For some reason, Michael Wassilyn suggested we meet outside Dino’s in Downtown Guelph. It’s a warm sunny day, and owner Dino Scrementi is sitting our front. We chat briefly, and I tell Dino who I’m meeting and he tells me that Wassilyn is a great guy. Then. the man himself shows up, and soon the mystery will start to unravel.
Wassilyn first came to the attention of people in this election when his name appeared on the Elections Canada website when the nomination period closed. No other information was given except the name of his official agent. There was no email, no website, and no phone number.
I wrote about this mysterious Michael Wassilyn and how I couldn’t find any information about him, and then he found me.
Wassilyn called me last Monday and said that he had been told that I had written about him, and he sought me out. He said it was fate because my namesake was the first man according to Biblical lore, so it would makes sense that I would be his first political interview.
I walk with Wassilyn to the Red Brick Cafe on Douglas. He’s never been before. At the counter he tells me that I won’t buy his coffee today because he’s not taking one penny from donors or any other support. He’s a one man show.
At this point, Wassilyn’s name was making the rounds. His signs had started appearing a major intersections, portrait shaped and considerably larger than the typical election signs you see. Wassilyn, wearing a Roots red and white Canada fleece jacket, looks out at you with the message “Vote for the Man with a Plan.”
Still, if you hadn’t seen one of the signs, you might not have even known that Wassilyn was running. Until that point, he had been to no events, had no web presence, and seemed to have no political past. A quote on his sign, “God has dominion from sea to shining sea,” is a paraphrase of Psalm 72:8, “He shall have dominion from sea to sea and from the river unto the ends of the earth.”
So faith was part of the campaign, but what else?
“Before you can release anything about myself personally, you’ll need to have a written release from me because they do want to write a book,” Wassilyn explained after we take a seat on the back patio of Red Brick. He’s takes out a grey-coloured micro-cassette record so that he might record the conversation too.
“I’ll allow you to do this small feature, not a problem,” he added, “but anything other than this, you’ll need permission from me for the simple reason that there’s going to be a book written about my life, and all the proceeds from it will go to the Jewish Holocaust survivors.”
Okay. I ask Wassilyn if he has any Jewish ancestry, and he said no, he’s a Gentile like me. “I grew up hating the church, hating it,” he explained.
Wassilyn, like a lot of young boys, preferred the company of his hockey stick. It was a love of hockey that lead him to Maple Leaf Gardens, where, as a young man, Wassilyn says he worked concessions. That path led him to Morris “Cooney” Cohen, Toronto’s own “king of the scalpers.”
“40 Years Around Maple Leaf Gardens.”
Cohen is something of a well-known character in Toronto lore. He was featured in a 1971 article in Canadian Magazine, a publication of the Regina Leader-Post. The cover of Canadian Magazine declared Cohen “The best ticket scalper in Canada,” who banked $500 per week from scalping.
Cohen was also name-dropped in a Sports Illustrated article on scalping from April 1997.
“[Cohen] taught me the trade and I called him ‘my father. by trade,'” Wassilyn recalled. “So I started learning that business and I learned from him.”
Yes, you read that right, Michael Wassilyn, candidate for Guelph’s Member of Parliament, was a well-known ticket scalper.
Allan Fotheringham wrote about Wassilyn the scalper in a column in a 1990 edition of Maclean’s:
Father, obedient, guilt-ridden Protestant wretch, drives down to what once was the shrine of the nation, Maple Leaf Gardens. On the sidewalk, as he is each game day, is our favorite scalper, Mike Wassilyn. In his familiar red corduroy cap and black leather coat, Mike is more a fixture on the sidewalk than the fire hydrant that is approximately his size.
Mike fixes up your agent, as he fixes up all itinerant tourists from Otter Haunch, Man., and such way stations who still feel they are not really card-carrying Canadians unless they have seen the pitiful Maple Loafs of Apps/Drillon/and Davidson/he shoots/he scores fame. It is not to say that Mike is swaggering this day, but he has a certain cachet, since the public prints have revealed that his mother, one Rose MacBumie, claims that the dear departed Harold Ballard is Mike’s natural father.
Wassilyn confirmed that the article was about him.
Wassilyn’s name also turned up in a Toronto Star article in 2008 about ticket irregularities at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Jim Edmands, then-Maple Leaf Sports director of sales and service, and four other employees, were fired “for conduct that wasn’t in keeping with what we hold important as a company.”
Wassilyn wasn’t involved in that scandal, but he was name-dropped in the article for reportedly being fined $2,100 in 1992 for 10 charges of ticket scalping. “I’m not saying yay, or nay, but that’s not a criminal offense, that’s like getting a parking ticket,” Wassilyn said when asked to confirm.
At the debate at the Royal City Mission Thursday night, Wassilyn said that he had not be charged with a criminal offense since 1976.
The candidate was actually quite candid about his past brushes with the law. “I knew everybody from the chief of police growing up in Cabbagetown. I knew every criminal. I knew every cop,” Wassilyn said. “I ended up in training school for running away from home. I ended up Bowmanville training school,” he added.
Interestingly, it was his experience in the criminal justice system that first brought Wassilyn to Guelph in 1968, he said.
“I traveled through these back roads up to Guelph, and I thought, ‘This is a beautiful territory.’ I ended up getting 27 months for my first offense, 15 months definite and 12 months indefinite,” Wassilyn explained adding that he loved his time at the old Guelph Reformatory. “I love Guelph so much. I love what it’s done for me, and because it reminds me of Toronto when I was a kid.”
“I was so gifted by God…”
I asked Wassilyn about his spiritual awakening, which he said was a great question. He goes on to explain that he was a gifted athlete when he was young, and that he played every sport. He sparred with George Foreman, played on a line with Darryl Sittler at camp, and set a record in a puck shooting contest while at training school.
“You can check the record, the Oshawa newspaper will have this,” he said. “Anything I tell you, don’t take my word for it, check the facts because if I speak one lie to you, then disregard everything I’ve said.”
Wassilyn continued. “I was so gifted by God, I had everything: I was a good looking kid, I had brains. I only went to school till I was in grade nine – what they were trying to put into my brain, it wouldn’t go – so I didn’t get an education. My education come from the street.”
He also mentions his wife Lilla, who he’s been married to for 50 years. They had four children together, and Wassilyn said he had, “Everything a man could possibly want.”
“Then, one day, I get up and I didn’t feel so good about life. Next day, I’d be up in the clouds. It just wasn’t right, I couldn’t understand why is this was happening to me. Why can’t I be the way I was when I was a little kid?” he recalled.
Wassilyn said this epiphany came during a hockey strike in the 1980s, though I couldn’t find any reference to an NHL lockout our strike from 1980 to 1989. The closest was the 10-day strike in 1992.
“I was bored to death. I couldn’t find anything to do,” Wassilyn remembered.
He ended up taking long walks while listening to the Bible. “It got to me,” he said. “I couldn’t stop because then I started being convicted of everything I’d done. I thought I was great for everything, but the truth was, I was no good for nothing.”
Wassilyn said he accounted for his sins, asked for forgiveness, and came to the realization that it wasn’t all about him. He added that he now spends four hours every day studying the Word of God, and that’s brought him a better understanding of himself.
“No longer am I guilty anymore. I’m a free man, and nor do I have to hide anything anymore. Anything. I’m an open book,” he declared.
Wassilyn never thought much about politics, but he said his sister saw the possibility.
“She said for you to be standing out there [in front of the Garden] for all your life, you had to be a great politician.” Why? “They tried to remove me in so many ways you would never believe, so I learned about getting along with people out there, and not being phony about it,” he explained.
That’s the reason why Wassilyn said he’s running. It’s for the people.
“I didn’t want nothing out of it,” he said. “Somebody told me one day, ‘You know these guys make $180,000 a year?’ I said, ‘What? You got to be kidding me.’ No wonder why we only hear from them the week before the election.”
I ask if Wassilyn would take a salary if he were a Member of Parliament. “Yeah, I would take a paycheque because then I can decide where it’s going to go,” he said.
I follow up, does that mean he will donate his salary to charity? “I don’t know what I would do with it, but I can tell you this: It will go to the good cause,” he added. “And what I mean by a good cause, if you take a look at my growing up, and follow my history at Maple Leaf Gardens, then you’ll understand, and it will speak for itself.”
“We know that in politics, it’s a money-making game,” Wassilyn said. He looked at the parties, and their platforms, and realized that they were all the same. “They were all for the same agenda, I believe they’re in unity to bring a one world government in, and I know this for a fact,” he added.
Wassilyn said that he looked at the Chrisitian Heritage Party because of their pro-life stance, but he valued keeping his own voice.
Church and State
In these conversations with candidates of a religious inclination, I try to get at the idea that Canada is a secular country. How can you run on a religious platform when Canada is made up of so many faiths, not to mention the faithless, and the non-religious?
According to Pew Research, three-in-ten Canadians says they’re either agnostic, atheist, or subscribe to no particular religion, with only 55 per cent of people now identifying as Christian. On top of that, Pew’s data says that 64 per cent of adult Canadians believe that religion has a less important role in the country than it did 20 years ago.
“They’ve been given a choice, and if they want their hearts to be hardened, that’s completely up to them,” Wassilyn said. “There’s a gift of repentance for all. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in life, if you’re sorry for what you’ve done, that means God’s touched your heart. If you’re going to turn away from that free gift, that’s called choice.”
I make the point that Pope Francis himself said that Heaven is open to all people, even atheists. “The Pope’s a man and he’s a liar,” Wassilyn said. “His father’s the devil because the devil was the father of lies, he’s a liar from the very beginning. The Pope is not quoting the Bible, and that’s why I say he’s a liar.”
Indeed. it’s hard to separate Bible verse from Wassilyn’s political points of view.
On climate change, Wassilyn says that God warned it was coming, and it’s part of His plan by quoting Genesis 3:17. “He says, ‘Cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of their life.’ So the ground has been cursed by God, and you’re telling me man is going to fix that with climate change?”
“Science changes all the time, but the Word of God never changes,” he added.
Wassilyn’s point of view is fairly straightforward. They’re outlined on his campaign brochure, and chances are that most people will find them out of step in a modern, progressive, and secular Canadian society. It says Wassilyn stands for protecting the “innocent human life at all stages,” and that he will promote traditional marriage “to protect children from gender confusion by affirming male/female distinctions as God intended.”
I asked Wassilyn what his message to voters is.
“Tell them not to vote for me unless they get to know me because you don’t want to vote blind,” he said. “If I wanted to be the Prime Minister of this country, I can be the Prime Minister, no problem. All I’ve got to do is tell you everything you want to hear, and you will believe me because people believe a lie.”
The interview’s been more like a sermon than a political discussion, but before we depart the Red Brick, Wassilyn suddenly finds the pitchman that once stood in front of Maple Leaf Gardens.
“I can tell you for a fact I’ve done more deals than Donald Trump,” he said. “His deals have been in the millions, mine was $20 at a time, sometimes 100 to 300 deals a day for 40 years. So I’ve done a fair amount of deals, and I know people.”