Mark Critch: What I've learned making fun of the leaders
22 Minutes' anchor says at times he's underestimated each of the people who will face the voters on Monday
Our long national nightmare is almost over.
Soon, we won't have to lock eyes with the giant heads of party leaders as they zoom past us from the sides of buses. The endless chatter of people debating who should be included in the debates will cease. The shredders will have shredded anything that couldn't be deleted or redacted just in case someone else gets the keys to the kingdom.
A weary nation will have the chance to embrace change or beat it back from Parliament Hill like Frankenstein's monster defending himself from the torches and pitchforks of an enraged village. On Oct. 19, Canadians will have the opportunity to do what so many global citizens only wish that they could do — vote.
But they will probably say "meh" and watch the Jays game instead. Maybe the sergeant-at-arms should toss the House of Commons mace Joey-Bats-style just to get a fine vines going.
Fair weather Blue Jays fans have come out a little late in the game. And like those bandwagon jumpers, many strategic voters have decided that they are now dyed-in-the-wool Liberals. Like many a man, Tom Mulcair has peaked a little too early and is sitting on the edge of the bed going, "This has never happened before. Just give me a minute. I can get the poll back up."
Perhaps it's too late for things to turn around now. No, now it comes down to the leaders themselves. Who do voters trust? Who are these people? Not only do we believe them, but do we believe IN them?
I've had the good fortune to spend time with all of them. I've been around them enough to get an idea of who they are, not as politicians but as people.
Making fun of someone to their face is a revealing thing. The way someone either takes a joke or is taken aback by it shows you how comfortable they are in their own skin. Tom Mulcair can't get enough of it. Justin Trudeau bristles ever so slightly but takes it and shakes your hand afterwards. Elizabeth May just seems happy to have someone listening to her. And Stephen Harper, well, he just glares — but in fairness, that is his default look.
Harper was ... funny
That's what I never understood about Harper. When I first met him we were both new to the scene. I was a 20-something comedian naively trying to fill the red velour boots of Marg Delahunty. He was an Alliance MP who sulked around the scrum area in the halls of Parliament desperate for airtime. We were made for each other.
He would often walk up to me in while I was trying to get to Chrétien and ask, "Hey! Do you want to make fun of me?" Think about that for a second. Stephen Harper used to ASK to be made fun of.
One time he even convinced me to go up to his office to shoot a "funny bit" that showed he was the only MP working in his office that weekend. My cameraman Pete said, "we're never going to use this." And he was right. But I didn't want to hurt Harper's feelings and he was a genuinely funny guy.
He is a better impressionist than I am. That same year we pretended to fight wrapped in flags, he in an Albertan flag and I in Christopher Pratt's Newfoundland and Labrador colours. On another occasion, I presented Harper and MacKay with a roll of toilet paper in case they needed more appropriate stationery. After all, the napkin MacKay had scrawled promises not to merge with Harper on hadn't proved much use to David Orchard. All jokes were taken with a chuckle and a smile.
But as he grew more powerful, he grew ever more guarded. The side of him I liked seemed to disappear. One of our correspondents was even hand-cuffed while trying to ask him a question. It was a shame. I think if Canadians had seen shades of the funny, almost coy guy I saw then it would be harder for them to dislike him. In the end, he became far too controlling to risk being made to seem human.
May and that speech
Elizabeth May, the anti-Harper, is up for anything. She once showed me her Ottawa office, too. The best office on the Hill belongs to the NDP's Peter Stoffer. It's a playground, filled with thousands of baseball caps gifted by visitors. There is a pool table, a dart board, and the whole place is a veritable shrine to our veterans. May's, on the other hand, is packed with hard-working staffers and volunteers. The room is filled with desks and looks like the office version of the third class bunks on the Titanic.
Whatever you may think of her politics, she is an absurdly hard worker who carries the weight of an entire party on her back. I was there the night she spoke at the Parliamentary Press Gallery Dinner and said that Omar Khadr had "more class than the whole f---- cabinet." Many people thought that she was drunk. She wasn't. She had flown to Vancouver and back that day and was exhausted. She had maybe three glasses of wine during an evening where many had a dozen. Before she spoke, I, among others, suggested she just drop out but she soldiered on. If a third of our parliamentarians worked as hard as Elizabeth, we'd be much better off. If she slept as much as a third of our parliamentarians she never would have mentioned Khadr at all.
Mulcair's reluctant twinkle
When I first met Mulcair, I was taken aback. I was used to Jack Layton, who loved performing almost as much as he loved politics. Jack would always ask, "do you need me to sing?" Every time. I never needed him to sing. He almost always sang.
Looking at Tom, I couldn't imagine him ever having listened to music, let alone sing. He looked like the guy who would be tying a damsel to the rails in an old silent movie. He was the only leadership candidate who refused to be interviewed by 22 Minutes during the NDP leadership convention. When he won, I pleaded my case to his handlers. "Look, I've gotten every other candidate. My only choice is to say that this guy seems like a bit of a d---." Soon, I was talking to Tom and as we toasted a glass of Orange Crush in champagne flutes I saw a twinkle in his eye. He got it the way Chrétien got it.
I've been to Stornoway, the official residence of the leader of the opposition, three times to interview Tom. The last time was during this election. He and his team had to leave to give a speech in Quebec. They turned to my crew and I and said, "we have to go. Can you guys let yourselves out when you are gone?" That would never happen with anyone else. It felt great to be trusted. I immediately ran upstairs to see what his private bathroom looked like and took a picture with the official toilet of the leader of the opposition.
Boxing with 'Trudy'
I believe I first met Justin Trudeau at Paul Martin's coronation. I had just been kicked out after sneaking backstage to interview Bono, and I saw him. I couldn't resist. I asked him if he'd ever run and as he started to answer I referred to him as the Julian Lennon of Canadian politics. A flicker of anger and a pinch of embarrassment flashed in his eyes. It was a cheap shot and I felt bad. He was just a guy with a famous dad. I wasn't there to pick on him.
Then he ran. Trudeau was fair game. I spent a lot of time making fun of Justin or "Trudy," as I would often refer to him. We grew competing moustaches for Movember, I had William Shatner give him advice on how to tone down his over-acting, I tried to light a joint in his office and I even boxed him before his big fight with Senator Patrick Brazeau.
I wasn't worried about boxing Trudy. At this time, everyone thought he was going to be killed. I wasn't so much interviewing him as much as I was paying my respects. Before we boxed, I told him he had to really hit me for the piece to work. If he mimed punching me, it wouldn't sell. He was reluctant to do that and as a result he was far too gentle. So, I remembered that Julian Lennon look and I teased him a bit about being a little prince and mentioned his dad and soon he was hitting me hard. I couldn't even land a punch. It was great for the piece but bad for my chin.
Afterwards, when the camera was off, we chatted about the big fight. I now knew how fast he was in the ring but Brazeau looked like a monster. I asked him if he was really going to go through with this. He told me, "People have been underestimating me my whole life. I don't get into things unless I'm confident I can win."
A week later, I was at the match as I watched Justin start slow, then rally and slowly and skillfully beat down his opponent. Nobody was more surprised than I was — well, maybe Brazeau was. As I watch the surge in the polls, I now wonder if I haven't underestimated him for a second time.
I've spent time with each of our leaders. They are all hard workers. They all believe they are doing what is best for the country. Every one of them has fought tooth and nail to get where they are now. In my time, I have underestimated each of them. They have taught me a lot. They taught me to always be nice to the new ones.
In Canada, you never know who is going to become prime minister.