The only game in Ottawa right now is a variation on the popular children’s book series, Where’s Waldo? This week, it’s been updated for the nation’s chattering classes as Where, Who and WTF is Pierre Poutine?
There’s no better symbol than this pusillanimous pseudonym for Canada’s graceless slide into a corrupt and secretive pseudo-democracy under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Whatever Monsieur Poutine’s actual identity, he was likely little more than a small cog in a huge, intricately organized election fraud by the Conservative Party last spring. But Pierre Poutine as a metaphor is important nonetheless. The frat-house spirit of this dimwitted, adolescent effort to hide one’s cell-phone tracks perfectly illustrates the tasteless, soul-diminishing governing style of our now all-powerful federal overlords.
Pierre, as we all know, claimed a home address on the mythical “Separatist Street” of Joliette, Quebec. In the days leading up to last May’s federal election, however, Poutine made a lot of calls on his not-so-smart phone from that independantiste hotbed of Guelph, Ontario. As happened in at least three dozen ridings across the country, the calls were a cynical and very illegal attempt to persuade identified Liberal and NDP supporters to show up at far-away or non-existent polling stations in a fruitless effort to cast their ballots.
The intent was obvious: to suppress the votes of competing parties in a number of tight races during an election campaign in which a handful of ridings meant the difference between an omnipotent majority government for the Tories or a minority regime that survived through compromise and negotiation.
The Conservatives now have an 11-seat majority. Many of their new MPs won their seats by a handful of votes. The kind of operation is not undertaken for fun, but because it can be devastatingly effective in close races.
One only has to look at the political model that the Harper Conservatives tries so hard to emulate, the US Republican Party. We recognize several tactics from the Republican playbook, including an insistence on wedge issues like the gun registry, a maniacal insistence on secrecy and state power, a harsh tough-on-crime agenda, the association of political opponents with criminals or terrorists, and now, well-organized and persistent efforts to discourage or prevent identified supporters of competing parties from casting ballots.
Sure, the slapstick nature of the Poutine angle to this story is humorous, though it may properly belong to a forehead-slapping category of dark humour. It’s certainly an unintended invitation to ridicule the dimwitted strain of Conservative bigotry that conceived the instantly classic character (it took about a nano-second before the name was claimed on Twitter).
After the laughs fade, the one-liners dry up and the tears of mirth are wiped away, however, there is a sobering moment when we realize that, in the end, the joke is on the rest of us.
By the time this issue is published, this fast-moving story will no doubt have evolved into something even more incredible
We may have been disgusted but hardly surprised when Public Safety Minister Vic Toews mused a month or so ago that information obtained from torture is acceptable in certain cases, though he declined, disturbingly, to specify which ones.
And, frankly, many readers likely couldn’t help agreeing a bit with Tory Senator Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu’s quite literal suggestion that certain convicted criminals be supplied a length of rope as a federal budget-cutting measure.
Then Vic Toews upped the ante by saying that any Canadian who objected to their government conducting unfettered secret surveillance of all our online activities at any time was an ally of child pornographers. This marked a new low as political gaffes go.
Incredibly, Vic Toews’ crass and quite intentional equation of Canadian internet users who value their privacy – most of us, I would expect – with pedophiles didn’t last long in the record books. Only days later we found out that the 2011 federal election may have been literally stolen by the Conservatives in what is proving to be the biggest electoral fraud in our country’s history. But who incarnates this history-changing revelation? An as-yet anonymous Conservative schmuck who chooses Pierre Poutine as his cover identity.
This is bigger than Watergate, people. Remember Richard Nixon? I guess most readers born later than 1965 might not. If you do, it’s probably because you learned about the Watergate crisis from the classic Robert Redford-Dustin Hoffman film, All the President’s Men. The point is that Nixon was forced to resign as President of the United States over crimes that pale in comparison to what we are now uncovering in Canada.
But Watergate had, at least, a certain dignity. For instance, the episode introduced a sometimes exotic, often mysterious and always serious list of terms and phrases to the political culture, starting with the hotel where the scandal began. The Committee to Re-elect the President (or “CREEP”); the classic journalistic challenge, “What did the president know and when did he know it?”; the compelling development that came to be known as the “Saturday Night Massacre”; the ultimately riveting and political fatal judgment that there was “A cancer on the presidency”; and, of course, the all-time classic pseudonym for an anonymous source, “Deep Throat.”
But for us dipshit Canucks? What name will come to symbolize the greatest political crime in our history?