[Fwd: Run, Mike, run!]

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Sat, 22 May 1999 13:22:27 -0400


>From the current issue of Eye magazine:

------------------

Run, Mike, Run

    Protests expose lies and media
    misdirection on the Harris campaign

BY TOM LYONS

It's Sunday morning in the bail court at Old City Hall. The long-haired
44-year-old man who was the lead story on the 6 o'clock news the night
before approaches the front of the glass-walled prisoner's box. The
crown tells the JP that Gaetan Heroux is charged with assaulting police
in a "context that arises out a protest against Mike Harris." The JP
grants Heroux release on $500 surety and sets a court date for May 21.

The incident occured at the Air Canada Centre, when a group of
anti-poverty activists tried to break through police lines to "get in
the face" of Mike Harris as he walked from his campaign bus into the
Centre for a staged TV event.

"Some of us wanted to make sure that he saw us, because he has a
tendency to walk by without acknowledging that you're there," says
Heroux after his release. "So, I think, from my end, it was an attempt
to bring one of the banners over. And that was stopped. And then I think
I tried again to go and get through, and then as some point, those billy
sticks were used. I recall being hit by those, and eventually being
taken down."

The TV crews following the premier immediately trained their cameras on
Heroux, and the video images of the former hostel worker being zapped
with a cattle prod and clubbed by police wound up preceding Harris'
prepared speech on welfare reform on all the TV newscasts.

Exciting action like this is all part of the sensational new hit TV show
called The Harris Election Campaign. Like any good TV game show, the
rules are simple. The campaign exists only on TV, and its boundaries are
guarded by police. Anyone who wants to approach the premier with a
question must get past the police to break into TVland. The reward for
breaking through is a brief turn as a TV star, followed by a stint in
jail.

Harris has levelled a number of accusations at the protesters who "dog"
his "campaign stops." They're well-financed, they're paid professionals,
they're union bosses, they've cut a secret deal with the Liberals,
they're a small corps of sophisticated agitators, they only show up when
the cameras are there, they're interfering with the democratic process,
they're preventing him from getting his message out, they're special
interest groups, they don't represent the general public.

The accusations are refuted even by the mainstream press. But the
charges are repeated so often that they have a way of sinking into
memory the same way the non-stop TV ads become hard-wired into the
brain. Surely, there must be some truth to them. Surely the premier
wouldn't tell a pack of lies....

Fact is, Harris' claims are preposterous. The anti-Harris protesters
observed or interviewed last week in Toronto were a diverse group,
including homeless people, unemployed people, housing advocates,
ministers, nurses, teachers, paramedics, librarians, lawyers, race track
clerks, small businessmen, middle class mothers,
carpenters, postal workers, labor union members, labor union executives,
social workers, social activists, health care activists, anti-poverty
activists, a chef, a graduate student, and a university professor.

The protesters also point out that there is nothing to be ashamed about
for belonging to a union or social activist group, just as there's
nothing wrong with belonging to the Progressive Conservative Party.

Indeed, the notion of a government leader attacking people simply for
belonging to a group other than his own suggests some very frightening
parallels.

"Classic totalitarianism replaces civic debate with public scapegoating,
and attacks other forms of citizen identification as subversive or
special interests," notes John McMurty, a University of Guelph
philosophy professor, in an analysis of the Harris media campaign
published in the May Economic Reform. "Its hallmark characteristic is
the 'big lie' -- overriding the distinction between fact and fiction by
saturating repetition
of mind-shackling falsehoods as certitudes."

THE BIG LIE

According to protesters, the big lie of the Harris campaign is the claim
that it's open to the public. In fact, they say, it is so well hidden
that it seems to exist only on TV.

"Mike Harris' campaign is a month-long infomercial. He goes from sealed
event to sealed event in a sealed bus, and he doesn't want the real
world to intrude," says Michael Shapcott, a Toronto housing advocate, at
the Air Canada Centre demonstration on May 15.

The "campaign event" inside the ACC, for instance, is nothing more than
a press conference in an empty arena. Harris looks directly into the TV
cameras and says he is "here to congratulate" former welfare recipients
at
"this event," leaving viewers at home to assume that there must be
something going on, perhaps a group of reformed crackheads shuffling up
to receive honorary Leafs jerseys after the speeches. But there are only
empty seats and the giant scoreboards flashing triumphant slogans about
how many people have disappeared from the welfare roles. Twelve people
every hour! 380,000 altogether! Enough to fill the Air Canada Centre 20
times over! (Where they have gone to remains a point of bitter debate.)

Moments earlier, in the real world, anti-poverty activists including
Heroux had clashed with police in the scuffle that upstages Harris'
event on the evening news. Later, the TV cameras return for interviews
with
the leader of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty John Clarke who
pours out a stream of anti-Harris rhetoric that gets more air time that
evening than McGuinty and Hampton combined.

"We've seen lives destroyed. We've seen a mountain of misery. And if he
gets some small taste of the hatred and the anger that people feel, I
think that's entirely appropriate. He needs to get a lot more."

It seems like a clear victory for the forces of social realism. As
Shapcott puts it, "our job is to make sure the real world gets in there
at some point."

But someone else suggests another interpretation -- that the melee was
also staged. Not by the protestors or the police, but by the premier
himself.

THE FAMILY AFFAIR

"That was nothing. Back in the '60s, protests like that were
10-a-penny."

A veteran photographer is standing outside the Air Canada Centre after
the "campaign event," giving a few protesters the benefit of his
post-show analysis.

"It looked like a set-up. He could have gone in the private entrance
hockey players use. He could have avoided them if he wanted to do."

The theory seems absurd at first. Why would any politician want to be
associated with what looked to be a public relations disaster -- four
cops wailing on a downed man with billy clubs and a cattle prod. Women
in
the background shrieking "Let him go!" A giant cop in a brief shoving
match with a tiny, cute female protester? And news crews catching the
whole thing on video?

But by the time the story is retold on evening TV, a bizarre twist has
appeared that makes the photographer's theory difficult to ignore.
Though none of the protesters noticed it at the time, Harris had brought
his wife and kids along, and the newscasts are filled with reports of
violent protesters charging the Premier's family, as if the unwashed
hordes were about to snatch the little princes away and feed them to a
pack of dogs and winos at Dundas and Sherbourne.

"It bothered Jeffery a bit, " Harris let on, with the same pity-me voice
that Nixon used whenever mentioning Checkers.

HIDING AT THE HILTON

Whatever Harris' reason for choosing to face with his wife and children
in tow, his motivation for avoiding a similar TV spot with those outside
the Hilton on May 12 seems obvious. For one thing, the May 12
demonstration is not only much larger -- 100 people who assembled on
short notice after hearing of his appearance at a private Empire Club
luncheon. It also comprised a wide variety of wholesome church-social
types. Lots of mothers, senior citizens and health care professionals,
none of whom would look very good falling beneath the hooves of police
horses on the 6 o'clock news.

"I'm not one to yell and scream," says Audrey Firney, a 70-year-old
retired librarian at the Hilton demonstration. "But I really think we
have no other way to talk to Harris."

She adds proudly that her comments on Harris withholding the $37.50 food
allowance from pregnant woman on social assistance wound up on the
Canada Press wire after reporters noticed her being turned away from an
Ernie Eves speech.

"I just turned 70. I have nothing to gain. I mean, I'm not a pregnant
woman."

Others try their hand at a neo-'60s tribute to Ken Kesey and the Merry
Pranksters. Dwyer Sullivan, a retired school teacher, pilots a lumbering
school bus in circles around the Hilton. Ted Schmidt, a 58-year-old in a
floppy hat, sits in the front seat and uses a megaphone to inflict his
wit on the businessmen and secretaries that roll past the window.

"This is the Yellow School Bus campaign! Hello, Bay Street! So nice to
meet you again. Hello Corporate Canada! So nice to be here. I would have
been here earlier, but I had to have a cancer treatment in Buffalo!"

The presence of 50 police outside the front and side entrances of the
Hilton suggests the Harris bus will pull up at any moment. But the
politician who promises "strong leadership" sneaks through a back
entrance. After waiting two more hours, most give up and leave.

NO TRESPASSING

Six protesters who do make it inside the Empire Club by purchasing
tickets are removed by police and put in a paddy wagon, after trying to
ask the premier questions about health and education.

"Constantly we hear Harris saying on TV, 'I'm willing to speak to
anyone. Come and speak to me.' Really, where would that be? I haven't
seen a venue yet for that to happen," says Amani Oakley, a lawyer, after
she and the other five were released. "Let us know where that venue is.
We'll happily have a sit-down discussion with the man."

Instead, they spent time in a paddy wagon. "The police originally said,
'You are being charged with trespassing.' Slammed the door shut," says
Oakley. "And then I said, 'I'm a lawyer, and I want to know why you're
doing this.' I said, 'there's no trespassing.' They said, 'it's private
property'. I said, 'it's private property till you buy a ticket that
allows you in here. It's not private any more.' And so they sent someone
back to  talk to me, who said 'who's asking?' And I said, 'I'm a lawyer,
and I'm asking. Where's the trespass?' They said, 'all right, we're
going to let you go.' "

No charges were laid and no crime was committed, but all six women,
including Oakley and Juliani, were forced to give their names and
addresses to police.

"They took our names, " says Oakley. "They said they needed them for
'investigative purposes.' So of course it makes me uneasy. I mean, what
province are we turning into? What is this?"