Volume 95, Issue 75

Thursday, February 14, 2002
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Prez candidates interrogated

B.C. kiddies not in love with Gordie C.

"Mom must be proud"

London's pain drain

Disguised as Tory, Gazette editor infiltrates debate

Profile: Chris Sinal

Disguised as Tory, Gazette editor infiltrates debate

By Erin Conway-Smith
Gazette Staff

I never thought student journalism would be my ticket to Torydom.

But Tuesday night, I swapped my personal beliefs for a bright red Jim Flaherty t-shirt, a matching plastic bowler hat and a seat in the abyss of the provincial Progressive Conservative leadership debate at the London Hilton. I think the hat was part of my penance.

Now, to be clear, I am non-partisan. I'm not even a Tory.

Myself and a conspicuously hippie-like co-editor sat amongst Flaherty supporters because The Gazette was denied media passes. Echoes of October's Tory convention – from which we were barred – reverberated in my head, though this time around we actually found a way into the building.

Fashion pretensions aside, it was a fascinating evening. If a high school pep rally got it on with C-Span, the result would be Tuesday's Tory debate.

Campaign teams for individual candidates – Flaherty, Tony Clement, Ernie Eves and Elizabeth Witmer – wore colourful t-shirts and matching bandannas, while feverishly waving flags and signs.

Both Flaherty and Clement snagged appearances by Western's cheerleading team.

The poor fans of Chris Stockwell had no t-shirts or special tricks – I think they felt left out.

Supporters stood on chairs and chanted songs at other teams to prove their spirit. "Hey, hey Ernie Eves, no one knows what he believes" was a popular one.

Kids can be so cruel.

Score cards for the riotous game of "Tory bingo" were passed around the audience. The game involves crossing off squares filled with typical lines like "the Common Sense Revolution is NOT over," as they are spoken by candidates during the debate. It wasn't a hard game to win.

Stockwell, ever the jokester, kept the evening lively with a flurry of one-liners and a complete lack of content. He and Clement ganged up on Eves, who remained calm and didn't say much of anything – not like he needed to given his current standing in the polls.

The hecklers seemed to like picking on Eves best.

The women sitting in front of me, like much of the crowd, should have been at a hockey game, not a leadership debate.

Not once did the crowd stand and clap for candidates when they were supposed to, instead reserving loud comments and noises for moments when other candidates were trying to talk. Stockwell even chastised hecklers for being rude at one point – then continued to heckle candidates himself.

After the debate ended, everyone piled into the lobby and continued to wave banners and shout chants. The mood was feisty and I have to admit – even I felt a little tense when the Clement crowd passed the Flaherty fans in the hall.

As I returned my t-shirt and hat at the end of the evening – my own politics shoved further from the right – I realized the biggest surprise had been discovering Tory supporters are neither conservative nor boring. Like high schoolers at a football game, they sang cheers, jeered the opposition and then headed to after-parties for pizza and beer.

If only student elections at Western could be so lively.

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Copyright The Gazette 2002