I'll start off by apologizing to our American readers right now. This is going to be yet another column about Canadian Politics and I know that both bores and confuses you Yanks, if for no other reason than because you haven't a clue who the players are.
Well stick around, read the whole thing. By the end of it, not only will you know the game, but you'll have the best take on the topic, one that even your least political friends in the U.S. will enjoy.
And I promise that I will tackle the 2004 Presidential election at some point in the next few months, the moment something happens that's worth commenting on.
The point of this column is to isolate the qualities that turn a Party leader into the Prime Minister of Canada. To start off, I prefer the Canadian system for a lot of reasons, elections are shorter for one and they can happen anytime. That alone make it more interesting to me.
And the Canadian Election directly affects me, which is usually a pretty good motivator for my attention. The American race indirectly affects me, just as it does every other living and breathing creature on the planet, but I can't vote on it, can't affect the outcome, so it's pretty much a spectator sport from where I sit.
I can actually affect the outcome of the Canadian race, through my opinions, by campaigning and voting. I'm sure you understand any game you get to play is infinitely more fun than one you only watch.
It's also got way more surprise value to it.
You see, the Canadian Federal Elections are called at the convenience of the Prime Minister, so long as that convenience comes every four and a half to five years. We've had elections called within months of the last one. In that particular case the Government that won the previous election did so with only a slim minority of the seats in the House of Commons (The Government up here being formed by the Party with the most seats) and after a while the mood of the House turned against the Government and the other Parties put forward a motion of No-Confidence that our Government lost, so they had to call an election.
That's how we force a change in government up here in Canada.
No lengthy impeachment process or messy assassinations attempts; no coups or dangling chad decisions that require the Supreme Court, just a vote, in our House of Parliament, by our elected Representatives. Beginning to end the process takes, maybe a day. And the great thing about the Canadian system is that we've even had Governments lose No-Confidence votes when they had a majority of seats, just because the minor members of the ruling party (what we call Backbenchers) took such a disliking to their own leadership that they voted against their own Government.
When that happens the Prime Minister must call an election. He can call one anytime (as indicated above) and he does so by having tea with the Governor General (Queen Elizabeth's stand-in for all things formal in Canada) and handing her a notice called a Writ saying that the Government would like the Governor General to call an election on "such and such" date.
This brings us to the title of this piece. There's an old Chinese Curse that reads "May you live in interesting times" and boy does that apply to the Canadian political landscape right now. Here are the players who will be vying for the job of Prime Minister (and therefore head of Government) in the next election:
There's the ruling LIBERAL Party, represented by Paul Martin who is currently the Prime Minister of Canada. He got the job because the last guy retired and his party selected him. Paul Martin was the most popular PM in the last 30 years before taking the job but is allowing a third party act of embezzlement to actually affect him, so much so that the unbeatable Paul Martin is now looking at the possibility of losing his job. Did he do something wrong?
A recent report by the Auditor General says over the last five years 25 million dollars a year was misspent in a program that was supposed to increase the awareness of the people in Quebec that Canada was involved in financing all the events they enjoy; you know, help them remember that we're one big happy family. No bid deal, we do it in ever Province, it's just actually means something in Quebec.
So apparently 25 million dollars a year of that program was misdirected, or more accurately pocketed by the marketing companies hired to do the promotion. IE: They kept the money but did nothing in return.
The Opposition is claiming that Paul Martin, who was Minister of Finance at some point early on this period, should have known about this and is responsible.
Why Paul Martin isn't standing before a camera with the ten inch thick Budget Report covering almost 200 Billion Dollars of expenditures and asking anyone in the audience to come up and even find the items listed is beyond me but then the latest joke running around is that his predecessor Jean Cretien was Mr. Teflon while Paul Martin appears to be Mr. Velcro. If the label sticks....
Then there's the Official Opposition. In Canada that's the party which has the second most seats and it's their job to argue against everything. Our founding fathers were going to call this the Official Parliamentary Hypocrites because most of the time the stuff they're against when they're in opposition is the first stuff they do when they form Government but that's a whole other tirade. Google "Dalton McGinty" and you'll get a sneak peak at that one.
In Canada the Official Opposition happens to be the CONSERVATIVE PARTY. It's actually the NEW Conservative Party born out of a political raping of the once proud Progressive Conservative Party by the splinter western alienationist party originally called the Reform Party, before changing their name to the Canadian Reform Alliance Party (or CRAP) and then changing it to the Canadian Alliance Reform Party before dropping the Reform title and just calling themselves the Canadian Alliance.
I'd like to add, for the 50th time, that a hostile take-over is never pretty and in politics it's enough to make you walk away from politics forever.
The leader of the Conservative Party is... well dude, we just don't know that. You see the Conservatives are such a new party that they don't have a leader yet. Three people are vying for the job right now. The Hack who led his Canadian Alliance into the hostile take-over and couldn't get a vote east of Orillia. The Martha Steward Clone who pushed the take-over through in the backrooms and has never had a real job in her life (the one she's got was given to her by her Billionaire Dad who must somehow think he's a Kennedy) and The Invisible Man, a person devoid of personality who was a minor minister in the Province of Ontario while the Conservatives ran that Province into the ground.
What a choice eh? It gets even better. You see the Conservative Party doesn't know what it stands for yet and the first leader of the party is going to influence that. So depending on who wins the Leadership race the party will either be about giving the West more power; or giving the rich Tax Cuts; or creating an American style Health care system in Canada. OK, when you really get right down to it the Reform/Canadian Alliance/Conservative Party will have one more name change, some five years from now regardless of who wins. It'll become the Republican Party of Canada.
Then there's the NDP. The New Democratic Party. They're still called the NEW Democratic Party even though there's no OLD Democratic Party and the NDP have been around for decades. Ask anyone just how a New Democratic is different from a Democrat and no matter where you are you'll just get a blank stare. This party is led by flamboyant leader Jack Layton, a former Toronto city politician who has a Cities First agenda. If enough people flee the Liberals and the Conservative leader (once chosen) follows tradition and shoots themselves in the foot just before election day then Jack Layton and the NDP could become the Official Opposition. If the whole dynamic goes really sour then Jack Layton and the NDP could replicate the Bob Rae experience and form Government. That's the greatest thing about Canadian Politics, so much is up for grabs.
So you're asking, "WHO WILL WIN THE NEXT ELECTION?". Well, kids, we finally have come to the meat of this article. While other political pundits talk about the East vs West factor; the Quebec Vote; The Yen for Change and the Ontario Provincial Effect, I've seen only ONE factor ultimately decide every Canadian Federal Election of the last 50 years. Which of the leaders looks the goofiest!
Yup, you heard it here first. The person who forms the next Government, the next Prime Minister of Canada will be whichever of the Leaders that looks the goofiest when drawn by your average Political Newspaper Cartoonist. It's always been the case, it'll always be the case. Canadians always choose the person whose face looks the funniest in a Fun House of Mirrors.
Don't believe me? Think you know exceptions? HA! I say! HA TO YOU!
Let me break it down. 1957 - The race between Diefenbaker and St. Laurent. Hands down the goofiest looking contender was Diefenbaker. Who won again in 1958 and 1962 only to lose it in 1963 to Pearson. Now you might try to argue that Diefenbaker still looked goofier than Pearson in 63, but you forget that by this time "The Chief" was looking haggard and bitter. Ugly is not the same as goofy. The jovial, perpetually puffy "Mike" Pearson took the job and won again when "The Chief's" haggard bitterness over the new Flag had permanently disfigured his mug into a stunningly accurate model of the far side of the Moon.
1968 - Trudeau vs Robert Stanfield. Stanfield may have been the best person ever to run for the job but he looked like an accountant while Trudeau had the greasy wings of hair wisping back from his egalitarian hawk nose and a goofy smile the likes of which no PM has ever matched. Even after a disastrous first term Trudeau maintained control with a minority Government and an uneasy alliance with the NDP in 1972 because he was still the goofiest on the block. Following the 1974 majority win by Trudeau the Progressive Conservatives knew they needed someone goofier to beat him and in 1976 elected Joe Clark their leader.
1979 - Young and energetic, with an owl shaped head and a chin three sizes too small Joe Clark was handily the goofiest looking person in that years contest, defeating the increasingly bitter, trouble at home with his marriage Trudeau. 9 months later, with the job taking it's toll on Clark's goofiness and Trudeau rested and ready to smile that broad "Have I got a booger on my nose?" gap of his the electorate once again rewarded the goofiest contestant, Trudeau, with a return to power.
1984 - All American good looks couldn't save new Liberal Leader John Turner against the massively humorous jaw of Brian Mulroney who proceeded to turn his stunningly goofy looks into the largest electoral victory in history. Only his over the top performance of "Smilin' Eyes" with the weathered Ronald Reagan during "World Leader Kareoke Night" saved his sorry ass in the 1988 election proving once again Mulroney was the goofiest vying for the job.
1993 - The Liberals, having chosen the lopsided grin of Jean Cretien, faced off against the "someone's mother" looking Conservative leader Kim Campbell and Canadians followed suit. It wasn't that Campbell was a woman, it wasn't that she took over the reigns of the Progressive Conservative Party from the most hated man in Canadian history, it wasn't even that the Reform and Bloq Quebecois Parties had split the right. Campbell lost because she was as average looking as a Canadian gets while the "Little Guy from Shawinigan" looked like someone's marionette gone mad, Pinocchio, running amuck down the street dragging his strings.
So even when the Progressive Conservatives replaced Campbell with Charest and then Clark again there was no hope. And as the Reform moved from the incredibly goofy looking Preston Manning to pretty boy Stockwell Day and then the tired eyed Stephen Harper their fortunes dropped further. It looked as though the Liberals would rule forever.
Then Cretien retired. Replaced by the only slightly goofy looking Paul Martin and now, within weeks of him taking office the race is a dead heat. Will the Conservatives pick the bland Belinda Stronach, ensuring their defeat at the polls, or the somewhat devilish and evil looking Tony Clement; or will they stick with the dog-eared Stephen Harper? Only time will tell, but one thing is assured. The winner of the next Federal Election won't get it because they had the best policies, just the goofiest face!