Canada's Rhinoceros Party, the political beast devoted to bringing a smile to the Canadian body politic, says it's on the road back from extinction.
The party that once promised to repeal the law of gravity and keep none of its promises plans to run a candidate in the federal by-election in Montreal's Outremont riding next month.
Among the party's early planks: renaming our country Nantucket and abolishing lawn-mowing in Outremont.
The announcements came from not one but two Rhino herds that emerged from the political wilderness this week.
Yesterday, Ontario native and Rhino stalwart Brian Salmi filed a lawsuit in Federal Court challenging Canada's election reform law, hoping to strike down the $1,000 deposit for federal candidates so he can afford to run for office.
At a press scrum outside the Federal Court in Montreal, at which he was dressed as a clown, he immediately pledged to change the name of Canada if elected.
"We have a grave concern that Canada is seen as a definitely dull country in the rest of the world," he said, straight-faced. "We seek to correct that misconception by changing the name to Nantucket."
He is not the only aspirant seeking to restore humour to the federal scene and capitalize on the dearth of political news during the dog days of August. In a separate initiative, another Rhino group in Quebec announced its revival yesterday. Dubbed the Neorhino Party, the group held a fundraiser last fall and has submitted 500 signatures to Elections Canada to register its party.
A spokesman for Elections Canada confirmed the party is in the process of registering.
The group, led by Montreal artist and former Rhino candidate François Gourd, went to a game park near Montreal and posed in front of a penned, real-life rhinoceros to announce its return to the federal scene. Mr. Gourd wants to run under the Neorhino banner in Outremont.
The two groups say they were unaware of one another's initiatives, as befitting a "disorganized and anarchic" movement, but they plan to meet in a Montreal bar tomorrow to discuss a merger.
Their reappearance aims to revive a party that helped enliven politics from 1963 to 1988 with an absurdist take on Canadian affairs. The party says it picked a rhino as its mascot since, like politicians, the animal is thick-skinned, slow-moving and dim-witted. Among its planks was flattening the Rockies, banning guns and butter since both killed, and improving higher education by building taller schools.
Behind their latest antics, however, they say they're drawing attention to some serious issues. Mr. Salmi says the $1,000 deposit required by the federal Elections Act is a deterrent for lower-income Canadians, and violates the Charter.
"It's a de facto economic means test that discriminates against the poor," said Mr. Salmi, a Montreal resident who has sought office on nine previous occasions, several of them in British Columbia. (Mr. Salmi has legally changed his name to Sa Tan, so his challenge in Federal Court reads Sa Tan against Her Majesty The Queen.)
The Rhinoceros Party last ran in a general federal election in 1988, fielding 74 candidates. None was elected, and the nascent groups say they're intent on matching that abysmal performance.
Mr. Salmi, for example, has no organization behind him. Mr. Gourd, who hopes to run candidates across Canada, says his ambition is to come in dead last in the Sept. 17 by-election. "We're aiming to be the party with the fewest votes," he said. "That way, we'll be No. 1 starting from the bottom."
POLITICS THE RHINOS EXPLAINED
The wild party
Who they are
The party was founded by Montreal physician, author and noted wit Jacques Ferron in 1963. Asked once what his candidates would do if elected, Dr. Ferron replied: "The same as yours - nothing."
The name springs from a prank pulled in Brazil in the late 1950s, when several reporters entered a rhinoceros in a Sao Paulo municipal election with the intention of cleaning up civic corruption. The rhino won.
The Rhinoceros Party's original leader was Cornelius I, a rhinoceros foaled in Quebec's Granby Zoo. It was later traded to the San Diego Zoo for a giraffe.
The party's best showing was the 1980 federal election, when they garnered 110,597 votes, 1.01 per cent of the popular vote.
What they've promised
A dam on the St. Lawrence to make Montreal the Venice of North America;
A tax on milk to finance the appointment of Rhino followers to a new Ontario senate;
A 400-kilometre fishing limit to be drawn offshore in watercolour, to make sure the fish could see it and stay inside the Canadian boundary;
A Guaranteed Annual Orgasm through a network of regulated brothels;
To repeal the law of gravity (promised by Rhinos in 1984);
A proposal for free trade with the United States: "Trade Frank Zappa for Pierre Berton, Kermit the Frog for Lorne Greene, and we were prepared to put Anne Murray on the bargaining table."