For the second time in as many years, a Grammy-winning pop star wants to become president. Two years ago, it was respected rapper Wyclef Jean who made an unsuccessful–though much talked-about–bid for the presidency of Haiti. Today, it’s African singer-percussionist Youssou N’Dour, currently a candidate in Senegal’s upcoming presidential elections.
There are musician-politicians in Canada too, of course. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a decent pianist; interim Liberal leader Bob Rae is another. And the late NDP leader Jack Layton loved to play music in his off-hours. Admittedly amateurs all, the three leaders nevertheless gained a certain creative credibility for their musical chops.
There have even been professional Canadian musician-politicians. The current NDP caucus features a pair of roots rockers: onetime band-mates (in L’Étranger) Charlie Angus of Grievous Angels and Andrew Cash of The Cash Brothers. Both, however, are a long way from snatching up the country’s top job–and arguably just as far from becoming pop stars.
Which raises the question: is a pop star prime minister of Canada even possible?
The answer has a lot to do with our electoral system. If Canadians were allowed to pick the head of the executive directly (more or less as Americans do in their presidential elections), we might imagine a sufficiently popular musician—Bryan Adams? Celine Dion? Drake? BIEBER?!—translating her popular appeal into a leadership role.
Alas, to become a Canadian prime minister, there’s no escaping the slow, laborious rise through the ranks: first, win the party nomination in a local riding; then win your riding in an election; then become a member of Parliament; then put in time as a back-bencher; and take on key party roles, possibly a cabinet post. That could take a couple of terms, if you’re lucky.
Keep at it for a number of years, standing in Question Period, facing the press, stabbing the right backs and shaking the right hands, and you just may have a chance to earn your party’s nomination at a leadership convention.
After that, you only have to go out and win your own seat in a federal election—for the party that takes the greatest number of seats in Parliament—and you’re in!
If you’re a pop star, it’s sadly obvious what that would do to your rehearsal schedule and studio time. No more touring stadiums. As for a Juno, let alone a Grammy: forget it.
Which raises a point worth pondering. Remember the scene of our own prime minister, Stephen Harper, playing the piano in avuncular fashion?
Remember well, because Harper may be the closest Canada ever gets to having a a pop star for prime minister.
Note: an earlier version of this story referred to Cash as a member of Skydiggers; in fact he was involved in the formative stages of the band but not a member of the long-running lineup, which includes brother Peter Cash and Andy Maize.