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CBC's Rick Mercer On Canadian Elections

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Canadians cast their ballots Monday for federal elections. The latest polls show the Liberal Party several points ahead of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives. A third party, the leftist New Democrats, or NPD, was ahead in the polls for much of the campaign but now seems to be falling behind. There are many thoughtful Canadian political analysts and journalists, but we're going to turn to Rick Mercer in Toronto. He hosts the "Rick Mercer Report," a news comedy and satire series that airs Tuesday nights on CBC TV and has won most of Canada's top broadcast awards. Rick, thanks so much for being with us.

RICK MERCER: It is my pleasure. I've been called many things, never thoughtful.

SIMON: (Laughter) Well, thought-provoking, how's that?

MERCER: Oh, that's good. I'll take that.

SIMON: Stephen Harper's been prime minister since 2006 - hard to stay popular as a prime minister for nine years.

MERCER: Well, of course. Anything past eight years, you're really taking your chances. Stephen Harper is also a very, very polarizing figure. People either put up with him, or they really, really dislike him. You have to really dig, even among conservative supporters, to find someone who says, I like the guy. And that's been his shtick that he's always said, you don't need to like me. I'm just a competent leader. As a result, nobody likes him, but a lot of people really dislike him.

SIMON: He has won respect, though, right? I mean, Canada has been doing economically better than the United States, for example?

MERCER: Yes, I mean, certainly in certain quarters. And he would certainly take credit for that. Other people would say that when he was elected prime minister, we had a huge amount of money in the bank. We had a string of balanced budgets, and the prime minister - this current prime minister came in, and he delivered eight deficits in a row, and the debt skyrocketed. But at the same time, Canada and the United States did go through a very nasty recession, as you know. And Canada did come out a lot stronger than most countries in the G7.

SIMON: New Democrats are headed by Thomas Mulcair, also from Quebec, lawyer and civil servant. Why have they faded?

MERCER: Tom Mulcair, you have to understand, in the beginning, he said he's the far-left candidate. He was the far-left candidate, and they were doing very well in the polls. And then, he said we're going to balance the budget, no matter what. We will not go into deficit, no matter what. And then, the liberals outflanked him and said - on the left and said we will go into deficit because we're going to borrow money and spend money on infrastructure and create jobs. So Tom Mulcair tacked to the right, and his support started evaporating.

SIMON: Liberal leader is Justin Trudeau. We know that last name, son of Pierre Trudeau.

MERCER: Absolutely, yes.

SIMON: He was a schoolteacher until just a few years ago.

MERCER: Yeah, he's an incredibly handsome guy. And, you know, that can actually work against you because you just look at a guy like that. He's, like, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, the son of a prime minister. He's a 6-foot-2. He's handsome. He can't take a bad picture. So they tried to define him, basically, as a complete lightweight. Then he went into a marathon campaign. This is the longest campaign in modern Canadian history. Everyone - everyone, to a person - thought this guy was going to fizzle. Until very recently, his campaign has been flawless. They have not been knocked off message once.

SIMON: I've been trying to follow the campaign as I can. And, well, the escalator ad...

MERCER: Yes, Justin Trudeau.

SIMON: Yeah, 'cause you had some fun with that on one of your shows.

MERCER: Well, yeah, Justin Trudeau. You know, he's made some bold, bold (laughter) decisions. And one of the decisions is he's walking up an escalator backwards on one of his television ads. And he - you know, the idea he says is this is the way many Canadians feel after eight years of a Harper government. But at the same time, he was open to accusations that, you know, the poor boy's so dumb he doesn't know how an escalator works.

SIMON: (Laughter).

MERCER: Or, even, that's not safe, Justin. You know, that's a bad example.

SIMON: Right, you shouldn't show kids that that's the way it's done, yeah.

MERCER: No. And, of course, as luck would have it, he happened to shoot that commercial directly across the street from my office. So I hired a stunt man and threw him down backwards down over the same escalator.

SIMON: (Laughter).

MERCER: And it cut quite beautifully. I wasn't super popular with the liberals that week.

SIMON: You're going to be busy on Tuesday, your next show, aren't you?

MERCER: Yeah. This could very well be a minority government. Now, I know this is tricky for Americans to understand, but it's quite possible that the party that wins the most number of seats not necessarily is the party that eventually forms the government. And we do not look like we are in any territory where anyone is going to form a majority.

SIMON: Rick Mercer of the "Rick Mercer Report," thanks very much for being with us.

MERCER: Thank you, always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.