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There's one thing that the 11 small political parties that met at OISE on Saturday have in common, aside from the fact that none of them have a hope in hell of winning this election. They all think Canada's political system is deeply broken.
That's about where the similarities end however, and the way the party leaders expressed their dissatisfaction with Canada's democracy ranged from the deadly serious to the downright silly. On the serious end of the spectrum was First Peoples National Party leader William Morin, who spoke passionately about the injustices that have been done to his people.
"Aboriginal people don't have a say in this country. But anything that's going to happen to Canada has already happened to Aboriginal people. That's the barometer," he said, warning that the negative effects of globalization as well as the epidemics of diabetes and obesity that First Nations people have suffered for decades are being increasingly felt by the rest of the country.
On the silly end of the spectrum was Francois Yo Gourd of the Rhinoceros Party, who spoke passionately (and in a charming Quebecois drawl) about tomfoolery, the importance of French kissing, and farting in public. Actually, the Rhino Party is riding a big of a high at the moment. When Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté visited the International Space Station in September 2009, he carried with him a Rhino Party button and photographed it floating in the spacecraft, which Gourd claims as proof the party finally fulfilled its promise to repeal the law of gravity. This in itself is a dubious victory, as the party's core platform is that it promises to keep none of its promises.
Michael Nicula, the leader of the Online Party of Canada, also took part in the forum, but one wonders why he showed up in person. Under his party's guidelines, he's not authorized to take a position on anything. Instead the OPC's entire platform is determined directly by the results of online polls, so he might as well have set up a giant computer screen at the podium. He did say the OPC's poll results tend to reflect the opinions of the readership of the National Post, which he may or may not have intended as a selling point.
As you might expect, the forum of lesser parties threw up its share of unscripted moments. The event's moderator, OISE Professor Rinaldo Walcott, appeared uninterested in intervening directly in the proceedings, which meant all 11 parties answered every question posed by the audience, a tedious process that led to single-issue organizations like the Marijuana Party and the unfortunately named Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party expressing their views on topics ranging from abortion to affordable housing.
At one point Peter Vogel of the pro-life Christian Heritage Party attempted to court the embryonic vote by asking, "If you were not born yet, and you could vote, which party would you vote for?"
And although all parties said they had come together in the spirit of cooperation, the event took a distasteful turn when Morin, the First Peoples leader, was asked a question about poverty. "Affordable housing is ..." he began, hesitating. "Affordable housing is ..."
"A teepee!" broke in Gourd gleefully. He was met with a stony silence from the audience, which included at least one First Nations family.
The Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party's Liz White took umbrage with the name of the event, and suggested that next year's meeting be called the "Innovative Parties Forum" instead of the "Small Parties Forum." So what would Canada look like if these groups' innovations were put into practice?
The Pirate Party, represented by Mikkel Paulson, is a single-issue party devoted to a freer internet. It advocates against laws proposed by the Conservatives that would require telecoms to keep records of their customers' internet and phone use. Paulson would also do away with intellectual property rights, arguing that ideas, songs, and other intellectual creations are like couches: if you want to control what happens to them, keep them in your living room.
Communist Party leader Miguel Figueroa said he agrees with Stephen Harper that Canada needs a stable majority government, but he'd prefer it be Communist rather than Conservative. The Marijuana Party's Blair T. Longley, decked out in an Alberta cowboy costume in honour of the prime minister, wants the legalization of "the single best plant on the planet for people for fun, fiber, and food," and also urged Ottawa to cut ties with evil "international banksters."
The Christian Heritage Party would ensure there's a barefoot mother in every Canadian kitchen by providing a monthly $1000 allowance to families in which one parent decides to stay home to care for children. The party also advocates for a moratorium on immigration from countries that practice Sharia law.
The First Peoples National Party wants more representation for Aboriginals, mainly through the replacement of the Senate with an Aboriginal-dominated Upper House.
None of these parties have illusions of governing of course (the Pirate Party expressly doesn't want to), but they seek to influence government policy with their ideas. Some of them would certainly find sympathy among Canadian voters, but given the small crowd at OISE on Saturday, they've got their work cut out for them.