I Got a Date with Olivia Chow
I’m sitting in a room with all the ambience of a kindergarten class, but without the impressionist finger paintings. I’m chatting with Al, who looks a lot like an older version of the sailor on the cover of those Zig Zag rolling papers. He’s eating a cookie with his hands close to his face, giving him the countenance of a squirrel. “I just hate the HST,” he spits at me, lodging half-digested cookie crumbs in my face.
Zig Zag and I are at a local community centre for a citizens’ forum. This is my first phase of Project Model Citizen, and already I can tell it’s is going to be tougher than I thought, and not because of Zig Zag’s dubious eating habits. One of my main criticisms of myself is that I skated through my 30′s on just enough charm, smarts and looks to get by. So now I have to work at it. That’s why I’m here, at this forum. I read about it on my MP’s website when I was looking for an e-mail where I might send her a note. I figured a model citizen doesn’t just read the Globe and Mail and watch At Issue on The National. A citizen is involved in his or her own civic pursuits. A forum for concerned citizens to express their views – perfect! I will attend. I will listen. I may even have my say. Hell, maybe I will win hearts and minds!
That is, until I heard about the topic: The HST – harmonized sales tax which is a blend of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….huh…whatsit!? Sorry. This is not a topic that sets my heart on fire. Nonetheless, I’m here…with Zig Zag. This is obviously not his first rodeo, apparent from the fact that a) he sat himself at the back of the room, close to the cookies, and b) when my MP Olivia Chow (the organizer of tonight’s HST hoedown) walks into the room, she sees him and says “Al, why don’t you and your friend make room and move up to the front.” We oblige.
I forgot to eat before I came, and I start to notice the revolt my stomach is now planning against my brain. I actually start to hurt all over, kind of an overall dull ache similar to a bad flu, and all I can think about is how I’m missing my nemesis Jake the Bachelor turn out yet another bimbo.
But no! The memory of my God Project shame is still seared in
my brain. I will not yield! Instead, I concentrate on our host, Olivia. She’s dressed rather stylishly in a black jacket, olive pleated skirt and some tasteful but practical winter boots. She acquits herself with the polite, authoritative manner of a school teacher – not someone born to command the spotlight, but has grown accustomed to it over time. As I gaze at her, I think “Damn! She’s a lot hotter in person than in she is in photos“. Suddenly I’m having a flashback to fourth grade and my crush on Ms. Minter. Now SHE was a stone fox and….
Dammit Chris! Focus! Now, I’m getting angry, both at myself and politics. It’s then that Olivia opens the floor to questions or comments. I unclench my sphincter and sit up in my seat thinking, “This might be good. I am about to see real citizens in action.”
I scan the room, looking at my fellow “citizens.” I am probably the youngest person here (who isn’t a member of Olivia’s staff). Most of these folks have vested interests, but not necessarily personal ones. Some are the head of neighbourhood associations, or realtors worried how the new tax will affect their business, or condo association members trying to figure out how to break it to their owners that their maintenance fees will be going up because of the HST. Amongst the private citizens, it seems to be mostly people who are either lonely or enjoy heavily processed cookies.
A dyspeptic older man starts in with a diatribe on how nefarious this all is. He has a typhoon of white hair that makes him look like Doc Brown from the “Back to the Future” movies. Olivia seems to know him too, calling him “Bob”. Judging from his comments, he’s also a disgruntled former civil servant who is partly angry about the issue, but mostly incensed by the audacity of politicians. Zealous Bob offers an impractical suggestion that everyone concerned about the issue should flood the Prime Ministers office with tens of thousands of letter that say “To be opened only by Stephen Harper” Olivia points out helpfully that they might think the letters contain Anthrax.
Afterwards a woman with a pinched face named Janet wants to know more about the possibility of rebates. She’s a realtor, and is concerned about how the new tax will affect her commissions. I look to gauge my new crush’s reaction, but I’m blocked by a black woman with hair teased so wide that it must be three times the size of her head. She is like a nubian Peg Bundy. I have to change seats just to get a better look.
After Janet Pinched Face is Pink Hat. Pink Hat is a shrivelled lady who rolled in on an Able Walker and took a spot right in front of Olivia. Now that Olivia has called on her to speak, she’s not going to waste the chance. “ The HST is just for business, and so many multinationals come in here, and take all the money, and leave none here, and it only hurts us, and….”
The combination of boredom and low blood sugar is now making my head swim. The numbers being discussed are either so big or so small as to be abstractions, and I start to think only of the cookies at the back of the room. I’m wishing I’d had the presence of mind to bring some of them to my seat with me…like Zig Zag, that wily vet. I look over, and he smiles at me. There are bits of cookie in his teeth. I’m jealous.
Pink Hat’s paused to breathe, and Olivia capitalizes on the brief silence to shut the meeting down. She thanks the tiny crowd for attending, and moves to the door to shake their hands as they leave. Right away she’s cornered by Zealous Bob, who wants to vent a little more. I perch myself just over Bob’s shoulder and look at her. Ever the politician, she responds to my cue like a professional (or maybe takes it as a opportunity to gracefully conclude the conversation) “I could talk like this with you all day, Bob, but I should probably meet everybody.” She side-steps Bob and approaches me “You’re new. What’s your name?”
“Chris”, I say, mindful of Bob, who obviously hadn’t finished his thought and continues to hover nearby. “I actually sent you a note a couple of days ago. I wanted to talk to you for my blog.”
“I didn’t see that e-mail,” she replies, casting a sidelong glance to the Aide waiting on her shoulder. The Aide replies “I put that e-mail in your folder.”
“Well I will have to look at it. What do you need, Chris?”
“Oh, just a few minutes to talk about what it means to be a good citizen.”
Olivia looks me up and down like she’s an East German border guard, making sure my papers are in order. Satisfied that I’m not trying to defect, she smiles sweetly and says “For you, I will make the time.”
So I’ve got a date with Olivia Chow. I’m pretty excited. She’s seems…admirable. I can’t say it’s necessarily her views, or her stance. Rather, it’s the sincere engagement it takes to be a politician, (that is if you’re still engaging…right Steve?) I can’t say tonight was a thrill-ride on the roller coaster of democracy…not even close. However, I take some comfort in seeing my elected representative, doing some grunt work and hashing out decidedly non-sexy issues when she could be busy “re-calibrating” (aka watching The Bachelor).
I thank her and as I leave, I catch a look at my reflection in the glass of the building and realize – my hair looks fantastic. I am not quite the Model Citizen, but not a bad start.