On the Campaign Trail (2)

(Through Rose-Coloured Glasses)

Daycare for adults

by Shirlee Engel

The other day Michael Ignatieff’s Chief of Staff Peter Donolo asked me if I was the only reporter to have been with the campaign since day one.

Geez, I thought. I am. While other reporters have bounced around other campaigns, or spent part of the election in Ottawa, I have spent every moment on the road with the Liberals.

“You’re one of us now,” he chuckled.

I shuddered at the suggestion. Any reporter concerned about Stockholm Syndrome in a political campaign would.

“I most certainly am not!” I affirmed. We both laughed.

Later, on yet another bus ride to yet another rally, I thought about it. And before you declare me a closet Liberal, hear me out.

There is a sense of “us” on a political campaign.

What develops is a feeling that you’re all in this together – not in a partisan way, but in a human way.

We all endure the same unforgiving schedule of early mornings and wee-hour nights. We all suffer the motion sickness of bumpy buses and turbulent planes. We all eat the same mass-produced meals, when we’re fed, regardless of whether we have just eaten an hour ago. We all sleep when we’re allowed to. We all miss our own beds, our families, our friends, our lives back home.

Consider this: as we came in for a landing in Quebec City last night, after an almost 20-hour day, we descended through a wild storm. The plane was bouncing all over the place. A flight attendant crawled down the aisle making sure people’s seatbelts were buckled. The lights dimmed inside the cabin, the flashes in the clouds surrounding us added an eerie feel (I’m pretty sure that was caused by the lights on the plane’s wings).

A fellow reporter yelled out, “Feels a lot like the election!” The entire plane – media, crew, staffers – erupted in laughter. In his seat at the front of the plane, even Ignatieff must have been chuckling. It helped take our minds off the jitters. Someone started the plane in chant of the now familiar “Rise Up! Rise Up!” The Liberal Leader waved his hands in the air.

It got me thinking – we’re all on this crazy roller-coaster ride to May 2, intensified by the wild suspense of the NDP surge and its possible implications on election day.

But the reason I’m not “one of them” is because our end games are different.

For the Liberals, it’s about victory. No matter what they say, I can see the frustration on their faces because I’ve been with them from the start. They’re still hopeful the next turn is in their direction, but they’re worried. They’re worried all that hard work, all the long days and nights, unscripted rallies, town halls and press conferences won’t be enough. The only ones who will admit it, do so only off the record.

For me, it’s harnessing all my thoughts and observations over the past five weeks – the ups, the downs, the turning points, the nuances and relentless spin – into a coherent storyline. To provide viewers with comprehensive and balanced coverage of whatever happens Monday as the results come in.

But no matter how this story ends, May 3 will be bittersweet for all of “us.”

It will mean the end of this wild ride. We’ll get off that roller-coaster, feeling winded but full of adrenaline. My first thought might be “I want to do that again!”

But then common sense will kick in and I’ll know I’ve had enough.

A veteran political reporter described campaigns as “daycare for adults.” I think it will feel more like the last day of sleepover camp. You’re sick of living in a bubble. You’re sick of the food, sleeping in another bed, staying up too late, seeing the same people. But you’re going to miss it.

So I guess what I’m saying is, in a way, Mr. Donolo was right.

Shirlee Engel is one of Global National’s correspondents based in Ottawa.

Follow her on Twitter: @ShirleeEngel.

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