by Geoff Olson
In the 1979 film The Life of Brian, the eponymous hero played by Graham Chapman approaches a group of cloaked figures. “Are you the Judean People’s Front?” Brian meekly asks them.

“F*** off! ‘Judean People’s Front’. We’re the People’s Front of Judea!” spits the leader Reg, played by John Cleese.

“The thing we’ve all observed about the behaviour of revolutionary groups is that if they’re on the left they tend to hate each other more than they hate the people originally intended to be the enemy,” Cleese commented in a interview on the Tunisian film set of The Life of Brian.

“I’ve got a wonderful tract, a Stalinist tract attacking the Trotskyites, which is absolutely wonderful. The virulence! They couldn’t have topped it if they were going after the National Front.”

Cleese’s remarks came to mind as I pondered our sorry political landscape in Canada. Harper’s reactionary regime is opposed by four qausi-leftish, vote-splitting parties; hardly extremists but all close enough in political ideology to snipe at one another rather than focus on a common enemy.

Bear with me here, because a brief history lesson is required.

In 2005, NDP leader Jack Layton alerted then Liberal health minister Ujjal Dosanjh that he was halting talks on the growing privatization of public health care. Within three weeks the NDP joined the Conservatives and the Bloc in a nonconfidence vote, defeating Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government and triggering the next election.

In a 2006 article in The Walrus, “Fake Left, Go Right,” York University professor James Laxer insists the NDP acted as enablers to the Conservative party by limiting the subsequent election campaign to attacks on the scandal-plagued Liberals. About the most Layton would say against Harper and his party is that they were “wrong in the issues,” commented Laxer.

The NDP was understandably concerned that some of their traditional supporters might vote Liberal to deny the Conservatives seats in the House. But Layton’s focused attacks on Stéphane Dion’s party resulted in a Pyrrhic victory. The NDP went from 19 to 29 seats in 2006, yet they no longer had the balance of power in a Parliament presided over by a Conservative minority and Liberal opposition.

Laxer argued the NDP brass preferred a Tory win over a Lib win, knowing a minority government of their own was a statistical outlier. This way they would no longer have to worry about drifting into the centrist space already occupied by the Liberals. The next election might present a more binary proposition for the voters, at least in theory.

And it happened. Thanks in part to Judean People’s Front/People’s Front of Judea-style sniping and Canada’s bottomlessly stupid first-past-post voting system, a Conservative minority resulted 2008 and a majority in 2011, with the NDP official opposition after the latter election.

In between elections, the Layton-Harper games of footsie continued.“What the hell is wrong with Jack Layton that he can’t answer a phone call? He talks to Stephen Harper all the time,” Green Party leader Elizabeth May said in an April 2007 interview on CTV’s Question Period.

In May’s telling, only after giving up on the NDP leader did she agree with Liberal leader Stéphane Dion to not run candidates in each others riding in the 2008 campaign. Layton predictably echoed Harper in condemning the deal.

Already, there are troubling signs that NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is taking a page out of the late Layton’s book of realpolitick. By deciding to skip any debates that don’t include Harper, he is helping the Tories sideline Elizabeth May.

“This stinks to high heaven,” the Green leader told The Globe and Mail in July.

“Tom Mulcair has just killed the best opportunity that Canadian voters had to get accountability from a sitting prime minister from opposition party leaders in the forum that reaches the most Canadians.”

A cross-partisan campaign to stifle May signals why her voice is critically important in this election. If enough Green candidates are elected it’s conceivable May could hold the balance of power in a hung parliament. In which case, she would have a good chance of keeping the gravitas-free Trudeau from inflating into Harper Lite, or holding the NDP true to its long-negotiable principles.

The Vancouver Courier, Sept. 10


by Geoff Olson

You’ve probably seen reports on graffiti artist Banksy’s “Dismaland,” a “bemusement park” located in Weston-super-Mare, UK. Among the attractions is a sculpture of an overturned pumpkin carriage with a dead Cinderella hanging out the window, encircled by paparrazi.

Why should austerity-battered Brits get all the artistically sublimated angst? If I have my way, they won’t. Welcome to my newly imagined Canadian tourist trap outside of Fort McMurray, within choking distance of the Alberta Tar Sands. I call it “Toryville.”

clownsToryville is a child-unfriendly exploration of all things politically down and dirty. You enter through a polyresin replica of the Centre Block of Parliament, complete with a Peace Tower clock set at two minutes to midnight. Here security goons aggressively frisk and then frogmarch you into the Prorogued House of Horror Commons. This dark, spooky space replicates the Prime Minister’s past stints at blocking legislative debate through a dictatorial lights-out.

As you stumble about in the darkened chamber, you’re accosted by actors playing dead and living Tories, including the bow-tied Arthur Porter, chair of the Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee, who reportedly died in Panama in 2015 after the largest fraud investigation in Canadian history brought corruption charges against him.

Boo! It’s former PM Brian Mulroney clutching a paper bag full of cash, with German-Canadian arms lobbyist Karl Schreiber at his side! Look out, it’s former Progressive Conservative leader Peter Mackay, wielding the knife he stuck in David Orchard’s back!

Staggering from this scary setting, your eyes adjust to the technicolour kitsch of the Toryville fairgrounds, complete with the F-35 Tilt-o-Whirl, made up of jet replicas. A worker playing the auditor general loudly cautions you it’s way too expensive to board these Harper-endorsed white elephants. In any case, the ride is immobile until special software is available in 2016.

Off now to The Hall of Robocalls, where you hear misleading and manipulative telephone calls reported from 261 ridings across the country. On your way out, you pass a diorama of the singular figure convicted after these impossibly widespread feats, Conservative staffer Michael Sona, sitting in a prison cell with a copy of Voter Suppression for Dummies.

This dispiriting experience is nothing compared to The Pirates of Rideau Canal. All aboard! A boat painted in Tory aquamarine sails you through a cave lined with actors in chains playing federal researchers. These gagged minions attempt to sing “It’s a Science World After All” in unison, but it comes out as unintelligible moaning. Several grinning Conservative media contacts dressed in pirate gear mistranslates this as a feel-good jingle about ethical oil and jobs for Canadians.

A surprise awaits at the cave exit: a robot rock band with a robot Harper at the keyboard, banging out robot versions of Hey Jude and Sweet Caroline. But don’t even think of jumping overboard to escape unless you’re big on tailing pond effluent.

Disembarking, you find the gangplank leads you directly toward an architectural riff on the PM’s pet project, The Victims of Communism Memorial, revised and reworked for Toryville as The Victims of Malignant Narcissism Memorial.

Time now for The Nigel Wright Career Roller Coaster. Take a slow, click-click-click ride upward, passing the former Harper advisor’s career highlights, till you reach the apex at the PMO. From here it’s a nauseating drop into the Chianti-swilling piehole of an ginormous, misshapen bald head. You’re now in the Mike Duffy Senatorial Sideshow, careening through a blizzard of Monopoly money and screeching to halt in a recreated federal courtroom, where a conga line of lawyer and expert witnesses spell out “PM Duplicity” with their own bodies.

The ride almost seems anticlimactic given the carnival of corruption that preceded it. But there’s still so much more to see and do in Toryville. The Parliamentary Press Hurdle; the Contempt of Parliament Carousel; The Ferris Election Act Wheel; The Long Form Census Target Range; the War-on-Terror-Whack-a-Mentally-Ill-Mole.

In Banksy style, you exit through the gift shop. Pick up the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the form of a box of confetti. Or buy an inflatable likeness of the late Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas, CCF architect of Canada’s universal healthcare system, holding his horrified face in the style of Edward Munch’s The Scream.

The Vancouver Courier, Sept. 3