It was a whim, really. An impulse. The media was reporting that on Thanksgiving Monday, the Prime Minister of Canada was going to be campaigning in Mannheim. What? I have often biked to Mannheim Mennonite Church, it’s that close. Maybe I could get up close and personal with Justin Trudeau. But where and when? The when was answered by an internet search of the Prime Minister’s very busy schedule, 5 campaign stops beginning in Windsor, moving through London, onto Cambridge and ending in Mannheim. The time listed was 5:45 p.m. The where was not, which was understandable, given security concerns. I would have to sleuth it out.
Thanksgiving Monday was a quiet day in this house, all the action and work was front loaded on the weekend with the climax being Sunday. Wanda & I both were up front for worship at Cassel in the morning and we hosted our Thanksgiving Dinner for our family and boyfriends and Grandma Shirley in the afternoon. The cool down came after the Monday morning trash, recycle and compost was gone. So we had no plans. Would anyone want to go with me? Wanda needed some down time and declined and Amani was starting to feel very ill for some reason. So it was up to me, do I stay or do I go?
The beautiful fall weather ended up being the deciding factor. If the campaign event was outdoors this was an October opportunity not to be missed. So I decided that the worst thing that could happen if I couldn’t find the venue would be that I would enjoy a fall evening drive.
Mannheim the town was quiet so I ventured on to Mannheim Mennonite Church. There was activity next door with a field parking lot of cars. Turns out the Shantz family farm was open to the public, pumpkins and all. I managed to find a family member who told me that, no, Justin Trudeau was not coming to their farm (she seemed piqued by the question) but perhaps the German club down the street. Sure enough, just down the road, cars were parked on both sides of a driveway into the woods. It was the Hubertushaus German club. So I parked along the roadside and walked in. The attendant at the end of the drive didn’t seem to know what to do with a pedestrian. Did I have a pass for the event? No, I countered but was this a private event? No, he admitted. Was it for the general public? He thought so but needed to check. So he got on his walkie talkie and asked. The voice on the other end instructed him to say for me to come down the path and sign in at the door of the club and I could get in free. So I walked on. About every 100 yards another attendant stopped me with the same questions. This event was well secured.
I got to the door, signed my name and address, phone and email (that was the hardest part, divulging all that information. I’m sure to end up on a Liberal party contact list in the near future) and got a wrist band to admit me. The volunteers said, go in the door and someone will hand you a ticket for a free drink (beer, what else?) and food (wurst, what else?). I wasn’t hungry or thirsty at the moment so I stuffed the tickets into my pocket and ventured in.
It was Oktoberfest and this was a ‘Festhallen’, a place to celebrate with music and dancing, food and drink. And tonight, a gathering place to meet and hear the Prime Minister of Canada. I had never been to an Oktoberfest event, which is a shame really. We arrived in the area in 2011 and watched Oktoberfest happen every year around us and the only thing we’ve taken in has been the Thanksgiving Day parade, which happens the same weekend as Oktoberfest. So the experience was ‘ganz neu’ for me. And it felt warm and happy in that place. I don’t know what I expected but there were smiles everywhere, the spirit of ‘gemutlichkeit’ was truly in the air. Maybe it was the Oktoberfest celebration or maybe it was the anticipation of the (mostly Liberal supporters) crowd waiting for Justin Trudeau.
The dancers in their traditional German/ Swiss costumes danced to traditional German music (polka and oompah variety) and as 5:45 passed, the band played on. The Liberal party candidates were out in force; Tim Louis, Bardish Chagger, Raj Saini, Marwan Tabbara, Brian May as well as Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic and many others. Their numbers were almost matched by the security force detail. Mostly military looking men in oversized suit jackets (bullet proof vests underneath?) with short cut hair, ear pieces, and a waist full of security stuff seen when their jackets flared open, looking like their American counterparts (as seen on old ‘West Wing’ dramas we are watching right now, as well as in real life).
Finally around 6:30 the room started to buzz with the imminent arrival of the PM. A lane had been created from the door to the front of the stage where the band was and the security was keeping it free of folk. Then he arrived and the crowd offered a raucous welcome. This was friendly territory for Justin. The media were covering him but no questions, just red meat (politically) for the friendly crowd. I didn’t realize it when I initially took up my spot but I ended up just about 1 yard/ metre away from where he ended up standing to give his campaign speech. My phone was out and I video’d and photographed the entire time. I did get a chance to shake his hand (a couple of times actually), the hand of a politician, long fingers and soft hands.
Justin Trudeau gave a stump speech that I’m sure he had given a half dozen times that day. He then tapped the beer keg ready for him. The spigot was waiting and JT was given a big mallet to pound it in. ‘Eins, zwei, drei, hit that spigot!’ and the beer flowed. I got a cup of draft, tasted great. On the way out I grabbed a bratwurst as well, delicious! As I was escaping through a back door, the two large campaign bus coaches towered over the crowd, along with the 7 plus black Suburban security vehicles which follows the Prime Minister’s every move. Not quite as overwhelming as the American security looks like, but imposing nonetheless. The rally was over by 7 and I walked back up the driveway out to the road.
I don’t get out to too many political rallies but when I have the chance to meet the Prime Minister, I will consider it. I’m glad I went. His voice was hoarse from a day of campaigning. He came in shaking hands and posing for selfies and went out the same way. He was dressed in a dress shirt with rolled up sleeves, no flak jacket for this venue. The crowd was clearly partisan, bleeding red so to speak. I count myself an erstwhile supporter who disagrees with some of his body of work (reneging on the voting reform, buying the pipeline, ditching Jane and Jodie, etc.) but like so many, I’ll be doing strategic voting to keep the conservative policies, and Andrew Scheer (an empty suit, a Stephen Harper mini-me) at bay. My heart is with the Greens and NDP but their time is not quite arrived politically (their ideas are). Still it was so much fun to go out and be part of a campaign rally, to observe what it feels like to be with a politically homogeneous group (but ethnically diverse).