By Frank Moher
Oh, grow a sense of humour, already. Canadian novelist Kenneth J. Harvey’s piece in today’s Globe, “Thank you, Bob Rae, for stealing my plane seat,” is inspiring an unseemly fuss among my facebook and twitter peeps. Harvey’s article, a funny and typically shrewd account of his trying unsuccessfully to board an Air Canada flight to St. John’s when his own was delayed by two hours, only to see Liberal interim-leader Bob Rae sashay up and get on because he’s “Super Elite,” seems to have drawn a lot of overly earnest Grit supporters from the woodwork (or are they purse-lipped socialists who’ve forgotten Rae abandoned them years ago?).
“The @globeandmail is a trashy Tory rag. Article doesn’t clarify super elite is a flier rewards program, not a statement,” humphs one. “Poor baby,” says somebody on a facebook thread. And he doesn’t mean Rae.
Look, the story is irresistible, as Harvey — who, not-so-by-the-way, is one of Canada’s very best novelists — obviously realized. It’s made all the better by his honed observational powers: “‘I am Super Elite,’ [Rae] said again, this time with more worry in his voice, as no one seemed to be paying him any attention. He poked his glasses up and roughly coughed to clear his throat, as though to deepen his voice.” Some people have suggested Harvey only got this piece into the Globe because he’s a famous Canadian novelist. Wrong. A) He’s not that famous, and B) he got it into the Globe because it’s terrifically written. And, oh yeah — irresistible.
My only question after reading it was what exactly made Rae “Super Elite”? Actually, I assumed it must be some sort of classification for high-level politicos who need to get where they’re going on time in order to execute their nation-saving business. I supposed the card Rae slapped down must have said something like “Bob Rae, Official High Mucky-Muck” on it. But, as that aggrieved tweeter points out, Super Elite is instead Air Canada’s top classification for frequent fliers. (You can read about all the privileges it earns you here.) In which case, Harvey’s latent political point holds. Should Bob Rae be using status he almost certainly earned by flying around the country on the taxpayer’s dime to muscle his way onto a plane he’s not even meant to be on, when he could sit and wait like, well, Kenneth J. Harvey?
If I thought he might have some sort of pressing public matter to attend to, I’d say “maybe.” But it’s hard to conceive that the leader of the current Liberal Party has anything to do of serious consequence. So I say lose the card, Bob, and the attitude. And to Harvey: thanks for an insight into the limits of Liberal Party egalitarianism.