3 min

On the Liberal Express

I joined the Liberal Express bus on an afternoon trip to Pembroke, Ontario, for a corn roast at the local candidate’s farm. And why not?

We the journalists were sent to the back of the bus, where I was joined by the CBC’s Kady O’Malley, Jim Travers of the Toronto Star, and Althia Raj from Sun Media/QMI. And along the way, several MPs and staffers came back to chat with us, and Senator Munson regaled us with tales of his reporting days for CTV way back.

We arrived to a fairly sizeable crowd, and immediately after Ignatieff got off the bus, he was accosted by this woman and her prize-winning squash, which she had him pose for pictures with. Also – there was a bagpiper, piping the arrival.

The fare was barbecued sausage and hot dogs, with boiled corn on the cob. Apparently “corn roast” was a bit of a misnomer, but we forgave them. While the crowds ate, Ignatieff circled the tables, meeting as many people as he could along the way. Apparently, over 400 people turned up for the event, and more than a hundred of those were people who arrived without pre-buying tickets. Make of that what you will. I joked that I should find the only gay in the village, to find out what gay life is like in rural Pembroke.

Next up – pictures in front of the tractor. For that bit of local colour.

And then it’s on to the speeches. Christine Tabbert, the local candidate, starts off by talking about why she’s running for the Liberals, which involves her local connections to the area – the farm we’re at is the one she grew up on with her parents. She went to the local schools, and so on.

And then it’s Mr. Ignatieff’s turn. He starts off by first making reference to his Scottish ancestry (which appreciated the bagpipes), and talking about his desire to take the high road in politics. Why is he there, with the cows (who are offering commentary along the way)? Because he wants everyone to know that rural Canada matters to the Liberal party. He got to know that evening how many people were related to one another, and it’s those kind of family connections and farm traditions that he and Tabbert understand.

He talks about the rural issues he wants to address – the “digital divide” where rural Canadians can’t get broadband access, and their need for more robust rural health service. He wants volunteer fire fighters to get a tax credit (which gets cheers from the back or the crowd), and he talks about the Liberals’ desire for a National Food Policy, dedicated to more Canadian food on more plates, and less salt, sugar and fats while they’re at it.

And from this point on, it’s the big picture – his vision for Canada. The reason why we have political parties, which is to draw people together in a common purpose. And his is a party with a vision of equality, as they are the party of the Charter, and that the Big Red Tent is at the centre of Canadian political life, drawing in disaffected Conservatives who wondered where the “Progressive” in their party went, as well as reaching out to Green and NDP voters, for whom he asserts a vote for those parties will mean four more years of Stephen Harper.

He says he doesn’t want to talk about what Harper’s done wrong, but he gets a few digs in there nevertheless. Chief among them – you can’t spell “accountability” without “count,” and that means good, accurate census data. But then it’s back to the big vision – a party for environmental and social justice, and that the crowd is there because they believe in the political process – even if there was at least one heckler among them who preferred Harper to a coalition with “those three.”

And then he went into the crowds, shaking hands, posing for pictures, and slowly wending his way back to the bus. My journalist colleagues and I worked on our stories, made jokes about what had gone on before, and headed back for the big cynical bubble that is Ottawa.
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