Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The best show in town

I realize that not all of you follow Canadian politics, but you might want to think about giving it a chance, 'cause at the moment it's the best show out there. You want action? It's right here. Intrigue? We've got it. Shady villains and sympathetic heroes, each marred by tragic flaws? Look no further.

Let's have a recap, shall we? Over the past year and a bit, the long-ruling Liberal party has been embroiled in the fallout from the discovery that more than $100 million of federal money has been diverted into party coffers (as well as the personal pockets of several of its supporters), via several pro-Liberal advertising agencies. We've known about this for a while, and the Liberals have even won another election since it first came out, but a few weeks ago some particularly juicy details were made public. A former ad executive testified at the public inquiry into the matter about how he was repeatedly asked to give cash donations to the party or put election workers on his payroll in exchange for lucrative sponsorship contracts. His testimony (which not only sounded like something straight out of the Sopranos, but which was also broken by occasional emotional moments where he actually cried on the stand) was shrouded in secrecy due to a brief publication ban, awakening the positively feline curiosity of everyone in the country that made absolute sure we would all know about it the moment the ban was lifted.

Since then, there have been rumblings of an early election, and as the governing Liberals are weakened by a minority of seats in parliament, it's quite within the realm of possibility that the opposition could bring them down less than a year after they assumed power. There are four parties in Ottawa these days: the centrist Liberals on the government side, and across the aisle in the opposition we've got the social democratic NDP, the right-wing Conservatives, and the separatist Bloc Quebecois, the latter two of which are gunning for an early election. They're claiming the moral high ground by saying that they're shocked, shocked to find that corruption has been going on in this establishment, but it seems more likely that they're salivating over polls that show them both in mighty fine positions: the Conservatives would likely win an election if held now, and the Bloc would be poised to pick up as many seats as they've ever had. Yesterday the leader of the Conservatives made it official: he's going to take the first possible opportunity to topple the government.

In every good story, though, there's got to be an obstacle to the protagonist getting what he wants, and in this one we've got plenty of those hanging about. The first glob of mud in the Conservatives' waters is the recent marriage of convenience between the NDP and the Liberals, in which the NDP has demanded that more money in the proposed budget be spent on the environment, social housing, foreign aid, and tuition reduction, and in return they'll prop up the government. The Conservatives and the Bloc are both gnashing their teeth, but we're not to "curses, foiled again" quite yet. There are 308 seats in the House of Commons, but one riding is vacant, which means that whichever side ends up with 154 votes is the one that wins the prize. The alliance between the Conservatives and the Bloc has 153 votes, and the Liberal-NDP pseudocoalition has 150, so both sides fall short of the magic number. Enter the Independent Members of Parliament, who are easily the most colourful characters in this particular epic. At the moment there are three of them, which means that the Liberals need the support of all of them to stay in power, while the Conservatives only need one. Needless to say, they're all being heavily courted. The most popular three people in Ottawa are:

Chuck Cadman, who was elected to Parliament as a member of the far-right-wing Reform party (which has since merged into the Conservatives), but in the last election, he lost his nomination, ran as an Independent, and squarely beat the official Conservative candidate into a pulp. True to the old Reform ideals, he has said that he would vote however his constituents want him to vote. Last week he was saying he would support the government, earlier this week he changed his mind and said he'd probably side with the Conservatives, and now this morning he's saying oh, well, maybe not. He also happens to be currently undergoing chemotherapy on the other side of the country for a form of melanoma, and it's not out of the question that he might be too ill to make it to the vote at all.

Carolyn Parrish, who gained some degree of notoriety (as well as a number of fans) a couple of years back when she was overheard by an open microphone saying: "Damn Americans ... I hate those bastards," and after last year's U.S. election referred to President Bush as "a warlike man" and stated that she was "dumbfounded that he won." Her most recent stunt last fall involved tossing a George W. Bush doll on the floor and grinding it under her heel on a satirical television show, after which the current prime minister booted her out of the Liberal party and she began sitting as an Independent. Parrish has said she'll side with the Liberals on this one, but there's definitely no love lost between her and the current prime minister, and her picture also happens to be in the dictionary next to the word 'volatile.' Who knows what she'll do.

David Kilgour, who was a member of the predecessor to the Conservative party until he switched to the Liberals in 1990, is a fundamentalist Christian who has disagreed with many of his party's stances, most notably same-sex marriage. However, it was the most recent revelations in the corruption scandal that finally got him to leave the party two weeks ago, at which point he also began sitting as an Independent. Kilgour is the biggest wild card in the bunch, since his defection is so recent and his indignation so apparent. He's currently out of the country and hasn't been able to be reached for comment, but his last word was that he was considering all of his options. He's abandoned both the Liberals and the Conservatives, so he doesn't have any party loyalties, and he's said he's not running in the next election, so he's free to do whatever suits his fancy.

And I haven't even gotten into the old feud between different factions of the Liberal party, recently rekindled by testimony from a man loyal to the *previous* prime minister alleging that the *current* prime minister was once personally involved in some *other* shady dealings in the awarding of contracts. Or the courtly old gentleman knee-deep in the corruption scandal who testified that due to his advanced age, he can't possibly remember all the details anymore. Or the unprecedented address given by the current prime minister a week ago, pleading for his political life. Or the resurgence of Quebec separatism threatening to break up the country. I mean, bring out the popcorn. You can't make this shit up.

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