Making fun of politics

According to Elections Canada only 61 percent of Canadians cast a ballot in the recent federal election.

According to Elections Canada only 61 percent of Canadians cast a ballot in the recent federal election.

Apathy? Holding out for electoral reform? Annoyance at the cost of an election? The system isn’t perfect, but it’s further weakened by each uncast vote. So what’s going on?

Terry Fallis, the author of the award-winning and hilarious political page-turner, The Best Laid Plans has a few ideas. In his newly-released sequel, The High Road, Fallis lays part of the blame on negative campaigning.

As the book starts, the minority government has just fallen. Angus McClintock, who first ran on a lark and accidentally won his federal riding, wouldn’t consider running again, would he? The crusty, white-bearded engineering professor is rumpled and unkempt, looking more like a mall Santa on Christmas Eve than an MP. But Angus McClintock is larger than life. He’s full of integrity, and as it turns out, surprises.

Angus accepts the nomination and squares off in his riding against Flamethrower Fox, the king of negative campaigning. Fox runs a well-oiled smear campaign, but forgets that negative campaigning doesn’t just affect the individual being mocked. It makes voters believe all politicians are crooks, and refuse to vote for any of them. Can integrity finally prevail in politics?

This nasty race is filled with triumphs, disasters, baked-cookie missiles, canvassing by hover craft, a nail-biting election night, and visits from a drunken first lady. As you may have guessed, the plot in this laugh-out-loud tale verges on the ludicrous.

Even still, some of the over-the-top antics are closer to the truth than we’d like to think. McClintock’s fanciful entry into politics (winning his seat while away on vacation) has more than a few similarities to Quebec’s NDP candidate, Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who won her riding while spending part of her campaign at the craps tables in Las Vegas.

For the most part, however, The High Road is simply a fun tale, and not a complex commentary on politics in Canada. There’s a clear line between the can-do-no-wrong good guys, and the cardboard villains, given to sneering, leering and good ol’ Nixon-era thievery. It’s pretty easy to root for the underdogs.

Fallis is a bit of an underdog himself. He was unable to find a publisher for his first book, The Best Laid Plans. Not one to give up, Fallis printed it himself. The book probably would have languished in obscurity if it hadn’t surprised everyone by winning the prestigious Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. The Best Laid Plans then went on to win the 2011 Canada Reads contest, and was picked up and published by a large Canadian publishing house, McClelland and Stewart. Thousands of Canadians are now following the unlikely political career of Angus McClintock. I wouldn’t be surprised if we heard more from him and his tenacious author in the future.

Heather Allen is a writer and reader living in Penticton.