One of the most fascinating things about working on Garth Turner's campaign is that many of the people involved - including Garth himself - worked on the Conservative campaign last time. Some had been Progressive Conservatives for years. A few had witnessed and even participated in the amalgamation of the PCs and the Alliance.
It makes for some harrowing war stories. Maybe some day I'll be able to share some of them with you, or convince them to do so once all this is over.
For now, I wanted to share what one person told me about the difference in mood between the two campaigns. The Conservatives, she said, were always angry. Angry at their opponents, but also angry at each other. Like a couple getting back together for the sake of the kids (or in this case, the seats), they put on a brave face and suppressed their true feelings, but the resentment simmered stewed and occasionally erupted.
It was a mood that pervaded everything, and it emanated from on high.
Liberals, she said with some surprise, aren't angry. They're determined. They're occasionally rude, and sometimes over-zealous. But angry? No. And nobody in this campaign ever called her from party HQ to bully or upbraid her or try to make her do something she didn't feel right about.
She sounded to me like someone who had left an abusive relationship and finally found a place and a family that made her feel safe.
I thought about that conversation yesterday while reading about the latest incidents of vandalism against Liberal supporters in Toronto, nearly identical to earlier incidents in Guelph during their truncated by-election. Because while I am quite sure that such actions were neither sanctioned nor condoned by the Conservative Party or their candidates, or by anyone associated with their campaigns, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to believe that whoever did this was, at least in their own minds, acting on their behalf.
People talk about the climate of fear that exists within the Conservative Party these days, but not much is said about the climate of anger. The fear infects those within the party and the government, but the anger has a wider reach and is far, far more dangerous. It oozes from the memos of political operatives and spews forth from the blogs and the comments on every news website in the country. Spot an angry voter and you've found a Harper Conservative.
And the best part is, nobody within the party need be held responsible for what these angry, angry people might do.
Some would argue that Liberals are angry too, and it's true that we can get pretty worked up, even angry, on the subject of Stephen Harper and what he's doing and wants to do to this country. So I might have been willing to believe that my perception of the more extreme, pervasive anger of Harper's loyal followers was just my own biased view.
But then I spoke to some of those former Conservatives and realized that no, it's not just me. And I have never, ever heard of anyone with a Conservative sign on their lawn having their brake lines cut.
ADDENDUM: Lo and behold, campaign manager Esther Shaye posted the following comment over on Garth's blog last night:
I liken election campaigns to white water rafting. Things appear calm, then bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Then calm again. Basically, you need to be ready for anything. The other day I met a man at an event. His name is Sammy. I liked him instantly. He’s a quiet man, Sammy is. Humble in fact. But with the heart of a lion He works in a convenience store in Hamilton. He told me he was over at the La Rose parking down on Bronte Street in Milton. He saw a van all taped up with Lisa’s signs. So he came to see me and said “They next time I pull into that parking lot, the people will know …… Garth Turner will be on the side of my van.” Sammy and I laughed. “You are a brave man!” I joked. The smile on Sammy’s face turned serious. I come from Pakistan he told me, via Vancouver. I know about life. I know about fear. I know about freedom. So Sammy and I went back into the campaign office and found us a roll of packing tape. We turned his unassuming vehicle into a Garth mobile. Arterials on the sides, lawn sign on the back, literature in the window. “I work in Hamilton” Sammy said. And as his chest puffed out in pride, he told me “Everyone will know from Halton to Hamilton, who I’m voting for!
That was yesterday.
Today I learned from a third party that Sammy’s van has been vandalized. Spray painted over the Garth Turner arterials with obscenities. This third party has also informed me that Sammy will not be moved. His van continues to wear those arterials, obscenities and all, a symbol of Sammy’s defiance.
Sammy will not be moved.
My heart is full.
By Esther Shaye on 10.05.08 11:47 pm
I met Sammy when he came in that day. Lovely man. He said he was "welcomed into Canada" when Trudeau was Prime Minister. I wonder how welcome he feels now.