Yes, I know, I’ve been remiss in rant-writing for this page! But I freely confess, I am enjoying the summer off. It’s been closer to forty years than thirty since I didn’t have to get out of bed every damn workday – fifteen of those years at 4 o’clock in the morning! – and head out the door to the newsroom, or the studio, or the constituency office, or Edmonton.
It’s nice to have time to relax. It’s nice to have time to “consider my options”. That’s Recovering Politician Code for “figure out what you want to do when you’ve had enough relaxing” and I’m guessing that’ll kick in around September. It’s nice to be able start a summer day with a long run to help take off the 30 pounds my eight years in office put on. And that is partly why you haven’t seen me at any Stampede breakfasts yet.
The other reason is that I think there are too many politicians at too many Stampede events. Conventional wisdom aside, I’m trying to figure out – after seven Stampedes of playing that game – whether it benefits them or the voters.(Okay, throwing your own Stampede Breakfast is a good way to reconnect with your own constituents, and I’m glad to see Christine Cusinelli continuing the Tuesday morning tradition in Calgary-Currie – outside the constituency office in Marda Loop starting at 9AM.)
Forty-four Conservative MPs and four Tory senators showed up at Steven Harper’s BBQ on Saturday evening! Interim leader Bob Rae and MPs Justin Trudeau, Ralph Goodale and Carolyn Bennett have all been here representing the federal Liberals. Green Party leader Elizabeth May was here. NDP leader Tom Mulcair will be here later this week. MLAs and city councilors are all over it like syrup on pancakes as well.
The ultimate, and ultimately most puzzling, event for politicians is the by-invitation Hays Breakfast the first Sunday of every Stampede at Heritage Park. True, along with politicians you’ll find organizers, strategists, consultants, campaign managers, loyal supporters, donors, and media. No real voters, though. It’s like a Hollywood event for people who aren’t gorgeous enough to get work in Hollywood. Or, as Mayor Nenshi nailed it, “a petting zoo for politicians.”
Why the hullaballoo? Because conventional wisdom – which fuels politics, along with rumor and gossip – insists that Stampede is that thing you absolutely have to do, or the consequences will be cataclysmically dark.
It’s hard to imagine things getting much darker for the Liberals than they already are. Goodness knows, Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff dutifully put on the hat and boots every Stampede during their terms as leader and it didn’t get any Liberals elected federally in Alberta. Jack Layton made the annual pilgrimage to the Calgary Stampede when he led the NDP and the best he could do was one MP in Edmonton.
Being in the Stampede Parade every year while I was an MLA certainly was an effortless way to get my face in front of 400 thousand people in the space of two hours, which didn’t hurt – but I don’t know how much it helped, either. It’s a long time between the parade and Election Day.
Never mind that most politicians couldn’t pull off a convincing cowboy/cowgirl act (or costume) if their lives depended on it! Speaking of costumes, politicians do Stampede every year! Wouldn’t you think they could pull together one or two outfits that makes them look as though they maybe got on a horse or visited a working ranch at least once in their lives?!
I get it, people from Toronto who “dress western” when they come to the Stampede should look like people from Toronto – i.e., not a clue about this thing we do.
But forgive me for thinking that our elected representatives should make an effort to look as though, if you asked them where steak comes from, they would answer, “Cattle”, not “Safeway.”