The hand that shakes prime ministers
You know, if Jagmeet Singh becomes prime minister within the next three years, I’ll know whose hand did it.
That hand belongs to my best friend. Let’s call him “Mike”. And he’s done that before, make a prime minister with his handshake.
Uh? Do I seriously believe in magic? I don’t know… yet. But hear me out.
Mike was hanging out with me on Boxing Day 2012. At the time, I was working at Sun News and we were very non-busy indeed. Not much happens on Boxing Day that requires a professional talking head to explain. “Yes, Sabrina, we have a lot of people sleeping off their turkey right now, it’s not especially exciting but we will continue to cover it and bring you updates.”
On the plus side, I was earning time-and-a-half for “working” the holiday, plus brownie points from every single one of my colleagues except the cameraman who’d gotten stuck with the short straw that year.
Anyway, so we were sitting around, with my cameraman and Mike, and wondering what on earth to occupy the afternoon with, when someone (who might even have been me) suggested going to Victoria Island to see how Chief Theresa Spence was doing.
Chief Spence, from Attawapiskat, was engaged in a protest at the time, from the middle of the Ottawa River. She’d been on something of a hunger strike — it involved drinking fish broth, her health was never in danger, but still —and we thought, hey, why not go see if she’d like to chat about how things are going. Maybe she’s lonely and bored, too, who knows.
Boxing Day being in December, it was cold. We were dressed for television (at least, I was) which is another way of saying I nearly froze to death. We got to the place, and the guys manning the door weren’t especially keen to see us. I talked with them a little while and they eventually agreed to let us inside the gate.
More negotiating. Think Chief Spence would like to talk to us? We want to know how she’s doing.
It took some time, but eventually someone who appeared to be something of a decision-making authority came to tell me that if I was prepared to wait, I might be able to see him.
Oh, that’d be great, I said. Thank you!
Then a minute or so later, anyone coming to visit Chief Spence?
Now at the time Justin Trudeau was leader of the third party in the House of Commons. People made fun of him all the time for that. But I thought, hey, I’m the only media here (assuming I survive the cold), I should wait and see what happens.
It took maybe 20 minutes for Trudeau to arrive, flanked by his photographer, the lovely Adam Scotti. “Hey,” I told him. Trudeau, not Scotti. “Brigitte Pellerin, Sun News. Want to chat with me after your visit?”
Now at the time, Trudeau had a blanket ban on Sun News, thanks to something obnoxious Faith Goldy had done to him. I didn’t think it would be right for me to hide my outlet, so I put it front and centre. He smiled, and said sure.
I would like to credit my bubbly personality for him changing his mind about the network I toiled for but at that point my personality consisted of an overly made-up ice cube. Instead I think he recognized that one despised media outlet was better than no media outlet. In any case, I let him go in the tent and waited outside.
When they were done with their private chat I was allowed in with my cameraman, leaving Mike to continue freezing outside. I interviewed both Chief Spence and Trudeau, we got lovely footage of the two of them, etc. That was the one and only time I ever got anything “exclusive” and man, did I milk it.
When we got out of the tent Mike shook hands with Trudeau and we all went back to the office to thaw.
Less than three years later Justin Trudeau was prime minister.
I hadn’t thought about that handshake until mid-September, when my editor sent me to the campaign launch of Ottawa-Centre NDP candidate Emilie Taman. Her leader, Jagmeet Singh, was scheduled to make an appearance but everyone else in Ottawa was busy with the LRT launch (ah, happy days when the train ran well) and I was the only local media apparently not included in the light rail baptism.
As it was a lovely day I asked Mike if he wanted to come with me. We can bike there and back, and maybe stop for coffee on the way there and dinner on the way home, I suggested. Sure!
While I went to work taking photographs of the event and interviewing politicians, Mike positioned himself somewhere around the corner of the building, where a lonely volunteer was guarding the back door, and waited for me to be done. He was not especially interested in the political event.
But what do you know, when Singh got off his bus and started shaking hands with supporters, somehow Mike found himself near enough. The two exchanged a handshake and a how-do-you-do. The somewhat blurry photo at the top of this post shows the moment the magic happened.
It wasn’t until we were on our way back that it hit me. “Hey!” I erupted. “There you are again, shaking hands with the leader of the third party in the House of Commons while waiting for me to do my work covering something. If the NDP wins, I’m going to say it was because of you.”
We laughed, of course, because nobody has magic hands like that. Except... well, we don’t know, do we.