Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Of Old Bulls and Young Turks

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VANCOUVER -- Ready for the Parliamentary Channel switching to re-runs of Sesame Street?

How about a private member's bill bringing acne into the Canada Health Act?

Think diaper boards in the washrooms will raise public respect for the Commons?

The parliamentarians' informal afternoon naps may be made mandatory, with taxpayer-funded teddys and dolls provided (why not, in the nanny state?). Could be a bit of a shock to see Pablum on the parliamentary cafeteria menu, though.

You've (now) heard all the jokes about the new BQ (Baby Quebecois) party, the young New Democrats -- five from McGill University -- who trounced Gilles Duceppe and the Duceppetions in the May 2 election. Earnest persons who repeatedly fail to grasp the brass ring of electoral victory must have been dismayed to see that for these youngsters, some barely of legal drinking age, winning an election is mere child's play.

The youth wing's tastefully gender-inclusive pin-ups are Pierre Luc-Dusseault, University of Sherbrooke politics student and youngest-ever MP at age 19 and 11/12ths, and Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who worked at Carleton University's student bar and whose "campaign" was conducted from the fantasy world of Las Vegas -- excellent preparation for Ottawa. She'd never even set foot in the riding, yet beat the incumbent by nearly 6,000 votes. Must be a lesson there somewhere. There were more women elected, too, than ever before, almost a quarter of the Commons.

What a deliriously gripping election that began as a snorer. But, to those of philosophic bent, with an overlay of anticipated poignancy. Parliament needs young blood, but, unless party leaders, and especially the NDP's Jack Layton, loosen the screws, the heavy hands of party whips and Parliament's grey ploddings will quickly turn them into young stuffed shirts.

At first they may blurt out some alarming truths, even their honest beliefs. Then they will be sternly taught -- symbolically, a whack of the ruler on the knuckles that they never felt in school life -- that all Canadians enjoy the right of free speech except MPs.

The Conservatives got their welcome majority, almost a footnote in this shoot-'em-up Wild East election. Stephen Harper's campaign was repetitiously dull -- rote-teaching that the young neophytes also never experienced in their progressive classrooms. That's a compliment to Harper. It is a great feat when a government successfully defends what has been, with its chronicled warts, against the assaults of its opponents' what might be, the fluffy clouds of costless campaign dreams.

Now don't overplay your hand, prime minister. Let Layton twist slowly in the wind of his probably unmanageable success. It would be fun to be the scorpion on the wall at NDP caucus meetings when the party's Old Bulls, like those here on the Left Coast, confront the Young Turks -- with the generational friction of old people's very natural hatred and jealousy of the young, and youth's equally heavenly ordained cool contempt for the old, in the mix.

A serious word. Our elections trivialize policy into trite slogans and dumb-down candidates into puppets mouthing pre-programmed party bromides. Michael Ignatieff and Layton hold PhDs, but in our political culture they, like all candidates, have to disguise their learning, so that the highest praise for Layton, was the vomit-inducing mantra that he's "the kind of guy you could have a beer with." What a grand qualification for leading the country.

Our denominator is so shudderingly common that Bob Rae was brave to pitch a rare literary note at beer-swilling Boobis canadensis, quoting Kipling's profound words in his poem If on the twin impostors of Triumph and Disaster. Ignatieff quaffed the latter in full measure.

It is a deeply unkind irony that he and his motley allies touched off -- whatever Harper's parliamentary provocations, evidently of little import to us belly-scratching, hockey-hypnotized Canadians -- an assault on the castle walls that ended with two of the three leaders bathed in boiling oil and politically slain, and the third with the ambiguous success of soaring in status but with diminished power. It was a curious time, and we may not see its like again. Or care to.


Trevor Lautens is a retired Vancouver Sun columnist and editorial writer.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2011 J11

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