The McGill campus had an illustrious guest this past Monday, March. On March 26th, Rick Mercer, host of the CBC’s popular comedy show The Mercer Report, spent the afternoon engaging with students at the downtown campus. After serving burgers as part of a barbecue organized by the Engineering Students’ Society (EUS), Mercer took to James Square and had students participate in the shooting of a segment that will be on this week’s show.
The visit came as the prize for McGill having won the “Spread the Net” challenge – an initiative set up by Mercer himself and Belinda Stronich. The challenge has students from elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions across Canada battle to raise the highest sum of money to buy mosquito bed nets, which are considered perhaps the most cost-effective way to combat malaria in developing regions.
After a twenty-minute break following the barbecue, Mercer re-emerged from the McConnell building with his camera crew, ready to shoot the opening segment of his show. Students raised a giant mosquito net – symbol of the project – and chanted in unison “You’re watching the Mercer report on CBC – spread the net!”
Remy Ventura – one of the co-organizers of the Spread the Net project at McGill – explains that this was the first year McGill has ever participated in the project. “We started fundraising with an email campaign to our friends and family. However, the bulk of the money came from McGill. We did a lot of smaller fundraising events to raise awareness: samosa sales, selling popcorn at Bar des Arts (a weekly event held by the faculty of Arts), collecting in classrooms and International Development Studies conferences, coat check at Blues Pub (a weekly event held by the faculty of Engineering), etc.
Upon learning of McGill’s victory, Ventura organized Mercer’s visit alongside Monique Evans, the starter of the “Spread the Net” challenge at McGill. The EUS was also involved in the planning of the visit as recognition of its high sizable donations to the project, despite the fact that the engineering society did not participate in the campaign itself.
Mercer arrived on campus at around 11am, and then drove a Baja racing car made and designed by McGill’s team. The barbecue just outside of the McConnell Engineering building followed, and then finally the actual segment of The Mercer Report was shot.
Throughout the day, Mercer was very amicable and engaging with students, often posing for pictures and engaging in small talk. Ventura explains that she and Evans got to spend most of the day moving around with him. “You can tell he’s done it all a thousand times before, but he was very humble and easy to talk to. (…) He was prepared to engage in political discussions with us and give us his uncensored opinions, just as he does on the show.”
Just before the start of the shooting of the show, a handful of students attempted to take the opportunity to stage a protest against the Québec tuition hikes - to which they were received with booing, and even a few sporadic chants of “raise tuition!” The students remained standing around James Square throughout the duration of the event, but did not speak up or attempt to do anything to disrupt the shooting.
Despite this minor incident, the atmosphere remained positive throughout Mercer’s stay.
“There have been a lot of divisive issues on campus this year, for better or worse, but Monique and I are really happy we got to be a part of something that brought people together”, says Ventura.