The Arthritis NewsletterSpring 2012
Bring Hope To Others: Linda Wilhelm Part 2
We continue here with the fascinating election diary of Linda Wilhelm, a person with RA and a well-known and highly respected arthritis consumer activist from New Brunswick. In Chapter One of the diary, which we ran in our Fall issue, Linda described her thoughts, hesitations, the nomination process and the careful deliberation she put into her decision to run for Parliament in the last Canadian federal election of May, 2011, in the riding of Fundy Royal. In Chapter 2, Linda plunges right into the heat and action of the campaign and, here, her diary gives us a uniquely vivid, blow-by-blow account of what the experience of running for political office is actually like. By turns, the reader will find her diary to be whimsical, exceedingly funny (look for her description of the campaign car provided by her Party!) and at other points, very emotionally-engaging and touching. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we have done! Our next issue will carry the outcome of Linda’s campaign and her reflections on the whole experience.
…Running for MP in the Riding of Fundy Royal
Chapter 2: “Off and Running!”
I can’t believe how difficult it is to approach a complete stranger and introduce oneself as a candidate for MP, Fundy Royal! I hope it gets easier as the campaign progresses. The reaction is mixed, some are very supportive, others indifferent, and a few are openly hostile. It is almost easier to speak to a crowd of 100 than just one person. This is truly stepping outside my comfort zone and pushing me to my limits, both physically and mentally, but if I can’t handle campaigning, I have no business running to be an MP. Interestingly though, the best place to campaign is Tim Horton’s. People don’t mind discussing politics over a cup of coffee; in fact they seem to thoroughly enjoy it. Now that I am confirmed, it all seems less stressful, although I sure would like to see some signs go up.
April 8, 2011
I got some ribbing from the locals at Valleyview Sales, the local gas station, but I joked with them that I wasn’t necessarily doing this expecting to win (but if I do win, I would be happy to head to Ottawa). A friend, whose dad was a MP, then a Senator, is concerned about my health and the impact of campaign politics on me. I reassured him that I’m okay and will continue to be – no matter the outcome. I spend the day campaigning around St. Martins on the Bay of Fundy with Senator J. D. It was the nicest day yet this spring, and it was wonderful to be out talking to people such as the guys at the government garage in Upham and the new Korean immigrant owner of the local gas station /liquor outlet /convenience store. He is happy to meet a candidate, although his citizenship hasn’t come through yet so he cannot vote in this election.
Mr. H. is the owner of the main grocery store in St. Martins, and is known for his sausage meat. We eat it regularly for breakfast when we camp at Century Farm across the street from his store. Mr. H is very angry that the Fundy Trail hasn’t been pushed through to Fundy National park. He believes it would make a huge impact on the area for tourism like the Cabot Trail has done for Cape Breton and I think he is right. He is restoring his century old store and putting living quarters above it and proudly showed us what he has done thus far. The Senator and I stop for a bowl of homemade seafood chowder at the Caves Restaurant; I think the Caves are every bit as scenic as the flower pot rocks, the provincial emblem of NB.
April 9 – Week 3
Saturday is the busiest campaign day of the week. First thing is to stop and get gas. I have a bit of a debate with a gentleman at the gas station. D. is waiting for me in the car, hungry and grumpy. We head to Nauwigewauk for their very well attended community breakfast. Breakfast is good and D’s mood improves; we make the rounds in the room. I win the door prize which I give away. On the way out, I see a rival candidate of mine coming in.
We then stop by Kredle’s market; it’s the opening day for the season. Some supporters were there selling tickets for the Relay for Life. We have a good visit.
I leave D. and head for the RV Show and flea market in Sussex, meeting up there with two supporters. We walked around speaking to people. Another “Relay for Life” team was there selling tickets on a baby barn. I bought one and on the way back out a man stops me and asks if I am the person in the Disease Control video. When I reply that yes, it’s me, he said he is voting for me. Apparently the video was shown to the entire group taking part in the Cancer Society’s relay for life. Next comes the flea market and one of my contacts has a table. Then we head to Tim Horton’s. There, a former MLA, a good guy, comes in. He didn’t run in the last election after a battle with cancer. He’s doing well now, he wishes me all the best and told me to develop a thick skin. I’m working on it but I’m not quite there yet. A long day and I’m very tired! They are also putting a new roof on our house!!
The roofing continues. After a campaign conference call with the other NB candidates I head over to former MP J H’s house for some debate preparation and campaign advice. My detailed campaign car won’t start, the ignition needs replacing. So, in a temporary vehicle, I head out to meet with J. He gives me a bit of history and a campaign overview of our two key national opponents. He suggests that I stress the theme words “waste, mismanagement and corruption” in the upcoming debates.
After meeting with J, I head over to the campaign office for a scheduling meeting. My signs are finally in and they have been getting them up slowly. We put together a schedule for the next 3 weeks of the election campaign. I’m now less stressed and am sleeping very well every night, perhaps because I’m exhausted when I get to bed.
G. calls to see about getting a replacement car till Kerry can get mine fixed.
I am invited to the Grade 12 Law Class at Hampton High School to discuss the Party Platform and my reason for running. The questions are excellent and I am excited to see the interest in a room of senior high school students. We will be having an all-candidates debate later in the week. They ran out of questions and one student said they hadn’t run out when my opponent, R M. was there the previous week “because he took so long to answer each one”!!
After the high school, I went home to check e-mails and return some phone calls. I called M. M., a known MS patient advocate. She said she was “very pleased to see someone with some common sense running”. I remind people, including Kerry, that my chances of winning are remote, but that I’m enjoying the experience immensely now, with all the paperwork filed and some signs going up. It is still very hard to approach complete strangers and sometimes when it gets close to the end of the day I just have to head home to recharge my batteries and thicken up my skin.
L. gives us a 2001 Volvo station wagon. It has my enlarged face painted on both sides, so everyone knows who is driving this car. It’s supposedly a standard gear shift, but its 1st and 3rd gears are unreliable and sometimes reverse is too!!. Every warning light that can be on, is on, and the interior lights also come on whenever you hit a bump. It is so weird to see one’s own enlarged face emblazoned on a car everywhere I go!!! So much for shopping incognito in Sussex or Hampton anymore!
This morning I head to Quispamsis with S. who has worked with Fredericton MP, A.S. in the past. We put up a sign for a loyal supporter whose husband is a Conservative but she is working hard to convert him. S. is active on Facebook and communicates regularly. We do some campaigning on Main Street and at Tim Horton’s. I run into R M’s Aunt who wishes me luck and is a very nice lady.
After lunch, I head out to Cumberland Bay and Grand Lake area on the far end of the riding. I actually have to drive through 20 km of the adjoining riding before my riding starts up again. I meet up with B. M. and we go door to door seeing local supporters. All are very surprised that I would take the time to come up to see them. B. has a gorgeous place right on the lake and his wife makes us delicious fish chowder for supper.
I’m back in Sussex, meeting the McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s morning political crowd. It seems like every little town has one of these. They are generally good natured and love to debate politics among other things. We meet up with D. M. and his wife, loyal supporters. D. retired from the mine and knows Kerry very well. Kerry tells me that he is the guy who tried to sell me magnets a number of years ago to cure my RA. I won’t hold that against him. A reporter from The Telegraph Journal meets me at McDonald’s for an article she is writing on the candidates. We have a great interview and then I head to Petticodiac for a roast beef lunch at the Legion.
When I arrive I go in and say hi to a few here and there, handing out a couple of brochures. A lady asks to speak with my privately. She says that I cannot campaign in the Legion. I apologize and ask if I may sit down and eat lunch. She says that’s fine, so I do, chatting with those at my table. Although they were not overly friendly initially, they warm up after a bit. The first question I get now that my signs are up is “where are you from”. Once they find out that I live in Midland, I pass another test, I’m not from the “city”. I head to Main Street and visit some ladies in the local bakery, then on to Riverview to meet up with another supporter (who doesn’t show up). After my Legion experience, I decide that I need to hug my grandson. So I do so before heading back home. I really miss my family; it is so busy.
Today is our first all candidates’ debate for the Hampton High School Grade 11 & 12 classes. D. P. came on very aggressively towards the incumbent. He is abrasive and his attacks were personal, not my kind of politics. The younger kids responded to his theatrics, but I think he was out of line. He used the line “I’m not a politician” for the first time, but certainly not the last. I came in low key for this debate, wanting to get the lay of the land for the important debates to come, since this is a high school and I view it as a practice session. The kids asked great questions, one about a National Pharmacare Program – obviously having read up on my work.
More door to door with N. K. in Hammond River. I met some people who were at the breakfast last Saturday. We had a good visit. They knew all about me from J. On a flight home a while back I sat beside J’s dad who asked what I was up to in Ottawa so I told him about my work with Health Canada and patients. We receive an e-mail from a Baptist Church in Coverdale saying my sign is on their property. It isn’t, but knowing that the Baptists generally support the the opposition, we make arrangements to have someone pick it up and move it. The sign has gone missing, no one can find it. Someone should inform the church that it is against the law to tamper with and remove election signs. I am still working on thickening up my skin. I knew there was a reason I stopped attending a Baptist church, but it hurts anyway. Another long day.
Today in the newspaper I read the obituary for Mr. H. the gentleman who owned the main grocery store in St. Martins that I spoke with just the week previous, he died quite suddenly – a terrible shock!!
Georgie and I head to Albert County, rural NB. We start in Alma, the village that borders Fundy National Park. Georgie makes me stop in and see someone with a Conservative sign on their business, a pizza place. She says that the Conservative candidate is somewhat of a God in this area. I tell Georgie that and we have a great laugh, she says I should have said I would like to be a Goddess! We continue along the coast and we see a gentleman working in what looks like a garage. He is excited to see me. I must have found the only Liberal in Albert County! He tells me to go in and see his wife. I walk in and am reminded of the show “Hoarders” but sit down, decline the offer of tea and chat for a bit before moving on.
We continue stopping in at businesses, town halls along the way, eating lunch at a little restaurant in Hillsboro. I stop in at a Greco Pizza and, lo and behold, this is the Tim Horton’s for this community. There are about 10 elderly gentlemen sitting at a table, ready and waiting for a political debate. I head over to their table and introduce myself. I was right, they were looking forward to a great discussion which we had.
April 16 – Week 4
Sussex Flea Market – Sussex Legion: News travels fast. I asked at the door if it was okay to talk to people and they were absolutely fine with it. K. and I walked around chatting and I noticed two gentlemen having coffee at a table off to the side. I went up to talk to them and could almost see the smoke coming out of their ears, they were furious that I was campaigning in their sacred Legion. I said that I had asked and was given permission. They then brought up that “someone” had campaigned in the Petticodiac Legion earlier in the week. I said that would be me, and that the Legion should clarify its policies. Some allow it; some don’t. He said that none do, but some don’t follow the constitution! I actually find it comical that they are so angry and that the Petticodiac experience has made it all the way to Sussex, about a half hour away. I leave, not wanting to cause a scene or upset anyone further. On the way out, we see D. M. and his wife selling tickets, he is furious about how we were treated. News travels fast in rural NB.
Hampton Legion Breakfast – no one has a problem with me being here, but Kerry and I just eat breakfast, no campaigning. Although everyone can see the car and knows who I am, after my two previous Legion experiences, I’m not taking any chances. Around 3:30, K. and I head to the Apohaqui CommunityRoast Beef Supper. It’s a busy place, and while we wait for a table, I have a conversation with a lively elderly gentleman who asks why I am running for MP. The two guys at the ticket table also discuss the election. People either can’t wait to talk to me about politics, or it’s the last thing they want to talk about, there is no in between.
A CBC Radio reporter comes out to the house for an interview. Everyone is curious as to why I am doing this. Other than the experience, I’m not sure. I don’t think I’m ready to go to Ottawa as a MP quite yet, but if I get elected I will definitely go. The learning curve will be huge.
I get numerous e-mails every day asking me my position on different issues or to pledge support for various causes and organizations. I even receive one from The Arthritis Society. I reply that if people with arthritis support me, I will support them. As much as I would like to, I simply cannot respond personally to all of them. So we draft a standard response (oh how much I hate receiving the canned answer when I send a letter!) and tell K. that I want all the health related requests forwarded to me for a personal answer. Thus far, it looks like Alzheimers, Arthritis, MS, and Cancer have all instituted a Federal Election letter writing campaign.
I spend a few hours in the afternoon preparing for the Rogers Television debate with D. L. He wants me to be very outspoken; knowing that my chances for winning are slim, he thinks I should try for some headlines. I simply cannot say the things he wants me to say, even for a headline. I guess I don’t want to win that badly – but also I don’t think I could say some things suggested to me and sound credible. The debate is held in Saint John for ease of filming. My opponents underestimated me because of the high school debate earlier, which is what I wanted, and I do well, using the campaign theme words “waste”, “mismanagement” and “corruption” and also mentioning the need for Federal Leadership on Health care and the coming expiration of the Health Accord in 2014. Some other party supporters came up to me afterwards and said they wished they could vote for me. It is such an adrenaline rush, stepping up and doing well. It’s short lived, though. I know from the euphoria after my nomination meeting that by tomorrow it will be gone. Maybe that’s why politicians keep at it for the adrenaline and attention that is so fleeting, on top of the world one day and back down again the next?
I do more preparation with D. L. who wants me to be even more outspoken for tonight’s debate, affecting two ridings – Fundy Royal and NB Southwest. R. M. and J. W., the respective Conservative Candidates, arrive ten minutes late, J.W. mentioning, on entering, the delicious supper that a constituent made for him. My friend says that I glared at him as if to say “You had time to eat? I guess that’s why you were late!” There are eight of us which makes it difficult to rebut other’s points. By the time an issue comes around again, the point is lost. The dialogue on the Long Gun Registry gets heated, with the audience jeering and cheering. I state that this is a rural issue affecting rural women and we all know that women in Kings County have died because of a long gun during a domestic situation that has turned violent. Fundy Royal NDP Candidate D. P. loses his temper and swears in front of a religious rural NB audience. He is asked by the Moderator to apologize, which he does.
Michael Ignatief comes to SJ and we go in to the rally in the uptown. The place is packed and it is difficult to move. The PR people want K. W. and me to stay close to Michael. We are supposed to have a photo op during a press conference. Kerry speaks to Michael Ignatief and tells him about me and how far I have come. Michael asks me to speak about my RA, access to the biologics and the need for a National Pharmacare Program and steps aside to give me the microphone, another adrenaline moment. Everyone seems surprised that I can speak with such passion about health care. Unfortunately the National media are only interested in what is going to happen after the election with a coalition government. I’m told the local media picked up my comments. I don’t think I have ever been so disappointed in the Canadian media coverage of a general election.
K. and I head to Salisbury High School to answer their questions about the Platform and why I am running. These high school kids continually amaze with their perceptiveness, often more so than their parents. So far, they haven’t asked any questions about the Long Gun Registry, instead focusing on Health care, Post-Secondary Education and the environment.
On the way home, we stop and see S. M., who wants one of my signs. S. has a few hundred acres outside of Petticodiac where he says is trying to set up a business that would get rock bands out to his acreage for summer concerts. We pull up to a rundown house and it looks like no one is home, but S comes out after a few minutes and invites us in. K looks mortified as we enter, (having led somewhat of a protected life, I can tell that she has never been in a place like this). There are two very large dogs. The house was not overly clean and S. seemed a bit of a dubious character. I was confident that he was harmless, but K. looked worse by the minute. When he talked about his altercations with the RCMP, I almost laughed out loud. After about a half hour I told S. that we really need to be on our way. When we got back into the car, I could see the visible relief on K’s face and I had a good laugh. Apparently she was plotting our escape the entire time we were there, in case S. was a sociopath and planned to go after us with an ax! This is good education for her, especially if she wants to take on family law.
April 22 – Good Friday
K. and I head to the Waterford Community Breakfast. While this is like campaigning, we are not campaigning. It is Good Friday and instead of walking around the room, we just let everyone see the campaign car and our party buttons. We simply have breakfast and chat with those around us. On the way out, I have a conversation with the ticket man at the door and we move on to our next stop. Portage is a facility for young people with addiction problems. They have built a beautiful new facility which two of the residents are happy to show us. There is an amazing common room with a spectacular view of Cassidy Lake. There are about forty residents, 25 male and 15 female, housed in separate residences. Some have gone home for the Easter Weekend. The questions are more pointed and direct than those from the high school students. At the Schools I could get away with a high level political, “greater good” response when I didn’t know what else to say. Here at Portage, they want to know exactly what I will do about homelessness and the inability to secure help when you need it. I gave one young woman a business card and told her to contact me if I get elected and I would find an answer to her question. She had tried to get help before entering the portage program and her elected MP and MLA would not respond to her queries. It was a humbling experience and one that I won’t soon forget. I wonder how R M would fare with this crowd given his Party’s predilection for dealing with addiction issues by being “tough on crime”?
April 23 – Week 5
K. and I head out to the far end of the very large riding and end up in Havelock for the Lions Breakfast. I stop in at the Tenderheart Special Care Home just up the street from my house. They are mostly all “special needs” residents but enjoy someone coming in to see them. A gentleman sitting on the outside porch, asks some very good questions on my way out. We have a very good conversation about health care and the issues. Another gentleman comes out to join us. He is upset because the government pays for him to live in the home which costs more than if they would give him about $200.00 more a month disability to live on his own. He feels he would be able to manage to live independently and wonders why the government has so little common sense? I understand his point, but have no answers for him. I stop at Tim Horton’s and have a coffee, discussing the election and my candidacy with those around me. A gentleman comes up to me and says “God bless you for running”. He requests a lawn sign and I take down his name. This is not the first time I have been thanked for running and it makes me feel good. I receive an incredible e-mail from a “former” conservative constituent who saw me on the Rogers TV debate. She is struggling with arthritis and fibromyalgia, her husband lost his job six years ago. They have lost everything. She now has to go to work for the first time in her life and they are starting over at age 50 with grown children. I tell her a bit about my story – details that are still painful to share – but I want to try to give her some hope. This reminds me why I am running for MP, even though the odds are not in my favour. People need to have a choice.
K. and I visit the Kiwansis Nursing Home in Sussex. My old neighbour, I. M. lives here now. I feel guilty because I haven’t been to see her for so long. She is overjoyed to see me and has my brochure beside her chair. She has been telling everyone all about me and can’t wait to introduce me. On the way out, there is a gentleman by the door who asks me why I am running He is difficult to understand. He has MS and I discover that he is J. C., an aboriginal gentleman who is known throughout the area for helping people with herbal remedies. Many years ago, people said I should go to see him but I never did so, another humbling experience in this campaign. He gives me a copy of some of his treatments to photocopy and return to him later. We head to main street Sussex, visiting businesses, as well as the Kings County Family Support Centre.
K and I head to where we have a large population base. We go and visit some businesses and I buy a red scarf to wear. It is a challenge to find dressy clothes to wear for every day, especially when having something red on is important, but I am managing. Part of the problem is that it’s an in-between season, too cold for spring clothes and too warm for winter. Fortunately, I bought a nice red sweater at Costco before the election was called, planning to save for next winter but it has served me well over the past few weeks.
I do some door-to-door campaigning with C. W. in Hampton and speak with a very Conservative couple in “trusty Tim Horton’s” who have just returned from a winter in Florida. Initially, they are reluctant to speak with me, but then they enjoy our discussion. I’m sure they won’t be voting for me but they say they admire me for running in this election. It amazes me that a simple conversation can sometimes result in a major change in attitude.
Gondola Point Ferry – I see why this is an activity in which candidates participate. You have a captive audience just sitting and waiting for the next ferry to cross to the Kingston Peninsula. One can reach a few hundred people in a few hours. After we’re done, we hop onto the ferry and cross to attend the Town Hall to discuss Rural Postal service, a session organized by the postal union.
Moss Glen Legion – The current government has made drastic cuts to rural postal service, closing down post offices and rural delivery routes. The post office in a rural community is often the center of activity, so closing it effectively shuts down the hub. Personally, I think rural mailbox delivery is unsustainable, I would prefer a secure lock box at the end of my road. I do understand that it is important matter for seniors who have difficulty getting out. The real issue is the manner in which this is being done. The mail boxes that have been deemed safe for 60 years are now being called unsafe. Why can’t the government just come clean with why they are doing this, to save money? They could do this in a phased approach. Many feel like I do and would agree to a box at the end of their road. In time, others may come to accept it as well.
Georgie escorts me on a visit to the VA Snow centre nursing home. Georgie takes me into visit K. W. who is living with MS. He cannot walk and has difficulty speaking, it is hard to understand him and my hearing is not the best. He doesn’t meet with many people but wanted to see me and I am honoured. We talk and I wish he had e-mail, but he refuses to use it, preferring regular mail. He shows me a letter he has written to the editor on living with his illness. I am humbled by how he faces every day. In the evening, we have the last debate for the Town of Hampton Chamber of Commerce. When I arrive, the NDP candidate, D. P. is angry because hecklers from Sussex are here. It doesn’t matter to me whether they follow their candidate around. The campaign is starting to take a toll on me. I’m tired but there are just a few days left and I will sleep well tonight, once this last debate is finished and be refreshed tomorrow for the last couple of days. I’m actually surprised that I haven’t felt worn out before now. The debate begins, this is D’s best performance so far in the campaign, but I’m a bit lacking because the questions are all about economic policies – not my strong point. A heckler asks D. and I why our parties voted down the government and triggered the election. D. tries to answer with the heckler speaking over him; he loses his temper again and walks out in the middle of the debate. I stepped up to the microphone and said that the government was found to be in contempt of Parliament, adding that twice Canadians had shown themselves to be unprepared to give the Conservatives a majority and that people wished to see the government work with the other parties. R. M. got up and asked his supporters to be respectful. We answered some additional questions and I was able to redeem my slow start to the evening. D’s supporters try to make excuses for his leaving by saying he was tired. K. says all the candidates are tired and that’s not a reasonable explanation.
D’s leaving is all over the news this morning and on the front page of the Saint John section of the provincial newspaper. I didn’t even know there was media in the room, I’m glad I redeemed myself in the last half of the debate. Everyone at the Mine asked Kerry about it when he arrived at work!
April 30 – Final Two days
The last Saturday of the campaign and an early start with the Riverview Boys and Girls Club breakfast! We have breakfast, then go around the room meeting people. After this we head back to Hampton for the United Church’s Spring Tea. This is a full house, a worthwhile event with great food. They have a table with used jewelry for sale. I buy a Bulova watch, gold and silver for $5.00. They said it just needs a battery; we will see. Now it’s off to Kings way Nursing home. A lady called the house yesterday looking for the phone number of the Saint John Candidate and said that no one has been to the large nursing homes in Quispamsis. There are two, but only one is in my riding. They want to meet the candidates. When we arrive, there are two ladies just finishing their lunch. I speak with them, introducing myself and they ask about health care. I say that it is a priority for me because I have Rheumatoid arthritis. One of the ladies shows me her hands, she also has RA and it is why she is in the nursing home. That could have been me, if not for Enbrel. I’m again grateful for my response to the biologics and it’s not the first time this campaign that I have been. After this, our day is finished.
The last event of the campaign, a Roast Beef Dinner at the Sussex United Church. This is where friends of ours were married about 15 years ago. I sit beside D. B. who works at the garage at the end of my road. The dinner is delicious. Kerry has missed most of these. The people on the other side of me are initially reluctant to talk to me, but I persevere and I’m again surprised that people do like to speak once they get over their initial reticence. They tell me, as so many others have done, that they do not like my leader. I say that he doesn’t come across on TV as well as he does in person and that is unfortunate. After K and I finish our meals, we circulate and leave, campaigning is for all intents and purposes done!