Lessons from queen for Man Who Would Be King


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Queen Elizabeth died on the 56th anniversary of the launch of the first Star Trek series.

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Queen Elizabeth died on the 56th anniversary of the launch of the first Star Trek series.

I’m not sure what overlap there is between royalists and Trekkies. The memes that day, however, showing her in Starfleet uniform sitting on the bridge of the original Enterprise, were spot-on.

Like the TV series’ tagline proclaimed, her life’s mission was “to boldly go where no man has gone before” — nor ever will again. Her reign, both in length and substance, will never be replicated.

This is something that the Man Who Would Be King needs to remember.

I’m not talking about King Charles here — he no doubt learned, over the past 73 years, many lessons from his mother about how to do the job. There is someone else, much closer to home than Buckingham Palace, with that same level of ambition.

The queen’s death muted the trucker-horn parade that otherwise would have followed Pierre Poilievre’s election as new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. Apparently, his supporters sold enough new CPC memberships to swamp the old guard, who expected to make the dismal choice again themselves for the third time in five years.

From the start, Poilievre brashly proclaimed he was “running for prime minister,” setting aside both the principles of parliamentary democracy and the Canadian political system as mere inconveniences.

To refer to him as the Man Who Would Be King seems to be the natural progression of his thought, just as Donald Trump fantasized himself first into the role of U.S. president, and then into becoming Supreme Leader, immune to the mundane expectations of democracy.

The omens are not good for Poilievre, however. Despite his effort to craft a “working guy” persona, he has only ever worked at politics, having been elected at 25 to the House of Commons in 2004. You have to wonder how his penchant for derisive slogans (“Justinflation”) will play out in an election campaign for someone whose initials are PP and whose nickname for years has been “Skippy.”

Certainly, the Liberals have lots of juicy video clips of his inane comments from the leadership race, ready for use when he starts to sling election mud. (I also wonder how his Ottawa constituents will regard his support of the so-called #FreedomConvoy that blockaded their downtown for three weeks earlier this year.)

But the omens weren’t good for Trump, either. Ridiculed as a buffoon — his lies, gaffes and infidelities exposed with glee — he still won in 2016. His followers were unconcerned by his lethal incapacity for elected office — he promised a change, and that was enough.

The attempted coup on Jan. 6, 2021, allegedly encouraged by a president more interested in golf than the Constitution, was the obvious next spectacle.

Back to Poilievre. There is no chance his right-wing clichés and platitudes will fool anyone left of centre in Canada, or really anyone who considers themselves to be progressive. Thanks to its takeover by the Reform Party (where Poilievre got his start), the CPC has become far more narrow-minded than it used to be.

So don’t expect much diversity or tolerance of any kind from the Conservatives under their new leader, especially as he fights off Maxime Bernier’s antics from the further right. Instead, as a campaign strategy, those new CPC foot soldiers are more likely to lead another #FreedomConvoy to Ottawa that never leaves, regardless of who wins the election.

All this reminded me of the 1975 movie The Man Who Would Be King, adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s 1888 story, in which two white British ex-soldiers-turned-mercenaries try to plunder and then take over the imaginary country of Kafiristan.

Isolated from the rest of the world since the time of Alexander the Great, its people believe one soldier is an invulnerable god, who plays along to keep the scam going. Things go really well until the love interest wounds the would-be king’s cheek, and the sight of his very human blood ends things in a hurry.

While Canada is not Kafiristan, PP’s pitch for royal power similarly will last only until someone draws blood on the campaign trail. I’m not worried that younger people will embrace Skippy as PM, either — I think too highly of their intelligence and common sense to fear they will be fooled by his vague promises and Bitcoin bonanzas.

They are more likely to view the juvenile political spectacle of the next federal campaign with disgust and stay home, as their world (and their future) burns without electing the responsible leadership that could make a difference.

If the rest of us also remain disengaged or disgusted, however, we may well get the kind of government Poilievre is offering. One of the lessons from Trumpistan is that change is not always for the better. Things can always get worse, and frequently do.

So, Scotty, is there any intelligent political life down here? I hope so. Otherwise, beam me up!

Peter Denton is an activist, scholar and writer.


Updated on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 6:38 AM CDT: Adds tile photo

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