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Conrad Lukawski, the newly minted Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre and Minister of Everything in the government formed by the Rhinoceros Party. (Conrad Lukawski)
Conrad Lukawski, the newly minted Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre and Minister of Everything in the government formed by the Rhinoceros Party. (Conrad Lukawski)

FEDERAL ELECTION 2015

The most humourless election since Confederation Add to ...

It is Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, and the moving vans are already on Parliament Hill.

The capital is going to Kapuskasing.

Below the Hill, work is underway to divert the polluted waters of the Ottawa River and fill the empty channels with beer. Lotto 6/49 is replacing its cash prizes with Senate appointments.

And overseeing all this dramatic change is the honourable Conrad Lukawski, the newly minted Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre and Minister of Everything in the government formed by the Rhinoceros Party. Pollsters have not fared well the last few years – but nothing compares to this wrong call ….

It won’t happen, of course. Even Mr. Lukawski, a 22-year-old computer software developer, admits his party won’t win a seat. If he comes in higher than dead last in Ottawa Centre it will be a victory.

It doesn’t really matter, of course, as the most important Rhino election promise of all is that they will never keep their promises.

What does matter is that this election, the longest in Canadian history since 1874, is also the most humourless election since Confederation.

“It’s tragic, really,” says the candidate. “I’m not sure elections are supposed to be fun – but there should be a few laughs.”

Alas, there have been none. There is nothing at all funny, no matter which side you are on, about the niqab. The stories that have gained most attention in the satirical press – candidates caught peeing in a cup, not knowing what the Holocaust was, railing against same-sex marriage, turning up on the Ashley Madison cheaters list – were pathetic rather than funny.

As for the leaders, while both the Conservatives’ Stephen Harper and the NDP’s Tom Mulcair are said to be sharp-witted in private, in public they are as dour as Presbyterian elders. And Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, having seen the backlash that follows a good quip – “whip out our CF-18s” – has campaigned as someone serious enough to be taken seriously.

It’s all rather unfortunate, as Canada has a rather charming history of campaign chuckles dating all the way back to Sir John A. Macdonald. In a story that might well be apocryphal – but so what? – the first prime minister was supposedly so drunk at an early debate that he threw up on stage. “You want a drunk running your country?” his opponent challenged the crowd. Not missing a beat, Sir John A. told them it had nothing to do with drink – he threw up because “I am forced to listen to the rantings of my honourable opponent.”

The founding prime minister also said, “When fortune empties her chamber pot on your head, smile and say, ‘We’re going to have a summer shower.’” That’s something certain federal leaders might want to consider Tuesday morning.

We sadly miss the wit of another Conservative leader, John Diefenbaker. One can only imagine the pounding Dief would take in social media if he said, “There’s not an English-speaking person in Canada who doesn’t understand me perfectly when I speak French.”

“Anybody may support me when I am right,” the 13th prime minister of Canada once quipped. “What I want is someone that will support me when I am wrong.”

Mr. Diefenbaker’s greatest moment, however, wasn’t something he said at all, but something he wrote in response to a letter from an outraged citizen. “This is to inform you,” he responded, “that some crackpot is using your name and has recently written to me over your signature, putting forth views so eccentric in nature and so much at variance with your usual logical style that the letter could not possibly be from you. I felt I owed it to you to bring this to your attention.”

The best storyteller in Canadian political history had to be Tommy Douglas, the little Baptist minister from Weyburn who rose to become premier of Saskatchewan and then first leader of Tom Mulcair’s party.

“Hey, Tommy!” a heckler once shouted at him during a campaign, “why don’t you stand on a soapbox?”

There was no point, Mr. Douglas shot back, “because everything I say goes over your head anyway!”

You begin to see why we need the Rhino Party, even if is but a pale version of the heady days a generation ago when it had leaders such as Jacques Ferron and Charlie McKenzie and promised Canadians that, if elected, they would immediately repeal the law of gravity.

They had such brilliant ideas. They would task scientists with shifting the mosquito breeding season to January so the little buggers would hatch and immediately freeze to death. They were going to knock down the Rockies and construct bicycle paths in each direction so that Canadians could bike coast to coast. And, of course, they would maintain Canadian political tradition by keeping none of their promises.

Young Mr. Lukawski is under no illusions in Ottawa Centre. He has no campaign signs. His total expenditures amounted to $1, the cost of a domain name (rhinot.xyz), so he’s barely out of pocket.

He knows that the riding has been well represented by NDP incumbent Paul Dewar, who is being ably challenged by Liberal candidate Catherine McKenna. There are also candidates for the Conservative, Green, Libertarian, Marijuana and Communist parties.

Whether the winner is Mr. Dewar or Ms. McKenna is not a concern to Mr. Lukawski. Either would be fine by him.

In fact, though he happily lays out the Rhino platform – beer in the river, moving the Hill to Northern Ontario, counting the Thousand Islands to make sure the Americans didn’t steal some – he has a serious side to his standing for office.

“Maybe by running,” he says, “I can get some people to laugh a bit and pay attention. Maybe some who don’t normally vote will now get out and vote. It’s fine by me if they vote for the others. What matters is they vote.”

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