has seen none of its 178 MPs vote for any pro-gay law, including the human rights act and hate crime legislation. Enza didn’t see any latent racist or homophobic tendencies, instead calling for “sensitivity training.”

Her one attempt at humour in the speech was that Jean Chrétien needs “a real man to stand up to him. And I’m her.”

When she finished, the grumpy man grunted, “It wasn’t a joke after all.”

After the debate, Alliance members flocked to Enza after the debate to say how much they liked her speech. Given they also gave Day the loudest applause when he defended the family, it may have been due more to relief than agreement.

The grumpy man may have been surprised, but Enza treasurer Bruce Walker said the lack of hostility from the audience didn’t surprise him.

“You can’t bring about political reform with fluff and we’re not about fluff,” he said.

Even Ablonczy gushed: “I think [Enza’s candidacy] is great. Viva democracy.”

After interviewing more than 20 people there, the strongest criticism I heard came from Judy, from outside Windsor: “I wasn’t expecting someone like that here.”

The vast majority of people would agree with Bill from London, who said, “I think there’s a lot of truth in what Enza said.”

The former leader, meanwhile, was busy playing hide and seek, as if petrified he would be filmed shaking hands – please, God, no kiss – with a drag queen.

If Mayor Mel Lastman suffered ridicule after chumming with the Hells Angels, one can only surmise what hell Day envisioned if caught with Enza. It probably had no angels.

So Day spent the night behind the table or scampering around the room, whichever was better at dodging the drag queen.

“Day ran away,” said Enza, an opinion shared by all the camera operators present, begging for the shot that would have made front-page news on Sunday morning: Enza kissing Stockwell Day.

When asked why Enza didn’t simply run up to the podium when Day was speaking to plant a wet one, Walker said she would have been kicked out.

“But wouldn’t a picture have made her point even if she didn’t get to speak?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

Given this, it’s odd Enza tried so hard to get the money shot. She asked Day’s advisors for a pose, buttered up Day’s wife and marched back to Day’s Osama-esque hideaway at the back of the hall after her speech, the media in pursuit. None got the shot they all craved as Day’s folks blocked every angle that would permit bodily contact.

In an absurd conclusion to a surreal evening, one of the chief angle-blockers and a top Day advisor -who is gay -ran up as I prepared to leave.

“I just wanted you to know Stockwell did shake Enza’s hand,” he said, anxious the Alliance not appear anti-gay. “Ask Enza if you don’t believe me.”