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Federal Politics
Election 2021

Scandal, Canadian Style

Won’t someone please deliver us a good old-fashioned Salmon Arm salute?!

Dorothy Woodend 30 Aug 2021 |

Dorothy Woodend is culture editor of The Tyee. Reach her here.

It’s high time for an old-fashioned political scandal.

Leaving aside the very real issues that are at stake in this upcoming election, a little lite scandal could provide a pleasant distraction. Think of New Zealand’s COVID minister, Chris Hipkins, telling the citizens of his proud nation they could go outdoors to spread their legs during the country’s most recent lockdown.

The populace burst out in raucous and raunchy memes with folks posting pictures of themselves pointing perineums towards the sky.

In Canada, all we’ve gotten so far is an image of Erin O’Toole’s head seemingly photoshopped atop Mike Holmes’s body. (If only he’d spread his legs and displayed a bit more of his O’Toole, then we might have something.)

Canada is always going to seem a little dullish next to the political powder keg that is the U.S. Could Hamilton Man ever really compete with Florida Man for sheer cuckoo-for-coconuts lunacy? I think not. Still, our country isn’t entirely without drama.

There was that time the Governor General turned out to be kind of a jerk. Former prime minister John Turner’s predilection for patting women on the bum. There was incident when former minister of state Helena Guergis was rude when asked to remove her boots at an airport security checkpoint. You can’t make this stuff up!

The biggest sex scandal in Canadian history took place in 1966, when a supposed Russian operative named Gerda Munsinger cavorted with Pierre Sévigny, associate defence minister under then-prime minister John Diefenbaker. Two other cabinet ministers had also received Munsinger’s ministrations. The affair hogged the headlines for months, leading eventually to a judicial inquiry.

The story was about as incendiary as things could get, with one media wag suggesting it might boost Canada’s image as a hotbed of sexy doings prior to Expo ’67.

It’s been a desert for juicy national scandals for a while, at least by the standards of sex-and-spying sagas. The recent stuff has been especially thin gruel in terms of spiciness. SNC-Lavalin? Yawn. WE Charity? Snoozers.

The dearth of genuine salaciousness is enough to make one long for the days of saucy old politicians like Trudeau Senior.

At the height of his cheekiness, Pierre Trudeau was a pretty reliable generator of scandals and outrage, whether he was calling out the army or giving a one-fingered salute to the people of Salmon Arm.

This moment, probably his finest, took place during a period of some economic instability. He’d decided to take a luxury train trip out west, and, faced with a small group of irate citizens in the tiny B.C. hamlet, tootled off down the tracks in his fancy train car, waving gaily at the protesters. At least I think that’s what he was doing.

Doug Hughes, one of the three people on site that day, recounted the incident in an interview with the Canadian Press. “He looked at my wife, he smiled and gave her the finger. He pushed up the other blind, looked at me and gave me the finger. He pushed the other blind up, looked at David and gave him the finger,” Hughes said. “It was very honest.”

So many fingers, so little time. So said Maggie Trudeau whilst partying on down with members of the Rolling Stones at Studio 54. But I digress.

Over the years, there have been a few other scandals in the staid political landscape: Trudeau Jr. accused of groping one woman and elbow-gating another. Jean Chrétien choking a protester with the infamous Shawinigan Handshake. And of course, the Ford Brothers, rampaging through Toronto municipal politics like human pit bulls.

At the moment, the only slightly amusing incident has been the atrocious spelling capabilities of the Conservative Party of Canada, who managed to cram a whack of misspelled words onto a single pamphlet, including the term “ant-corrupton.” Which left a few folks wondering what Erin O’Toole has against our industrious insect friends.

Leaving aside these ants and their nefarious ways, whether any real skeletons come leaping out of closets in the coming weeks remains to be seen. There’s nothing like an election to flap open the doors and usher forth some hoary old bones.

Politicians are certainly not alone in being scrutinized and found wanting or even entirely derelict of good sense. Most everywhere you look high-profile people are being called out on their less than exemplary behaviour. Evangelical preachers, university professors, television hosts, celebrities, sports stars — it’s kind of long list. It’s increasingly difficult to keep things hidden in this media-saturated age; if you took some kid’s lunch money in Grade 3, rest assured it will probably circle back to put the kibosh on your current ambitions.

It makes one wonder how many powerful people have secrets stuffed away, things they shoved into a shoebox and stuck on a high shelf at the very back of the deepest closet, hoping against hope that they’d never again see the light of day.

Of all the people in the public eye, politicians seem especially prone to bones, by which I mean skeletons. In the rest of the world, there’s a veritable orgy of wrongdoing taking place, occasionally actual bonified orgies à la Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi’s infamous Bunga Bunga parties. In France, Italy and Turkey, all kinds of malfeasance is happening.

Although the reigning champions of politicos gone wild is still the U.S, where you can lie, cheat, steal, call for the overthrow of democracy itself and still keep on trucking.

Back here in little old Canada, Justin Trudeau breaks promises like piecrust, the Green party self-immolates and Erin O’Toole can’t spell Ottawa.

Still, it’s hard not to feel at least some sympathy for the would-be leaders of the nation. Who amongst us has not said or done some questionable things — I’m not even talking sex tape things, but regular old foot-in-mouth stuff. (Wait, wasn’t that actually in a sex tape?)

Imagine the pressure of maintaining a pristine image, one that voters can get behind with surety and confidence, knowing that somewhere, deep in the closet lolls a Halloween costume (or two? three?!) in blackface. To borrow a line from the ousted Andrew Sheer, “nothing good happens in Ottawa after 8:00 p.m.” As if he would know, the little goody-two shoes.

In all honesty, I can’t wait for some good old-fashioned sexy mudslinging to take place. It’s high time for a sordid story to shake the foundations of the nation and add a little zip to this most uninteresting election, preferably something filled with Hell’s Angels, pepper spray, bad spelling and terrible decisions. Anything to distract from the ongoing grimness of actual events.

Let the Salmon Arm Salute ride again!  [Tyee]

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