Elections fascinate connoisseurs of deceptive dullness

As Canada echoes to the squawk of the running politician, I proudly lay before you Robson’s Field Guide to Elections. Hey, it beats Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape, crammed with fascinating regional variations among fire hydrants, airport approach lights and clamshell grapples. Or maybe not. Elections offer many fascinating sights to connoisseurs of irascible deceptive dullness. Let us start with that noisily ubiquitous inhabitant of the political meadow, candidatus obsequious. Although the plumage of all sub-species has been uniform since the days of frock coats, and all share the characteristic thick skull and thin skin, a dull red splash reveals the Liberalis polymorphus, blue the Torius amorphous, orange the Neodemocraticus paleohippeus and a distinctive Fleur de Lys marking the Blox referenda aeternalis or Canada delenda. The Civis irritatus should to learn to distinguish them because whereas Liberals believe in big government, socialized medicine and abortion on demand, so do the NDP and the Bloc. Conservatives don’t but would deliver them anyway. Political philosophy is the beetle of this ecosystem: hideous and hidden in dank smelly holes. Pay it no mind.

Liberalis candidates can be hard to recognize because of their talent for mimicry. For instance, their mating cry of “tax cuts.” Paradoxically, it sounds like the Torius but is more melodious and varied. Poll-watchers have not reported “We will abolish the GST” in some years, but have noted a new strain of “over six years” requiring prospective mates to elect them twice to cash in. (See Vision, political in the index, as in, they have a vision of us re-electing them.) That they are no longer trying to buy your vote but merely rent it indicates not the emergence of a new sub-species but only the versatility of this pest.

Like the chirp of “We will decriminalize marijuana,” the Liberal tax-cut song is heard incessantly during elections but rarely between them. However, it is entertaining to see it provoke a Torius to burst from cover with a harsh “Ack that’s my idea,” or an even less appealing shriek of “Awk I am not an alarming conservative,” accompanied by alarming flapping and running in circles. This beast has a tendency to strut a short distance then trip over the foot it is inserting in its mouth. No one knows why.

The two other significant subspecies of candidatus obsequious are the Neodemocraticus, long noted for a boring sanctimonious droning sound but lately observed making a boring sanctimonious yapping sound, and the Blox, with its stunned look, grating cry of “Ou-AY” and total absence of sense of humour.

Election season brings out an even more elusive and uninteresting beast, the juvenile political aide or Puer pompus. Notable for the pallor caused by spending the rest of their life cycle indoors in pointless meetings and paperwork, they can also be recognized by their unnaturally clean-cut appearances and the air of inexplicable enthusiasm with which they slog through sleet to hear their candidate interrupt people’s dinners with stale platitudes. Scientists have been unable to determine whether the relationship between aide and candidate is symbiotic or mutually parasitic, as it is too repulsive to watch for any length of time.

The teeming life of the political ecosystem in this busy season includes a quite different creature, commentator obnox, as inexplicably excited, supercilious and lacking in self-awareness as the candidatus, but whose unshaven, dishevelled and pasty-looking plumage contrasts with the well-groomed, shevelled, pasty-looking plumage of the candidatus. Its unique cries seek to attract not voters but bylines and salaries. For instance: “Time will tell,” uttered with comic mock solemnity. The discerning unnaturalist will also recognize its various distinct warning cries such as “Make no mistake” when a thunderous cliché is approaching or “Vote-rich” or occasionally “Seat-rich” Ontario which signifies that they think you are stupid or ignorant because otherwise you’d know Ontario is big. You’re in it.

A campaign offers delights for the ear as well as the eye. For instance, that unique feature of political discourse, the boring blast. Where the lion’s roar is just alarming and the cricket’s chirp just soporific, politicians and lobbyists have a remarkable capacity to paralyse predators and prey by being simultaneously indignant and tedious, just part of their highly developed survival arsenal of mimicry and camouflage.

Instinct, or elaborate software programs, enable them to disappear at will into a verbal fog. For instance when one hears “The road ... has been difficult at times, but the achievements remarkable. Today, Canada has gone from economic laggard to leader, and we can look to the future with tremendous confidence” indicates that somewhere nearby lurks a Minister fiscalis, but it’s anyone’s guess where. Or which. Or why.

Yes, there’s much out there to enthrall the careful and patient observer. For instance this hydrant, with its lemon-yellow strictly cylindrical lower portion and shallow blue cap ...

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson