It’s a hard slog. People running for municipal, provincial, or federal offices work for months to apply for a job that entails long and thankless hours. Inevitably, half the people think you’re wrong no matter what you do or say. When running and in office, many people insult you, lie about you, and assume the worst about you. Consider the sexist attacks endured by Peterborough mayor Diane Therrien or the invective lobbed at Prime Minister Trudeau when all he did was get a haircut.
Attacking politicians is as old as politics itself. The invention of social media, the erosion of public decorum, and the Trumpian destruction of a foundation of agreed upon facts have made a bad thing worse. So, again, why would anyone be a candidate?
I concede that some people run for the wrong reason. Some run for the money and some to feed their ego. Others run to build their brand for future opportunities. I sincerely believe, however, that they are the minority. I believe that most candidates and, consequently, most who serve, do so for noble reasons.
Consider what Robert Kennedy said in 1964. Months after his brother was assassinated, Kennedy resigned as Attorney General to run as a Senator for New York. He was asked during a raucous event at Columbia University why he was running. I like his answer. Kennedy said, “I don’t need the title because apparently I can be called General for the rest of my life, and I don’t need the money, and I don’t need the office space…frank as it is, I’d like to be a good United States senator, I’d like to serve.”
Kennedy offers an important reminder that a public office is public service. When serious people run for the right reasons, they do not do so because they think they are smarter than others, have better vision, or are better able to make important decisions. They run because they care about their community, have thought deeply about the challenges and opportunities before it, and believe they have something to contribute to help make it a little better. The right people run because, like Kennedy, they want to serve.
I am running for Lakefield Ward councillor in my hometown. It’s certainly not as lofty an office as United States Senator and I am certainly no Robert Kennedy. But if I can paraphrase him: I don’t need the money, title, or office space. I am running because I want to serve. I know that sounds corny and perhaps even naive in our world of vicious politics and alternative facts, but it’s true.
Perhaps as we consider the municipal candidates whose signs will soon sprout on lawns around town we might temper our skepticism a little and consider that maybe most of them are running for the right reason.
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I am Donald Trump’s biggest fan. I follow politics like other folks follow sports and Mr. Trump to me is like NASCAR to my brothers. He’s loud, draws crowds, there’s too much money, and a tumbling wreck is not just inevitable but the main attraction.
Like all comedians, Mr. Trump knows a joke’s three step structure. First he establishes the premise. Mexicans are terrible people, rapists even, and the Mexican government that can’t seem to do much of anything else has its act sufficiently together to gather its worst people and ship them over the border to steal jobs, commit crimes, and take welfare money from Washington. It’s a great premise because everyone knows that Mr. Trump built his wealth upon buying up companies and laying off people and a TV show where he fires people, has been to court several times for skirting the law, and has not just avoided repaying loans by declaring bankruptcy three times but also accepted more money in government tax breaks and hand outs than the Mexican family picking oranges in California’s blistering heat could ever imagine. It’s his absolute blindness to irony that renders the joke’s premise so brilliant.
Then comes the punch line. When he becomes president of the United States, that thought alone turns my giggles to laughter – but wait for it – he will build a giant wall from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. Hilarious! But there’s more. He will leave a door in the middle; perhaps some place in Texas, for the “good Mexicans” to enter. Now I’m laughing out loud.
But then, like in all the best jokes, comes the tag. All great comedians use tags. It’s the line that comes when the laughter begins to subside and everyone thinks the joke is over but then it turns back on itself like a snake eating its tail. Mr. Trump’s tag is that he will have the Mexican government pay for the wall’s construction. All right, now I’m on the floor.
Canadian elections are too often bereft of such comedy. We are left only to marvel at the shamelessness of the attack ads or wait for some candidate to commit a career-ending gaffe by saying the same insensitive, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, or puerile thing in public that they tell core supporters in private.
But there is good news. The Rhinoceros Party of Canada is back. Among its campaign promises is that the moment you mark your ballot for a Rhino candidate you will experience an orgasm. If elected, it promises an orgasm a month for every adult in the country. I love it. The promises are as serious as Mr. Trump’s wall and as likely to be fulfilled, but that’s the point.
The Rhinoceros Party was formed in Quebec in 1963. Its name was inspired by Cacareco who was a real Brazilian rhinoceros that in 1958 was run to demonstrate electoral corruption and, surprising those who pulled the stunt, actually won a seat on São Paulo’s city council. The Canadian party elected Cornelius as its leader. He was the rhinoceros who lived, blissfully unaware of his fame, or so I assume, at Quebec’s Granby Zoo.
The party said that Canadian unity was being compromised because the Rocky Mountains blocked our view of each other. They pledged to plow them under. The project would have the added bonus of creating jobs. They promised to pay off the national debt with their VISA card. They would then pay that bill with their Master Card and that one with their American Express, with the assumption they would be out of office before the mess was cleared up. To make Canadians more free they promised to repeal the law of gravity.
The party’s most famous candidate is Guy Pantouffe Laliberte. In 1980, he ran as the Rhino candidate in a Quebec riding and won three percent of the vote. Lalibert went on to found Cirque du Soleil.
All comedy fails when it runs into the bright light of logic and the law. Consider Mr. Trump’s promise to end American citizenship for children born of illegal immigrants. It’s a great applause line at rallies until one considers that the American constitution’s 14th amendment says, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Trump has never let the law, logic, or the truth for that matter ruin a good gag.
Mr. Trump ceases to be funny when he stirs emotions among those looking for someone to blame for their lot or yearning for a nostalgic past that never really existed. Those acting on Trump’s urgings to be less tolerant and more angry would be akin to those leaving a NASCAR race and driving home at 200 miles an hour. Sorry folks, but the show’s over now and it is time to again act like intelligent, responsible adults.
There is no worry about such tragic repercussions with the Rhino Party. Elections Canada eliminated the party in 1993 due to a number of financial rule changes that made its existence untenable, but it’s back. For the 2015 election they have promised to privatize Canada’s military and nationalize Tim Horton’s. It demands that Lake Ontario’s 1000 Islands be counted as it suspects that the United States has been stealing them. In order to have Canada’s capital city closer to the centre of the country they propose to move the seat of government from Ottawa to Kapuskasing. They will start a lottery where the first 105 winners receive a Senate appointment.
So let’s enjoy the American presidential campaign and the Canadian election. Donald Trump will flare out because, just like Americans saw through the funny but sad spectacle of Sarah Palin they will see through him. Trust American intelligence and appreciate the show while it lasts. And as Canada’s party leaders plod along trying more desperately to avoid mistakes than say anything inspirational, lets giggle along with the Rhinos. After all, their platform says that if they ever actually won they would demand a recount.
If you enjoyed this half as much as I enjoy Mr. Trump and the Rhinos, or even if you think I’m off my rocker for taking serious things as jokes or jokes as serious things, please offer this column up to others to see what they think.