Justin and the ponies

Justin and the ponies

As of today, if you visit the official “Leadership 2013” section of Liberal Party of Canada website you’ll see but a single gently smiling face under the header “Meet the Candidates.” Despite the fact that the party’s nomination period has been officially open for more than a week now, Justin Trudeau remains the sole human willing to offer himself as the Liberals’ next boss. And you know what they say about elections with only one candidate — even if Justin himself apparently doesn’t.

JT’s lonely status is particularly revealing considering how much fun the Canadian press has been having with the various loser nobodies who are, at least in theory, planning to run against him. Most famously, the list includes his dead father’s former lover (and mother of his half-sister), but also two lawyers, a retired Air Force colonel, and a former one-term backbench MP. Aside from the latter, none of the five have ever held elected office before, with the wealth of their combined political experience consisting mostly of losing various sacrificial lamb parliamentary races to high-profile incumbents from other parties. Their websites are all cookie-cutter templates; their platforms a collection vapid nothings. It defies belief that an unaccomplished, third-party, one-and-a-half term MP like Justin Trudeau could ever be described as a political heavyweight, but in the context of this meagre crowd of nonentities, his status is practically Churchillian.

It’s widely believed, of course, that most of these also-rans are only also-running to raise their professional profiles, with an eye on a Liberal patronage appointment (or at least a nomination in a more competitive riding) somewhere down the line. It’s very cynical business, but as far as techniques go, there is some positive precedent — one of the only reasons the press takes the candidacy of Martha Hall Findlay, the aforementioned one-term MP, as seriously as they do is simply because she was an also-ran in the Stephane Dion leadership election of ’06, and thus a somewhat familiar face in a otherwise anonymous field.

The great irony, however, is that the Liberals explicitly tried to discourage people from vainly gaming their leadership race this time around. We’re not running the bloody “Toastmasters club” here, quipped a party insider the other day, “if you want to practice speech-making there are other places to do it.” The Libs purposely imposed a harsh $75,000 “non-refundable entry fee” as a condition of participation in order to discourage unserious entries, with a related rider that no candidate’s campaign debt shall exceed 75 grand either — two things that probably would have discouraged at least four of the also-rans of 2006, who remain mired in massive election debt to this day.

But official discouragements don’t matter much if your candidacy never gets beyond the unofficial stage. And why should it — in today’s modern media age it’s exceedingly easy to “run for office” simply by saying you are, rules be damned. The non-Trudeau five may very well never pay their $75,000 or be featured on the party website, but still merrily tour the country and give media interviews — possibly even attend candidate debates — and basically just hang around in the national consciousness until they’ve proved their point. With Liberal voting day not until April and candidate cut-off not until January, the time allotted to wallow in fickle limbo is quite long for anyone who cares to exploit it, and with a press eager to make this coronation seem more interesting and competitive than it actually is, the exploiters remain in a pretty sweet spot.

It’s a bit of a PR headache for the Libs, but all things considered, the situation could be a lot worse. I mean, sure, their headline event is in danger of being hijacked by the greedy ambition of a gaggle of no-names using the obviously shallow pretext of running for a laughably-out-of-reach office to artificially inflate their own reputations and thus guarantee themselves some sort of prominent role in the future in the party.

On the other hand, at least five Canadians are convinced the party even has a future.


  1. JonasB

    Ok, a few things:

    1. When I read the title (but before I saw the comic) I half-expected some weird My Little Pony parody.

    2. Is this comic based on something? I don't get it I'm afraid :(

    3. What do people say about races with one candidate?

  2. J.J. McCullough

    The "duck-sized horses" thing is some manner of internet meme, though I had never heard it before this.

    And they say, "when there's only one candidate, there's only one choice!"

  3. can't resist

    The ponies, Justin!!
    They sting, Justin!!!

  4. @WBlakeKimber

    Is it just me, or am I seeing an influence from Kate Beaton's fat pony in your pony designs?

  5. Jake_Ackers

    I think the Left in Canada is suffering from what the Right in Canada suffered. Its fractured. Silvio Berlusconi and Harper and even to a degree Reagan, united the Right and allowed them to return to power. The Left in Canada will have to do the same. Places like Australia and Germany benefit from a local right wing versus a national one. The Left in Canada hasn't been able to benefit from a split left. After all the Q-Bloc is Left correct and it allied with the Right.

  6. M_T_Cicero

    I can't help but wonder if those five even believe the Libs have a future. Look at how Bob Rae shifted between parties…this could be a case where they up their profiles on the most easily-available race and then shift to either provincial parties that likely /do/ have a future, or shift into the NDP in a few years once the federal Libs more or less collapse (something that seems likely over the next decade if the Libs can't revive their fortunes…parliamentary irrelevance is a very real risk for them).

    Of course, this raises the question of what niche the party can fill to build on. It won't be ideological, and it seems unlikely to be geographic. Likewise, unless you get an NDP collapse, what /would/ be able to propel the Libs back to a relevant position?

  7. csgardner

    I read that link on the liberal campaign debt. I gotta say, I'm all for enforcing small donations, but making the rule retroactive is an incredible dick move. Was there some justification for that?

  8. M_T_Cicero

    Ok, I'm not an expert in Canadian constitutional law and practice (arcane beast that it is), but are there any restrictions on ex post facto laws? Likewise, is it plausible that if charges /are/ brought, a challenge could be levied against the law on those grounds?

  9. Taylor

    Only on criminal matters. Retroactive laws are fine in the Westminster system.

  10. Guest

    Just wanted to say – usually love your artwork JJ but those duck-sized horses don't look much like horses!

  11. Patrick_K

    "The former candidates may have the cash to pay what they owe – in Ms. Hall Findlay’s case, she lent the money to herself." (Link in article)

    Holy crap. Perhaps someone can enlighten me since I've only been following Canadian politics for a year or so, but did the conservatives make a retroactive law after an election that essentially eliminated their competition due to a retroactive change in laws? That sounds like a beneficial move for them, but from an outsider's point of view I don't think I've ever seen a more blatant abuse of power to eliminate competition. Off the top of my head I can think of a few amendments and constitutional rights that would challenge this and a laundry list of civil statutes that would have problems with this as well.

    The punishment if a judge deems the debts uncollectable? imprisonment. Because they abided by the rules in their election but the conservatives retroactively changed the rules. I'm not even Canadian and this pisses me off heh.

  12. @mikehatedit

    Well, yes and no.

    Previously, a significant amount of public funds was made available to political campaigns based on their performance in the previous election. For most purposes, it was a straight-across per-vote subsidy, paid to every party which earned more than 5% of the national vote.

    This had been the state of affairs for several election cycles, and some parties–in particular the Bloc Quebecois and Liberals–had come to depend upon it for the bulk of their party's annual income. The Bloc in particular suffered a double-whammy, as the union donations upon which they had historically also depended had been cut back significantly due to an earlier measure.

    Was it a cynical move to limit competition? Bluntly, yes… but it must be understood that, under Canadian law, you can't donate more than a few thousand dollars to a political cause, so it's not a matter of the Conservatives having a bunch of millionaires along for the ride. It's just that the Liberals and Bloc were so utterly dependent upon public funding that it sort of tore the bottom off their entire funding system.

    In short, while the Conservatives have, in modern history, always had a massive bank of individual donors (rather than depending upon public funds), there's no real reason why the other parties can't do the same.

  13. Jake_Ackers

    Does Canada have a habit of having retroactive laws? "PQ says it's flexible on retroactive tax hikes"

  14. Taylor

    Yes, because it's standard practice.

  15. Taylor

    For example, about 10 years ago, BC passed a law allowing it to sue tobacco companies for the harm they've done in the province for an unlimited period of time. It was upheld.

    The only retroactivity that isn't allowed is in 11(g) of the Charter, for criminal offences. Note this doesn't include regulatory offences.

  16. M_T_Cicero

    Huh…wouldn't that potentially make the jail-time-for-debt matter a bit dodgy?

  17. Taylor

    Depends what the retroactive element is. I think the law and the penalties have been the same the whole time, it's just that Harper retroactively lowered the monetary limit. The offence is still clear.

  18. Jake_Ackers

    So if gum chewing becomes a fine-able regulatory offense, does that mean every person caught for gum chewing could in the past could get a fine?

  19. Lexy Gardner

    The bottom line is crime is crime and it hasn't been a mystery to discern such.Although the preponderence of criminals is over bearing to those who love are free living country. The unfortunate part is how to do we engage those with not a care, for if caring is the essence of Justin's point of view, then and only then does the direction he pursues become idiocy or pure genius, and being that its one or thee other, then how does self containment get out of hand if people aren't handy with the constitution.

  20. Hairyman

    We don't agree on much, but this is the cutest damn thing I've seen in a LONG time. Going to have to echo the question about Kate Beaton's fat pony though – is this some kind of tribute, or the go-to way for people to draw cute cartoon ponies?

  21. M_T_Cicero

    I think part of the problem is that the Liberals, in particular, have faced a declining "popular" donor base for many, many years while the Conservatives likely had one built up as Reform rose out of nowhere in the West. Liberal support tended to come more from businesses and the like. The party basically won in the 1990s by a sort of default (due to Reform/Alliance, PC, and BQ vote-splitting plus Campbell's incompetence in the campaign), but in retrospect it seems that Liberal support really was more of a case of "They're the only ones who can form a majority" plus the sentiment you noted in this comic: http://www.filibustercartoons.com/index.php/2005/
    (It took me forever to find that one in the archives since, other than knowing it was old, I didn't know how to search for it…I remembered the gist and the punchline, but nothing else)

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