In the early days of this federal election campaign there have been three very different political marriages on display.
There's NDP Leader Jack Layton and his wife Olivia Chow - who is also running in her own race to be re-elected as an NDP MP in the Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina, smiling broadly as their shoulders cozily touch. One recent newspaper article portrayed Ms. Chow as the "mastermind" behind Mr. Layton's campaign and also as a loving enforcer. "She will put on the brakes," one insider said in reference to Mr. Layton - fighting prostate cancer and recovering from hip surgery - overtaxing himself in what many say may be his last campaign.
Then there's Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen in rural Ontario, helmeted and gleefully churning up the dirt on matching all-terrain vehicles, on which, it must be said, she looked more at home than he did. Sometimes, it also must be said, the two look distant with each other in public.
And finally there's Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and Zsuzsanna Zsohar, emerging from their campaign plane into the Quebec rain, looking relaxed (the kind of relaxed you can't fake). Mr. Ignatieff, uxorious to the hilt, delights in mentioning his wife. Even on a difficult day, when he was forced to turf a racist candidate, he had time to joke in a Quebec hardware store about the low-slung tool belt he had donned: "My wife's gonna take one look at this and get worried."
But what do these couples say behind closed doors to each other? No doubt, as in all marriages, they cycle through love and companionship, resentment and alienation, support for each other, a bit of boredom, a lot of laundry.
And like all marriages, theirs are mostly impenetrable to the outside world. It's only if there's a breakup or a memoir (or both, as in Margaret Trudeau's case) that we get a startling sense of what's behind the photo op.
But we can always imagine a little political pillow talk, can't we? Let's listen in as they whisper sweet somethings to each other on the road.
Iggy: Oh baby, this is it. Never has the sound of one writ dropping been so much sweet music to my ears, because the waiting and wallowing in all this infernal criticism is finally over. I'm gonna go big or go home, and funnily enough, I am so-o relieved - they love me out there! Who needed to be constantly called a loser, especially after my stellar international academic career, I mean when you first met me I was happening.
Z: Darling, you always are happening for me, but it's true, something profound has shifted. Suddenly you are no longer the thinking woman's crumpled crumpet. Thank God we've convinced the backroom powermeisters to let Michael be Michael - kind, funny, smart and crinkly-eyed. Women voters are loving you! They, more than men, understand midlife reinvention. And call me biased, but many women just can't warm up to Stephen Harper. No matter how long he's been in power, if you're female, it's always a first date, trying to get him to show some real emotion.
Iggy: Z, you are the best. Aren't you excited too? Because one way or another we get our lives back. We're either on our way to 24 Sussex Dr. or we exit stage left. Bring it on! I never thought a day of reckoning could be so enthralling.
Z: But Michael, dear, don't get sloppy with fake charm or silly references. And while I'm loving your tieless look, I think maybe a jacket next week. You're a bit too casual Friday.
Meanwhile it's 11 p.m. and Stephen Harper is slumped in a chair, exhausted after yet another wildly successful carefully scripted rally.
Laureen: Well that was great, Stephen, and nobody got kicked out tonight! Did you drop the surveillance down a notch? And listen, can we do something fun tomorrow like bungee jumping or scooters? And what did you think about the mood of the room?
Stephen: Hold on, my friend, I mean Laureen, you only get two questions a night.
Laureen: But the media get five!
Stephen: That's five too many. Don't talk to me about the media, even the National Post has been busting my chops. What a joke. My rallies are jammed, our economy is leading every other G7 nation, but voters never ever say they love me. Instead people 'fear and respect' me. Is it my hair? (And by the way, thanks for getting a matching haircut.) Or is it because I'm too smart and I talk in a monotone that sounds like a cross between a funeral director and a voiceover in a life insurance ad? No one calls me fun, Laureen. Not even you. But I am fun, dammit, and this country will have a hell of a lot less fun if they don't give me more votes this time.
Laureen: Grr. Can Mr. Majority come out to play?
Stephen: Maybe later, right now I've got to keep working for Canada, Harper's Canada.
And somewhere Jack Layton and Olivia Chow are winding down over a late night cup of tea.
Jack: Olivia, I don't want people to vote for me if they feel sorry for me. If anything I'm trying to keep my health a non-story.
Olivia: Who cares why they vote for you! Just let them vote. Did you take your vitamins? Besides, you've become the most admired leader in the race. Every time you walk into a room, people think of the health challenges in their own lives. And the dignity they don't want taken away from them. Jack, you are truly a man of the people.
Jack: Thanks, Olivia, it's all about the people [sigh] But personally, I'll feel I've really inspired them when I can dance with you again.
Olivia: Me too. Let's hope it's at my victory party or yours. Now get some sleep.
Next week: As the Coalition Turns …
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