Friday, December 30, 2005

Whither the Rhinoceros Party

The acrimony of the current Canadian election campaign leaves one wondering not only about the personal ethics, but about the overall quality of the people who wish to be awarded the power to form government. The current crop of Canadian politicians leave much to be desired and large groups of Canadians will vote while holding their noses. All parties have glaring flaws and many seem to be completely out of touch with the electorate. It is little wonder that voter turnout is declining at each election. Elections Canada has asked that Canadian voters be allowed to "officially decline" their ballot, thus registering a protest which is officially counted as opposed to the current model which simply records an unmarked or overmarked voting foil as a "spoiled ballot".

Not so long ago, however, Canadians had an option which no longer exists today. They could vote for the Rhinoceros Party of Canada candidate in their riding.

Many people considered the Rhinos a ridiculous group, but consider that they had achieved "party status" on the Canadian political scene and at their peak during the 1980 federal general election they ran 121 candidates, taking over 1% of the popular vote for a total of 110,286 ballots cast in their favour. While the Rhinos never won a seat in Parliament, in some ridings they placed a strong second, ahead of major political parties.

Some of the Rhino Party promises:

- repealing the law of gravity,
- building sloping roads and bicycle paths across the country so that Canadians could "coast from coast to coast",
- abolishing pumping oil out of the ground as that oil is there to keep the earth moving smoothly on its axis and if you withdraw the oil, the whole thing will grind to a halt,
- painting Canada's coastal sea limits so that Canadian fish would know where they were at all times

And if some of those election promises seem a little worrying, well worry not; the Rhino party always promised to break every campaign promise they made, (a promise they claimed the major parties put into actual practice).

If all this sounds a little silly, look at it this way. The appearance of the Rhinoceros party on the ballot was intended to provide a place for voters to register a protest vote. When the mainstream parties, their candidates and leaders represented the things Canadians found distasteful, when the campaigns of the major parties had reached levels of behaviour for which Canadians felt they should be punished, a vote for the Rhino candidate sent a strong message. Every time a ballot was counted as Rhino, it deeply humiliated the candidates of the major parties and registered voter disgust.

Cornelius, the First, a rhino at the Granby zoo was listed as the party's official leader.

Alas, on September 23rd, 1993, the Chief Electoral Officer ordered the Rhinoceros Party of Canada removed from the Registry of Canadian Political Parties when the Rhinos attempted to abstain from that year's election. In order to remain "official" the party would have had to run at least 50 candidates. The Chief Electoral Officer ordered the party's agent, Charlie McKenzie to liquidate all assets and return any revenues to the Receiver General of Canada. McKenzie, on the advice of party members refused and, after two years of threats, the Chief Electoral Officer refused to prosecute making McKenzie Canada's least most wanted fugitive.

Canada needs a political party like the Rhinos. While they admittedly put the "mock" in democracy, they performed a vitally useful role in allowing Canadians to express an alternative view at the ballot box and send the major parties a clear message.

There have been other attempts to create humour parties in Canada, but none was so influential as the Rhinos. We can but hope that one day, they will return to the Canadian political landscape. Federal election campaigns just aren't the same without them.

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