With the five-week campaign wrapping up, everyone was relieved, if tense. The media was speculating about an upset or at least a minority — the Liberals in free-fall under a new leader. Nobody saw it coming. Just a couple of months earlier, the Liberals seemed untouchable. Then Brian Mulroney won 204 seats, the largest Progressive Conservative majority in Canadian history. The Liberals were reduced to 40. It was September 4, 1984.
That night I was pumping gas at MacLean’s grocery in Winsloe, PEI. MacLean’s was a family-owned, one-cashier spot next to the Lion’s Club on Highway 2. We lived across the road and bought all our groceries there. So did everyone else in the neighbourhood. You could also get hardware, paint, freshly butchered roasts and the mail. Harvey the meat man used to keep a little stool behind the coolers for the old men who dropped in to gossip and swap stories in hushed voices. We all suspected they were PC.
I was a giddy Tory at 16. I loved the swooping party banner and Mulroney’s brash confidence. But only lately have I realized that I was also a Tory because everyone else around was dyed-in-the-wool Liberal. Every Christmas, Grammie Nicholson gave me a Liberal Party membership in a card.
The night of the election was quiet at MacLean’s. I restocked the pop racks and swept the back room with dustbane. Bill, one of the owners, read the paper at the cash and called me to the front when someone wanted gas. Regular leaded was 44 cents/litre then, which people thought was bloody outrageous.
By the time the 8:30 closing time rolled around, Country Q93 radio was already reporting a Big Blue Wave, even before it crested in Quebec and Ontario. I was beside myself excited. Freak! Bill locked up and I ran home with a bottle of Pepsi and The Globe and Mail. Again, FREAK! Mom and Rod went to bed early that night citing headaches, leaving me glued to the tube high on pop as the last vote was counted in BC. The next day, Bill called to tell me that I had left the delivery doors wide open at the store, and the gas pumps turned on. Nothing was missing, but the world had changed. A few years later the road was widened and a superstore opened in Charlottetown. And MacLean’s was sold to the Irvings. Nobody really considered it progress, but it was a sign of the times.
I’m not giddy today. And I’m getting too old to be fooled by the flip-flop of typical Canadian politics. The only thing that gives me hope is that maybe by the time my kids are 16 and idealistic and excited about Canada’s potential, there will be a political option for them that isn’t just a complete sham.
It’s time for change again, but not the usual kind. In 1984 I was young and green, now I’m older and voting Green.