only a few months ago, georgeMarcello, the organ-donor poster boy boosted by the premier, was winning words of praise for his efforts to increase organ donations.There was an invite to the throne speech and an announcement by the government that it would pour $120 million into a revamped organ donor system.
Now Marcello can't squeeze a dime out of Mike Harris for a cross-Canada walk he's on to raise awareness -- even though Organ Donation Ontario is reporting a miraculous 40-per-cent jump in organ donations in the last year. And the number of potential donors on the province's registry has risen to 400,000.
"It hurts for me to think that they're the ones taking all the credit," Marcello says Sunday night over the phone from a hotel room in Sault Ste. Marie. He's been through 139 towns and cities so far, covering more than 2,800 kilometres.
But six months into an odyssey that will take him through almost 500 towns in 526 days, Marcello has found himself scrounging to keep his cause alive, reduced to passing the bucket at some stops to collect loonies to keep going.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. But somehow, some way, politics got in the way.
Marcello began feeling the cold shoulder a few months back, after he invited former Grit health critic Gerard Kennedy to one of his promo events.
Then there was a kerfuffle over Harris's attendance at the official kickoff of Marcello's walk.
The premier had asked Marcello to push back the kickoff so he could be there. The photo op would no doubt help with voters, maybe even soften the premier's tough-guy image.
But Harris unexpectedly cancelled, leaving Marcello to wonder whether his invitation to Mayor Mel Lastman had had anything to do with the premier's cancellation. The two were having one of their tiffs at the time.
"I don't want to make any big judgment," says Marcello. "But I'm being neglected for whatever reason."
Don Cherry, honourary chair of the premier's advisory board on organ and tissue donations, is still in Marcello's camp. He's offering one of his restaurants as the site of a fundraising auction.
But for Marcello, the row continues to be a tough one to hoe. Money is scarce, and he's had to rely heavily on his family for financial help.
Like the Tories, corporations have also closed their doors. "So many causes, so little money" seems to be the refrain. Only Roots has come through with some wear.
Marcello, meanwhile, has been forced to spend nights in a jeep donated for his trek by a local dealership.
The recipient of a life-saving liver transplant, Marcello says it's words of encouragement from people along the way -- like a critically ill university student in London -- that have kept him going.
He says, "I can't stop. I wouldn't be around if someone hadn't donated for me."
There are big plans for meetings with the pope and the queen. And arrangements are being made for a meeting with the governor general in Ottawa before Marcello's scheduled wrap-up in Toronto in June 2001.
Still, he can't help feeling a little used, as winter looms and he sets his sights on Kirkland Lake, Manitoba and parts beyond.
"I'm in trouble," he says. "I'm sending out an SOS." The premier's office, Kennedy and Cherry, did not respond to requests for a comment.