Dear Ezra and Lian,
I was 24 and basically running a local political campaign for the Canadian federal election. I was sitting in the campaign office at 3 am. I was staring at the picture of my opposing candidate. I was trying to decide whether I should destroy this man; ruin his political career and break up his family. This is the story of how I got there.
“No More Prime Ministers from Quebec” Still to this day people swear and state as fact that the Reform Party of Canada (RPC) ran television ads saying this. It’s just not true. I was there. It was actually a small independent group that printed a few bumper stickers and election signs. The RPC did run a television advertisement near the end of the election campaign. It showed the faces of Liberal Party (LPC) leader, Jean Chretien; Bloc Quebecois (BQ) leader, Gilles Duceppe; and Progressive Conservative (PC) leader Jean Charest with circles around them with a slash through it.
This ad caught the local RPC campaigns east of Manitoba by surprise. It also hurt us politically in Ontario. Then in our constituency, the local newspaper ran a front page story. It showed the LPC candidate holding one of his election signs, but covering it up was a plastic sleeve that said, “No More Prime Ministers from Quebec”. He accused our campaign (the volunteers which I personally was coordinating) with these acts of vandalism. He stated that this demonstrated the anti-Quebec bigotry of the RPC, their campaign workers and supporters. This story ran that night on the national news. It forever welded the two campaigns together. It had a big impact on how the people of Ontario and Quebec voted in 1997.
So I inquired throughout our campaign staff, if any one knew anything about this. Of course, none of our volunteers did. I waited for the formal complaint to Elections Canada or the local police. It would have sparked an investigation and possibly lead to criminal charges. Given my role, I expected to be formally interviewed. The complaint never came. No investigation was ever started. No charges were ever laid. Too bad, because I was ready with the real story if they had.
You see, I had an eye-witness to this vandalism. A friend of my family was out really early in the morning. He was a farmer who suplemented his income by delivering newspapers to stores and gas stations. He pulled into the gas station at Cashtown Corners to deliver papers. As he did, he saw the strangest thing. He saw a truck cab full of Liberal Party election workers wearing party identification and shirts. One of them was actually a close relative of the Liberal Party candidate. Now 3:30 am is pretty early to be out campaigning. When they went into the store, he nonchalantly took a look in the back. The truck bed was full of election signs, 50-100 of them. All of these signs read “No More Prime Ministers from Quebec”. Underneath these covers were Liberal Party signs. Here’s the thing; all of the metal stakes were clean. They weren’t pulled out of the ground. They were brand new signs about to be put in the ground.
There was never any vandalism. The campaign workers were wearing ID while putting up Liberal Party signs. If they got caught, it wasn’t a crime. “No More Prime Ministers from Quebec” signs didn’t belong to any registered party or advocacy group, so having them wasn’t a crime either. However, making a formal false allegation to either the police or Elections Canada, that would have been a crime. Therefore no complaints were ever filed.
The whole thing was a “false flag” operation. Liberal Party operatives waged a “politcal black art”. They had fooled the media (I knew the reporter who originally filed the story.) They had convinced the public that RPC activists were bigots and were vandalizing LPC property. It was fantastically successful. It drove voters back to the Liberal Party.
By this point in the campaign, there was about 5 days left until election day. I was faced with a dilema. Do I go to the press? Do I try to convince them that they got set up by a fake story? That would be a difficult thing to admit. They ran a story without asking the RPC if they were involved. They swallowed it hook, line and sinker without a hint of skepticism. Additionally, if I brought this story up again in the press, the slur of “No More Prime Ministers from Quebec” would get repeated again. It would probably have the opposite effect. A secondhand story about a farmer seeing what he saw would be greeted with a great deal of skepticism. In order to be in any way believable, I would have to drag this poor man out in front of the cameras from the national news media. By this point, I had no confidence in the media or politics. Truth would not be welcome news.
I had to sit back in a perverse admiration of this political dirty trick. These LPC operatives had won. The thought had been planted in the voting public’s mind. It confirmed their darkest suspicions of the RPC and made the LPC look like victims/heroes. They had convinced the whole country that the people I managed and was responsible for, that we were the ones engaging in political dirty tricks. Meanwhile, my candidate had told a core group of us at the beginning there was to be no “funny business”. I myself was nearly killed in a major car accident in the winter of 1995. I was on my way to Quebec to volunteer for the second time trying to keep them in the country and not separate and form their own country. To think I was accused of putting up “No More Prime Ministers from Quebec” signs was particularly galling.
I had found out that politics, even in a small town, but caught up in a national campaign, was a blood sport. It was a bare knuckle fight. If you didn’t fight back, you were going to lose. I was also losing something else; my chance at a politcal job in Ottawa. If my candidate won, I was going to be his Legislative Assistant (LA) in Parliament. Up until this point, we were winning the local election. Consequently I was on track for a career change. I had been excited about a new life in politics. For a “policy wonk” like me, this was real chance to make a difference. Now, all of this was slipping through my fingers.
That’s what brought me to the campaign office at 3 a.m. I had been there for hours after everyone else had gone home. I should have locked up and called it a night. I had been trying to make up my mind for hours. I was staring at that front page newspaper picture of the LPC candidate. He was spouting his lies about me and my co-workers. I was so mad that people were believing it. His campaign manager had personally promised me that we weren’t going to have any of this. We were going to keep it clean. I had got stabbed in the back.
One thing that this LPC candidate didn’t know was that I knew his dark secret. I knew something that could break up his family. In 1997 at least, this would probably end his political career and could help us win the election. My reasoning was that if the LPC wanted to fight dirty, then lets fight real nasty. I hatched a plan whereby I would resign the next day from the campaign team. Then I would show up at the LPC candidates front door and drop my “information bomb”. I had a reporter who I believed would be happy to report on the personal problems of this candidate. (He had done it before.) In a small town, it would not take long for the rumours and gossip to fly around. If I wasn’t going to Ottawa, then this guy wasn’t going to go either. If he did make it, it would be without his family.
There’s one thing that held me back. (I wish I could say that there was more.) Did I really want to mess around with people’s decision making process like this? I felt like I would be putting my finger on the scales of justice. While voters were weighing the pros and cons of different political party platforms, I was planning on interrupting that. “This guy is a scoundrel, you can’t vote for him!” I could be changing the future. Who knew how that would turn out? No matter how I looked at it, the biggest beneficiary of doing this would be me. My need for revenge would be satiated. I would still have a small chance at that job in Ottawa.
I resolved to “fight the good fight”. We had a full weekend of campaigning before the election on Monday. I was responsible for coordinating hundreds of volunteers knocking on doors. We would get our message out. People would vote based on the issues. I would let the chips fall where they may. Of course, we lost by 454 votes. It was the closest race in Ontario. The difference between a LPC majority and minority government was 758 votes spread over 5 ridings. 454 of those votes were in the constituency were I was campaigning.
In retrospect, I should have told the truth about the political dirty trick. If only 758 people in Canada had believed me, it would have changed the outcome of the election. Yet I was so disillusioned with the dirtiness of politics, I couldn’t do it. Trust me, in 1997, most RPC volunteers and members had joined a political party and cause for the first time in their life. I had found out that the old hands at the game, those were the ones who won. They won because people like me gave up or gave in.
I am so glad I never destroyed that man’s life or career. It was terrible for Canadian politics, but it was great for my life. That decision ultimately lead me to India 3 years later. It lead to your births, kids. I have made far more of difference in India, than I ever would have as a lowly political hack in Canada.
I don’t believe the general population is any more likely to believe the truth about things. I don’t believe politicians or media people are any more likely to do the right thing. I don’t believe that the consequences for telling the truth are any better. What has changed, is me. I now have you two, Ezra and Lian. I have seen what happens to families of the rich and powerful when they keep dirty secrets. The foundations of our lives are not going to be built on lies. I want you to have a great future, that means we are moving to the solid ground of truth. Living our lives like an open book, opens me up to a lot of criticism. The alternative is far worse.