I spent a few days in Ottawa this week on a pseudo-assignment that involved badgering MPs into filling out a questionnaire. (It will all make sense in the coming weeks, grasshopper. Not to worry, though: no one is willfully posing nude.) It involved smiling, pleasantries and, among other things, watching the sea of old white guys dutifully file into the House of Commons to yell at one another during Question Period. Needless to say I came back with a cold and a sense of wonderment that anything actually gets done in this country. I can’t believe a) that anything like Question Period still exists, since I’ve seen six-year-olds accomplish more in three minutes in a sandbox than what passes for debate in the House of Commons; and b) the resources spent by assorted news media covering the daily pageantry. “This town has no memory,” my colleague Aaron Wherry said from behind a plate of French Fries the other day, and he’s right. The questions posed to MPs, always in the fleeting moments as they pass from one room to another, are taken from the same talking points memo disseminated to reporters, it seems, by some unseen force (God? osmosis? BlackBerry?) and hollered ad nauseam in an attempt to put off or embarrass the respondent. The subject–last Thursday it was a wrongfully imprisoned woman in Mexico, an abducted aid workers, Khadr, swine flu, the Prime Minister’s 50th birthday–doesn’t seem to matter; only reaction does. If a politician says something wacky or flubs his own script, he is dutifully punished by an embarrassing 10-second news clip. Then all is forgotten until tomorrow, when it starts all over again.
Anyone poor unaccustomed soul who goes through the above should take a long, hot shower and watch the clip above. It’s of Charlie MacKenzie of the old Rhino Party, in a political advert during the lead-up to the 1984 election. The Rhinos took their Elections Canada-given right of free airtime and turned it into a beautiful mockery of the whole process. Sadly, some other guy won that race, but MacKenzie–who I know fairly well and had the pleasure of editing while at Hour Magazine many moons ago–is a constant reminder why cynicism is most useful and entertaining when distilled into satire.