The Sunday Magazine

Bulletproof vests on the campaign trail - Michael's essay

"Has it really come to this? Has our politics moved from booing and the occasional rotten egg to a need for body armour? Earlier this week, a group of seniors, some of them lawyers, was sitting around a breakfast table. Each was asked if he could remember a nastier political campaign. Each said, categorically, not in his lifetime. One used the word ‘vile.’"
Surrounded by beefed up security detail, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau attends rally during an election campaign visit to Mississauga, Ontario on Saturday. (Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wore a bulletproof vest during a campaign stop in Ontario days before the federal election.

Let me repeat that: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wore a bulletproof vest during a campaign stop in Ontario days before the federal election.

As a rule, our political leaders don't wear bulletproof vests. Transit cops do, and parking enforcement people and some private security.

It is said that Donald Trump wears one at his MAGA rallies. In a country which has seen four of its presidents assassinated, perhaps it's not a bad idea.

Thomas D'Arcy McGee is the only national leader in Canadian history to have been assassinated. He was shot outside his Ottawa boarding house on April 7th, 1868. (National Archives of Canada/William James Topley/PA-042396)

The only national political leader in this country to be assassinated was the poet, journalist and Father of Confederation Thomas D'arcy McGee. He was shot outside his Ottawa boarding house on April 7th, 1868.

Has it really come to this?

Has our politics moved from booing and the occasional rotten egg to a need for body armour?

Earlier this week, a group of seniors, some of them lawyers, was sitting around a breakfast table.

Each was asked if he could remember a nastier political campaign.

Each said, categorically, not in his lifetime. One used the word vile.

How did it get this way? Some blame it on the spillover from the Trumpian dystopia south of us.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks, while calling former Vice President Joe Biden “sleepy Joe” during a campaign rally in Cincinnati, Ohio. U.S., Aug. 1, 2019. Trump's rhetoric has been blamed for an increasingly coarse politics. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

Some say it's caused by the noxious spread of social media, bringing with them the foulest of the foul.

Election campaigns are not horse races; they are angry confrontations. It is expected that political parties and their leaders will do just about anything to win. But this one is different.

This campaign has been especially brutal — attack ads, name calling, outright untruths flung back and forth like frozen snowballs.

But physical security has not been front of mind as the leaders cross the country.

The only incident I ever saw in terms of personal security and protection involved Justin Trudeau's father.

1968 was a hateful year. In the US, there had been race riots across the country. In April, Martin Luther King, Jr. had been murdered at a hotel in Memphis.

In June, Senator Robert Kennedy was gunned down in the kitchen of a Los Angeles hotel

In Canada, separatist rhetoric was heating up and the whisper of possible violence was in the air.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his wife Margaret, carrying their son Justin, cast their federal election ballots in Ottawa Oct. 30, 1972. Michael Enright witnessed two young men rush Trudeau in 1968. (Peter Bregg/The Canadian Press)

That year, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was campaigning one afternoon on the Toronto Islands.

As Trudeau moved through the crowd, I was about five feet in front of him walking backwards, taking notes.

Suddenly two young men rushed the PM. The cops quickly wrestled them to the ground. And that was that.

Two things we have to get out of heads as we prepare to vote: the dangerous and crazy politics in the Great Republic is not being imported; whether through apathy or wisdom, Canadians would not let that happen.

And secondly, for the same reasons, we won't have a Donald J. Trump in the foreseeable future.

As we trek to the church basements and libraries tomorrow, none of us will need a bulletproof vest. 

Guarantee it.

Click 'listen' above to hear Michael's essay.

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