Frank, what are you planning to do?”
“I’m going to Ottawa on Stéphane Dion’s bus tomorrow morning.”
“Dear, this isn’t one of those crazy trips you take in order to sabotage the Liberal party, is it?”
“Ileen, how can you say a thing like that? Duty calls. The Interim wants an in-depth interview with Dion. I shall try to determine if Dion is Ottawa’s Invisible Man or a new Liberal messiah or a French-Canadian re-incarnation of Brian Baloney.”
“Good luck, dear,” Ileen said.
I spotted Dion’s bus at the front entrance to Queen’s Park early the next morning. It was very big, gaudily painted in Liberal red and white colours with large red letters on the sides proclaiming: “I demand greater discipline: Dion.” Anchored on the top of the bus was another equally large sign with bold lettering: “I am your leader! Dion.”
I climbed aboard the bus. There were only a few empty seats and I took a one beside a sharp, university-aged youth who appeared familiar to me. I said to him: “Say, your name’s Phil, isn’t it?
Weren’t you in the Elect Joe Volpe for Liberal Leader camp?” Phil, embarrassed, said: “Yes.”
What happened to Volpe?” I asked. Phil said: “He’s politically dead. Being politically dead as a Liberal can be only a temporary matter. I’m a strong supporter of Stephane Dion now.”
“What’s Dion’s purpose for a campaign-style bus going to Ottawa? The French press has called Dion ‘a dead man walking.’”
“We’re trying to address that problem.” said Phil. “We’re trying to rally support by bringing a busload of enthusiastic Stephane Dion supporters to Ottawa.”
“How do you explain that crazy situation where Michael Ignatieff, the deputy Liberal leader and an Ontario MP, held a fundraiser in Montreal recently to offset his election debts? This is the province where the party is dangerously close to being comatose.”
“Yes,” Phil agreed. “I think it was inappropriate.”
“Say, isn’t that Michael Ignatieff sitting three rows back?” I asked.
“What?!” cried Phil, looking back. “That backstabber! Security!”
A heavyset man lumbered down the aisle to talk to Phil. “Security, isn’t that man Michael Ignatieff? What’s he doing on our bus?”
“Sir,” the security man said, “we asked him if he was Michael Ignatieff and he denied it and refused to show us any identification.”
“Throw him off the bus. We can’t take any chances,” said Phil.
They threw the man off the bus, struggling and protesting loudly that he wasn’t Michael Ignatieff.
“Well, Phil,” I said, “you can’t be too careful. With the recent election of Bob Rae, things are not going to get any better for Dion.”
“Well,” Phil said, “I try to look on the optimistic side.”
“Maybe you could make voters feel sorry for Dion. Tell them that Dion only beat Ignatieff by four votes for the Liberal leadership and if he hadn’t promised Martha Hall Findlay that she could run in Jim Peterson’s safe Liberal seat, he would never have gotten her band of supporters to vote for him as leader.”
“We can’t tell them that!” cried Phil.
“What’s your opinion of Bob Rae?”
“Bob Rae would join the Hutterites if he thought he could get to be prime minister. Say, wait a minute! Aren’t you Jeff Sloberkin? Aren’t you the guy who rented the Royal Suite at the Frontenac Hotel in Montreal two years ago and almost bankrupted Joe Volpe?”
“Who’s complaining? We had the most popular hospitality suite during the convention. We dragged in a lot of delegates for Joe. We had the biggest bar bill the hotel had ever seen!”
“Yes, I heard. Jeff, I still remember that Russian dance you did for visitors! It was amazing! You know jumpin’ up and down and kicking your feet out – that’s not easy for a guy your age!”
“Jeff, just look at who’s gotten on the bus? It’s our leader: Stéphane Dion! Let’s show him a big Ontario welcome! Let’s greet our leader!”
All the Liberals on the bus surged up to the front of the bus to enthusiastically greet Dion and I was swept up in the tide. Afterwards, Phil spoke to me.
“I see Jeff, you had a chance to talk to Dion. What did you think of him?”
“Oh, I think he’s a nice guy, but why didn’t he speak English to me?”