He could have been anywhere from 50 to 65, he has worked his entire life on container ships in the St. Lawrence Seaway, and he put three daughters through university. He has at different times in his life voted for three different parties, and standing on a wharf in Lunenburg, N.S., he told me that, if there is an election this fall, he is going to do something he has never done.
He's staying home.
He summed up our current crop of political leaders this way: "If all three of them were in the water, I'd be hard-pressed not to watch them drown."
And he happened to mention he goes to church on Sundays.
This is not a man who is suffering from voter apathy; this is a hungry man with a seafood allergy, looking at the menu from Red Lobster.
For years now, after every election, faced with increasingly dismal turnouts, journalists and pundits ask the same questions: Why are Canadian voters staying home? What is wrong with us?
Maybe it's time to ask not what is wrong with Canadians, but what is wrong with our leaders. Or better yet, let's just start placing the blame squarely at their feet.
It's not like we choose the leaders, the parties do. And apparently this is as good as it gets.
No wonder people are apathetic. Elections aren't the problem, our choices are.
It may be a myth that the Inuit have 100 different words to describe snow; it is an absolute truth that people on Parliament Hill have twice as many words to describe Stephen Harper's various levels of angry.
We have a minority government that bombards us, practically year-round, with campaign-style ads that are more vitriolic and personal than anything ever witnessed in Canadian history.
When it comes to issues that Canadians care about - the economy, Afghanistan, heath care, medical isotopes - there is a campaign of misinformation that qualifies as pathological.
When asked the philosophy behind our Prime Minister's communication strategy, Mr. Harper's former campaign manager, Tom Flanagan, summed it up with the phrase: "It doesn't have to be true; it just has to be plausible."
Parents of Canada, make sure you impart that little nugget to your kids before they head out to school on Monday.
Voting Conservative is not a problem for a majority of Canadians; we've done it before. Voting for an angry guy who thinks we're stupid and will believe anything? That takes some getting used to.
Voting Liberal is certainly not a problem for a majority of Canadians, either.
In fact, the federal Liberals got so used to the notion that Canadians would dutifully elect them, they forgot that any other scenario was possible. For Liberals victory was just something that happened 40-odd days after an election was called; much in the same way the rest of us are fairly confident that the sun will rise tomorrow.
The Liberals should have a bit of an advantage this time around. Having been beaten badly in the last election, they quickly took Stéphane Dion out behind the barn and he hasn't been seen since. Immediately afterward, there was a puff of white smoke and the Liberal party suddenly had a brand new leader in Michael Ignatieff. He is by all accounts highly qualified, having dazzled many people at dinner parties for decades.
Mr. Ignatieff is, as we speak, surrounded by a brigade of young people in pointy shoes and designer glasses who work for him, worship him and twitter about him. Why we should vote for him? I've read the tweets; I've yet to see an answer.
Those of us who view politics in part as a blood sport believe that in the last election, Mr. Dion made the classic error of bringing a knife to a gunfight. At least he showed up. So far, Mr. Ignatieff is hiding in the woods. Literally.
In the TV ads launched to counterpunch the Tories, we are treated to the image of Michael Ignatieff, alone, among the trees, free associating. His message, if I remember it correctly, is about the importance of ensuring that tomorrow's green jobs of today fuel yesterday's growth now. I think he might mention China too.
If that's the best he can do, his next trip to the woods is going to involve a shovel and a bag of lime.
And then there's Jack.
Canadians have never come close to electing a New Democrat government federally, and yet Jack dreams. This is fine, as dreams are important.
The problem with Jack is, we all saw how excited he got when he actually thought that he was going to be a part of a coalition government. It wasn't a normal excitement; it was the kind of excitement that scares other passengers on a plane.
I don't know if this is what has turned off my friend on the Lunenburg wharf, but it's a definite possibility. Ours wasn't a long conversation, which is surprising. Normally, when confronted with someone who justifies not voting, I have an entire arsenal at my disposal.
I'm a guy who has advocated mandatory voting. I have always believed in my heart of hearts we would be a far better country if everyone was obligated to take 20 minutes out of their life on Election Day to mark an X.
That said, I can't help but feel great sympathy for someone who just happens to be standing on a wharf contemplating the fact that it's hard to imagine voting for someone when you can't even wrap your head around throwing them a rope.
The Rick Mercer Report returns to CBC-TV on Tuesday night at 8 o'clockReport Typo/Error
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