A Rare Progressive Day

I’ll never forget September 4, 1984. It was a Tuesday — a day that would later be called Landslide — and I was working the closing shift at MacLean’s, a one-cashier country grocery in Winsloe, PEI.

Tuesday was a slow day at MacLean’s. Harvey the butcher usually left at 6 or earlier, the meat case fully stocked after the weekend grocery rush. Demand for hardware or painting supplies usually peaked in the morning, and the post office in the back was only open “government hours” — although owners Heath and Phyllis would go get your mail for you anyway if they happened to be down getting smokes from their apartment upstairs.

The 6:00-8:30 PM shift was quiet, mostly passed by checking insta-pic lotto tickets from the Saturday night 6/49 draw or pumping gas. I was proud to have the run of the place at 16 years old. Things were so carefree and neighbourly in those days that there would often be no one at the cash out front. I’d often be in the basement bringing up pop or canned stock to replenish the shelves, and would only be alerted that a new customer had dropped in by the tinkle of the bell at the door or the ding-ding! made when a car drove up for gas.

In many ways, then, Tuesday September 4, 1984 was just normal. Except it was election night. And I was a young Progressive Conservative eagerly anticipating a new political era. It was the night that Brian Mulroney swept to power.

All evening as people dropped in to the store there was a building energy until the polls closed at 8. The returns were reported much more slowly back then. Still, it was all I could do to wait. As my shift ended, I marked a bottle of Coke and a big bag of Hostess chips on my store tab and dashed across the road to my house, flicking on CBC TV for what I felt would be an exciting and bold new start for Canada. The fact that my parents and many adults around me could barely stand the thought of an imminent PC victory made the evening even more enjoyable. And by 10PM, as it became clear that the Boy from Baie Comeau was headed for a historic sweep, my parents abandoned me for bed and I watched until the wee hours, a political junkie full of piss and salt & vinegar.

The next morning I got a call from Heath at MacLean’s. I had left the truck-sized double warehouse loading doors on the store wide open all night. Oops.

I still enjoy thinking about that night because, 30 years later, I’m still an optimist and a bit of a political junkie. I also feel strongly that Brian Mulroney must now look back fondly and even feel somewhat vindicated. Sure, he took cash for favours. And there’s no denying, he’s an egomaniac narcissist who pissed a lot of people off to see his vision through to execution. (Find me a leader who hasn’t had to be at least a little like this to succeed). His personal brand got too close to Gucci; he should not have done a duet with Reagan, and maybe he could have avoided calling the Meech Lake bluff. (Canada is still here, sir).

Still, looking back, Brian Mulroney was an inspiring speaker and a visionary. He was a leader who tried to build consensus, not just impose his personal will on the country. He fought the Iron Lady on sanctions against Apartheid in support of Nelson Mandela, proved through Free Trade that Canada is good enough to compete with anyone, and stopped acid rain from killing our lakes. Even Elizabeth May has said he was our Greenest Prime Minister.

In short, for a conservative, he was Progressive. And on Election Night ’84, anything seemed possible. That’s how politicians talked back then. That’s how politicians should talk Now. In a country as richly blessed as Canada, anything Is possible if we just take time to notice, and to Act. These days, though, now that the P is long gone from PC, we live in a diminished time. Aspiration is gone from Canadian politics. And that’s the way the rump Conservatives need to keep it to maintain their narrow hold on power. Because, as long as 16-year-old kids no longer get excited about the future of this country, the mean-spirited cynics and autocrats will continue to rule with impunity. It’s a Country, Mr. Harper, not a Company!

It ought to be a crime to discourage and disenfranchise an entire generation of youth in a great country like Canada. I think Brian Mulroney would agree.

Sir, I’d support you again.

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  • Lisa McCabe September 4, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Stuart — After moving back to Canada after having lived stateside for more years than I can count, I must admit that I am disappointed in the country to which I returned. It seems that we have squandered our opportunity to be a leader in so many issues of vital importance to our planet and its people. I would like to put the blame on a Harper government that seems hell bent on instituting policies and visions that even the US has abandoned or at least admit have failed miserably. But heck, someone voted them in! The world instead can look to countries like Norway as a model for a successful democracy that balances the economy with the needs of its people and the environment. It’s a real shame.