Monday, August 08, 2005

Harper Hits Toronto

The Tory caucus gathered in Toronto last week for a miniature policy retreat and something truly shocking happened; policy was announced.

This is a big departure for the Conservatives and it could have severe consequences. If they keep this up people might confuse them with a national party.

The big news is they are proposing a tax break for people who use public transit. This is a 400 million dollar tax break that is aimed directly at big city urban voters. When I heard this I couldn’t really believe it because, well, it makes so much sense. In fact it makes so much sense that I can only assume the Liberals will have stolen it by this time next week and will be calling it their own.

Unfortunately Harper’s announcement didn’t really cause much of a stir in the media because, in the battle for space on the front page, the Tories once again had their asses kicked.

As luck would have it, on the day Harper was making his public transit announcement in Toronto, Paul Martin was in Ottawa introducing Canada’s new Governor General Michaëlle Jean. To be fair Harper tried his damndest to compete with the Prime Minister’s photo op; he invited the media to take pictures of him getting off a Toronto streetcar with his son. In Harper’s world that is pretty dynamic stuff.

You can’t really blame the newspapers on this one. When it comes to photos Michaëlle Jean is just downright way better looking and more interesting than Stephen Harper, no matter what character from the Village people he happens to be dressed as.

It must have been devastating though when he realized that practically every paper in the country ran with the picture of Michelle Jean instead of him on the streetcar. Of course it didn’t hurt that our new GG just happens to have the cutest daughter in Canada.

Somewhere Stephen Harper is yelling at his son “Next time be cuter damn it!”

My Dinner with Steven

Steven Fletcher rolled into town this week for the caucus retreat and we finally followed through with an ongoing threat to hook up and have a few beers. Well actually it turns out he doesn’t drink beer, but luckily he doesn’t mind buying them.

Fletcher is one of my favorite Tories. He is the health critic, a very funny guy and a great interview. He’s also up for anything which I love in an MP. The first time I interviewed him we tied a rope to the back of his wheelchair, I got on a razor, and he towed me around the Parliament buildings at a very alarming speed.

There are certain advantages when shooting a segment on Parliament hill with a quadriplegic. Normally if I tried to use a scooter on the Hill I’d be bounced in about three seconds. If you happen to be with a guy in a wheelchair, everyone assumes it’s on the up and up. Steven is well aware of this advantage. Rumor has it that as a party trick he will intentionally run into a Liberal and then everyone gets to watch as the Liberal apologizes for being in the way.

Anyway after two Heineken at his hotel we walked / motored up to Queen Street to Le Select Bistro for steak frites. In honour of my Western based conservative friend I thought a French bistro was only appropriate.

I consider myself flattered to get worked into his schedule really. If anyone ever gets it in their head that MP’s don’t work like Torbay ponies in the summer they should check out Fletcher’s schedule. He has toured over 25 hospitals in Ontario alone this summer and has plans to see more. He is totally obsessed with his portfolio. He can talk health care until your eyes cross.

And nice? This is a guy who has absolutely no anger in his voice when he’s telling the very funny story about an airline losing his wheelchair.

Not long ago he found himself in Ottawa, sitting on a plane at 1:00am, having just flown all the way from Winnipeg through Toronto and nobody had a sweet clue where his wheelchair was. Eventually he ended up spending the entire night lying on an air mattress in the chapel. He literally had to stay there until the next day so they could find the lost chair and fly it to Ottawa. And just when you think the story has ended he tells you the part about how the chapel fills up at dawn with travelers of the Muslim faith who must take part in the Muslim call to prayer. Luckily they didn’t mind the guy lying on the air mattress in the middle of the room and Steven is partial to chanting.

It’s a funny story but he’s a better man than I.

I go shit-crazy if my luggage stays on the tarmac for longer than thirty minutes. This guy’s wheelchair gets lost and he is Mr. “These things happen”

And just to be clear I don’t mean to imply he isn’t capable of anger. When he talks about the Gomery inquiry he looks like his head is going to come off his shoulders. He seems to have a huge tolerance for an honest mistake and an extremely low tolerance for graft and corruption. Not surprising really, it’s probably proof of his conservative hidden agenda.