I often find myself in awkward situations when it comes to official protocol. Sometimes it works for me. Sometimes not. I’ve spent weeks going to meetings with duct tape holding up the hem of my dress pants. Those who know me well are familiar with my fear of “spontaneous hem failure.” Yesterday I found myself in a similar situation.
It’s February in Ottawa. The roads and sidewalks are a slushy mess. On my way to Parliament Hill to meet Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, I decided at the last moment to stash a fancy pair of shoes in the Porchlight bag I’d brought for the Leader. A minute before my meeting, I realized that within moments I’d be in the office of the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition with two pairs of shoes and no easy escape. So I had to stash one pair in a Parliament Hill bathroom. My hems were fine, but I spent the next hour worried that Hill Security would be called to investigate the unclaimed Aldo footwear found around the corner from Mr. Dion’s office. I was sure the bomb squad would be sent in.
Stephane Dion impressed me. He was alone in his Parliament Hill office when I was walked in and introduced myself. The new Liberal Leader has a firm handshake, and a serious but not intimidating look, and soft features. He was taller than I’d expected, which I suppose fits his pattern of being constantly underestimated.
I sensed immediately that Mr. Dion’s thoughts were elsewhere; he’d just come from a historic afternoon shouting fest otherwise known as Question Period. I’d watched the melee on the TV in the anteroom outside his office while I waited. When I commented allowed to the person next to me, “How much do they pay these bozos?” he suggested that some comments should be kept to the streets. Protocol, again. Doh.
Moments later, in walked Mr. Dion.
At first I thought he would just listen quietly and not say much when I handed him a bulb and Porchlight box, started my usual spiel, and adjusted his arms and shoulders for the pose I wanted. But then he suddenly came to life.
“Why just hold the bulb?” he said. And then he bounded across the room and gestured to me to help shove a sofa aside so he could reach a lamp. Then he changed a light bulb. I was really impressed. Touched, in fact. I don’t need to run for election. I brought real change to Parliament Hill.
As we moved the sofa back into place, Mr. Dion was more chatty. He asked about the campaign, and I congratulated him on his new job. He said he was working toward “the other one.”
We shook hands again and this time he was smiling and friendly. I felt like I could flop down on the sofa and spend some time chatting. So instead I decided to totally dispense with protocol and offer some advice.
“Mr. Dion, good luck to you. Whatever you do, and no matter what the media or anyone says, please don’t give up the back pack.”
Once again he bounded across the room and grabbed his famous professor-like leather shoulder bag from behind the big oak desk.
“It’s right here,” he said, proudly. Some things should never change.