Funny Man

This morning we have election results from New Brunswick, and a new political party has emerged at least into public notice, if not public favour. It is the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick, and was supported by 2.1% of the voters, according to unofficial results on the CBC.

The party asserts its fundamental principles on its web site: Free votes in the Legislative Assembly; honesty in election campaigns; government that is accountable to the people who elected them. This is wonderful. I suppose one familiar with the works of Stephen Leacock might call it the Edward Drone Party, and if you don’t know him you could re-read Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town.

If you do that, however, I hope you will read it properly, and not take it as a satire on small town life or on any particular small town, even Orillia, Ontario. Stephen Leacock can be (unfortunately is not always) a funny man, but he is only occasionally a satirist, and he certainly, at the time he was writing that book, did not know much about small towns. Mariposa is not Orillia, or any other small town, but simply a creation of Leacock’s comic imagination. The satirist makes fun of people as he would have us believe they really are. Leacock simply imagines some funny people and invites us to enjoy their antics. Sunshine Sketches is a comic book, and should be read as such.

Unlike Stephen Leacock I grew up in a small town, located not far from Orillia, and while the people of my home town certainly had their distinctive character, and could in some respects be fairly satirized if one felt so inclined, they were not stupid. It is the stupidity of the Mariposans that makes them funny, and occasionally vicious. But these are imaginary people, not to be mistaken for real ones.

The election chapters, however, are certainly a satire on Canadian election habits, which persist to this day. The incumbent MP, John Henry Bagshaw, “the old war horse”, describes his formula for winning elections: “I said, fight the thing on graft… Let them claim that I am crooked, and let me claim that I’m not. Surely that was good enough without dragging in the tariff.” Keep it simple, in other words. Is our current approach to electoral politics really any more sophisticated? The media for projecting it may be so, but is the substance?

We live in a complicated world, and our government is a complicated creation, for which we the voters are ultimately responsible. Our economy is a complicated creation, for which we the purchasers are ultimately responsible. Our society is a complicated creation, for which we the citizens are ultimately responsible. Certainly there are forces at work who would like us to shape these creations in ways that suit them, forces most cunningly persuasive, but we have the means and the responsibility to shape them in ways that suit us and will be good for our children and grandchildren.

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