COLUMN

A tongue in a bearded cheek

Stewart MacLeod September 21 1987
COLUMN

A tongue in a bearded cheek

Stewart MacLeod September 21 1987

A tongue in a bearded cheek

COLUMN

Stewart MacLeod

Laugh if you must—it’s not the first time I’ve been ridiculed— but the way our political universe is unfolding, the Rhinoceros Party of Canada could give us one big smiling surprise in the next federal election.

Go ahead, giggle. You might feel better. However, this is not to suggest that there is the slightest danger of the Rhinos ever getting elected. God forbid. But with the apparent disillusionment with the Tories and Grits, coupled with the fact that, on election days, Canadians are traditionally non-Socialists, think about the glowing opportunity awaiting a fourth party that thrives on protest. Besides, Canadian politics have become far too serious, stony and snarly. Relief is needed.

And now that the federal Social Credit party is dead, or thereabouts, who better than the Rhinos to cut a delightful diversion across our political pastures? If the party were able to pick up 99,900 votes in the 1984 general election, when both the Tories and Grits had spanking new leaders, imagine what they might do under the current popularity charts. “We’ll be there with a full slate,” declares an enthusiastic Charlie “The Janitor” McKenzie who, under a variety of titles, more or less runs the party from its Montreal “hindquarters.” He was instrumental in getting former Expos pitcher Bill “The Spaceman” Lee to run for the U.S. presidency as an American Rhino— although there is no evidence it required that much instrumentation.

Lee, still the only officially nominated candidate, is, by virtue of that, the current front-runner. It’s something to tell the grandchildren. From Montreal, the 43-year-old head Rhino is helping his unorthodox presidential protégé through his three-city Fly-By-Night Consultants Ltd., which will soon be getting into the polling business— without giving the more established firms any corporate ulcers.

“What we’ll do is make greater use of the decimal,” explains the party leader, or whatever. “Instead of interviewing 1,000 people like Decima Research does, we’ll interview 10 and move the decimal.” It was through the use of polls, more or less, that he discovered Canadians have more immediate concerns than the Meech Lake ac-

cord. “What mystifies most is why hotdogs invariably come in packages of six or 12, and the buns are in packages of eight or 10.”

The phone line clicks. “The Mounties again,” he says. “I’ll deny everything. What bothers me about the New Democrats is that they perpetually lie about their age. There’s nothing new about them; they’re old. And how can anyone be Progressive and a Conservative without coming and going at the same time? The trouble with the Liberals is that they put their leadership in a blind trust and only now are they beginning to collect interest. Everything in Canada has to come in tens to satisfy the provinces—just watch them try to get one of those 10 nuclear subs into Saskatchewan.”

Out it pours, all from a tongue that is jammed tightly in a bearded cheek. And the Rhino candidates who ran in the 1984 election carried the same type

Now that the federal Social Credit is dead, who better than the Rhinos to cut a diversion across our political pastures?

of irreverent messages to amused audiences in “89.5” ridings. In Newfoundland, during the July byelection in St. John’s East, Frank “The Codfather” Quinlan campaigned for rubber sidewalks so drunks wouldn’t hurt themselves and lose work. “It’s a question of productivity,” he said.

That same reasoning was behind McKenzie’s promised “guaranteed annual orgasm,” which, he says, is based on a study by Washington’s National Policy Review Institute about the different productivity patterns of sexually happy and unhappy people. “The study was done for the Democratic party, but I guess with Gary Hart out of the race they forgot about it.”

Little wonder that Charlie McKenzie, writer, broadcaster and nonsense peddler, is becoming such a popular Canadian politico on the campus circuit. Who needs leaden free trade rhetoric when you can hear McKenzie explain how his party converted to Marxist-Lennonism—“that’s Groucho and John”—to keep dangerously serious people away from the Rhinos. “You saw what happened to Social

Credit; they came on the scene as healthy crackpots, the serious fringe gradually took over, and look at them now.”

The Rhinos were conceived as a satirical party back in 1964 by Quebec novelist, poet and philosopher Jacques Ferron. Its obsessive objective from the beginning was to avoid “the ultimate humiliation of being elected to public office”—a standard it has maintained with unwavering consistency. Two years ago, on the death of Ferron, McKenzie called one of his periodic news conferences where, with a stained baseball cap and a bottle of beer, he announced that the Rhino party would be “laid to rest.” “Naturally, the media misquoted me and said the party was dead. They didn’t seem to realize the difference between resting and dying. Anyway, I had to resurrect it this year.”

He did so while delivering a lecture at Queen’s University, and it was the students, in a free vote, who decided this could be achieved through the “Dallas Syndrome”—Bobby Ewing’s death was just a dream—as opposed to the more vintage “Lazarus Loophole.” When federal campaigns begin in earnest, the McKenzie news conferences are invariably well attended, particularly by reporters who might otherwise have to work. Yes, the seal hunt will be revived by breeding a seal that sheds its pelt. “That’ll get Brigitte Bardot off Newfoundland’s back.”

He thinks B.C. Premier William Vander Zalm is “prime Rhino, absolute prime.” Then he’ll lob some shots in the direction of “Lyin’ Brian, Honestly John and Big Ed from Oshawa.” After that, he might talk about repealing the law of gravity. Above all, the party must be on guard to prevent the unthinkable. “Given the situation in Canada, where the undecided—that’s the Rhinos—lead opinion polls, there’s a risk we could form a government.”

Not much of a risk, mind you. Not even of electing one MP. But the Rhinos’ total vote might well be a bit of a shocker the next time we go to the polls. In any event, we hope they stick around. Our political pomposity needs the odd puncturing. And where are we ever going to find another leader who says, with a straight face, “Please feel free to misquote me”?

Something else: McKenzie is bright, and he’s having fun.

Stewart MacLeod is Ottawa columnist for Thomson News Service.