When we’re on the road, our days begin with a conference call. Those of us on the Liberal Express call Ottawa to get up-to-date on communications issues.
As Director of Communications, Mario Laguë would lead those discussions, day in and day out. When he missed the call on Thursday, we knew something was wrong. When he wasn’t on the call yesterday, his absence was hard to take.
I know, logically, that this is how we’ll come to grips with what happened, with the sudden loss of a colleague we loved. The small things. The day-to-day things. The void on the conference call. The quiet in the corridor. The brief impulse to send him an email, to ask his advice, only to realize that there won’t be an answer.
On Friday morning, before we left for the day, Michael Ignatieff brought us together in the lobby bar of our hotel in Winnipeg. It was just us, the staff who are travelling on the Liberal Express. There was no consolation — how could there have been? — only shared grief, and the will to carry on.
Michael Ignatieff said the same thing to us that he said a few hours later, during a visit to Red River College:
This was a big, vibrant, funny Québécois we all came to love. When a team has a loss like that you just have to take a deep breath. These are the things that test a team, test leadership, test our determination. He wouldn’t want us to be anywhere else than at Red River College today, and anywhere else but in Manitoba continuing the tour. We loved the guy.
The rhythm of the road can be a tonic, and there is no better distraction than a full day of events. I think I speak for all of us on the Liberal Express in saying “thank you” to the people of Winnipeg. Your warmth and enthusiasm kept us going yesterday.
In the end, we could not have asked for a better day. By the time we’d left the hotel, Michael Ignatieff had already met with local community leaders, answering their questions about fixing our immigration system and preventing crime in our communities. He also spoke about the census.
“You need good information, so that every community gets treated fairly by our public services,” he said. “This is the first government in the history of Canada that doesn’t understand that.”
From there, we were off to Red River College, where Michael Ignatieff and Winnipeg South candidate Terry Duguid met with students, teachers, and senior administrators. This week on the Liberal Express, we’re highlighting learning and training, and Red River College is on the cutting edge — not just of cold-weather jet engine testing and energy-efficient window technology, but also of the culinary arts. Michael Ignatieff got an expert lesson in how to tie a roast.
After lunch with women entrepreneurs and a visit to the Canadian Wheat Board, we spent an incredible evening at Folklorama, Winnipeg’s celebration of cultures and communities.
At the Israel Pavilion, Michael Ignatieff waved to the crowd, raised his glass, and shouted “l’chaim!” He didn’t get off so easily at the Philippine Pavilion, where the kids pulled him on stage to dance with them. At the Africa Pavilion, Michael Ignatieff actually kicked off the show, dancing with Emilia, the “face of Folklorama,” whose likeness is featured on the Folklorama Beer can that Michael Ignatieff received at the end of the night.
It was an exuberant end to a difficult day. We went to bed exhausted. We had carried on.
Adam Goldenberg, Michael Ignatieff’s speechwriter, will be blogging from the Liberal Express (almost) all summer. For up-to-the-minute reports from the bus, follow him on Twitter. Email him at email@example.com.