Forget everything you think you know about politics.
Forget about left and right. Forget about rural/urban divides. Forget about vote splitting. Forget about convention speeches, weekly polls and pundits. None of these things matter.
To get elected in this country, political parties have one simple job. To win power, provincially or nationally, a political leader must dress up like a complete moron and host a Calgary Stampede breakfast.
That’s just the way it is.
Think about it. One of most infamous photos of former Prime Minister Jean Chretien showed him wearing a cowboy hat too big for him, tilted nearly straight back, and a pair of cowboy boots nearly busting from the pressure of the pants he had stuffed inside them. Goofy? Yes. He was also the most successful politician of my generation, serving as prime minister for more than 10 years.
Fast forward to 2002. Paul Martin shows up in Calgary wearing denim and boots and almost pulling it off. A year and a half later, he had pushed Chretien out the door and taken over.
Is it any wonder, then, that Calgary’s own Stephen Harper wore that ridiculous black leather vest over a collared shirt at the 2006 Stampede?
But, you point out, neither Martin nor Harper were able to win majority governments. I can explain this. You see, a politician’s success in Canada is directly linked to the ridiculousness of their Stampede wardrobe. Chretien looked like a complete and total jackass, thus he received the most support at the ballot box. Martin looked darn near Albertan, and thus cratered.
The verdict is still out on Harper, but it seems obvious to me that if he had worn that vest without a shirt underneath, maybe with a pair of chaps and a riding crop in his hand, he would have won a majority government long before now.
Let’s turn our attention to the provincial scene.
Without a doubt, this is a exciting year to be an Albertan. For the first time in decades, the PC provincial government has some real competition, as the Wildrose Alliance picks up steam. Under leader Danielle Smith, the Wildrose is coming off its first major convention last weekend in Red Deer, which drew more than 1,000 party members. The party now has four elected MLAs, enough for official party status.
But does the Wildrose have what it takes to bring down the PC dynasty? This question will undoubtedly be answered July 7, when the party hosts its Stampede Stomp at the Stockyards Saloon in Calgary.
If Smith can find a way to wear something supremely moronic, we will know that times are a changin’. My suggestion? One of those red plastic cowboy hats complete with a whistle, a stick-pony and a pair of six shooters.
But why, you ask, would any self-respecting individual of even moderate success subject them self to such humiliation?
Well, we’re not talking about self-respecting individuals of even moderate success. We’re talking about politicians.
We’re talking about people who are willing to give up every last shred of dignity for the chance to have complete strangers say something like, “You know that Jack Layton? For some reason, I want to stab him in the ear a little less than I want to stab Michael Ignatief.”
That’s what makes the dress-up-like-a-moron at the Calgary Stampede tradition so important. When I elect a prime minister, I want to know, going in, that there’s nothing he won’t do to get my support. I want to know, for a fact, that if I tell him to dress up like a clown and pie himself in the face, he’ll do it.
That’s why I can’t understand why Liberals continue to accuse the prime minister of having a so-called ‘hidden agenda.’ Didn’t they see him in the ridiculous vest? Obviously, this guy’s only agenda is getting elected.
After posing for a photo in something that stupid, and having that photo shown on television year-after-year, it’s not like he can apply for a better job. Nobody wants that gay-looking-cowboy for a lawyer, chief executive officer or United Nations secretary general.
At least, that’s what I tell myself. Because, these politicians have a nasty habit of remembering their values once elected.
A prime minister who stands on principle? That’s the last thing we need.