Rhino Party charges into Canadian politics

If you re prone to uncontrollable yawning at the merest mention of Canada's imminent general election (and tens of thousands here are), you probably haven't heard of the Monty Pythons of Canadian politics -- the Rhinoceros Party.

Dubbed the "court jesters of the nation" by Pierre Trudeau, its candidates polled 63,000 votes at the general election last May and confidently expect to chalk up a quarter of a million on Feb. 18, according to Charles McKenzie, the party's "national campaign chairman and janitor"

A sample of their positions on key issues:

The metric system. "We're going to repeal the whole metric business because it's done nothing but confuse Canadians," says a party spokesman. "If the good Lord had intended Canada to go metric, he would have given us ten apostles."

Canada's Embassy in Israel. "It should be moved to Schwartz's Delicatessen in Montreal," exclaims a spokesman. (One of Prime Minister Joe Clark's election promises was a plan to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The plan was later shelved.) Later another spokesman said that if elected the party would keep the embassy in Tel Aviv and set up mobile prefabricated embassies in East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem, Gaza, Jericho, Bethlehem, and Nazareth.

Quebec's referendum on sovereignty- association. "We're coming out strongly in favor of Krazy Glue," declares the spokesman. "If we apply [it] between the provinces it should keep up together."

The Rhino Party, which fielded 63 candidates at the last election, is hoping to send more than 100 into the fray next month. At this writing, 81 have registered, says spokesman Francois "Yo" Gourd at the party's cozy, if rudimentary, headquarters in Montreal.

Says Mr. McKenzie: "Those areas that don't have a Rhino candidate will be declared depressed areas."

The party, which has traditionally enjoyed most support in the province of Quebec, is attracting increased attention in western Canada and the Toronto region, according to the Rhino campaign chairman, mr. McKenzie.

Recently, party chiefs went into seclusion to devise silly names for candidates, something they deem essential. A sample: Albert "The CaD", Courchesne -- who would be minister of finance in a Rhino administration.

To save money (which it seems to acquire from cashing in empty beer bottles), the party is using last May's campaign posters with the date crossed out. "It's called recycling," says campaign coordinator Jean-Luc Arene, grinning.

If the Rhino Party has a single aim, it is to persuade Canadians to crack a smile when it comes to their often dull and dour national politics. Irritated by the attention the party is receiving, Canada's Marxist- Leninist Party has accused it of "confusing the masses."

Commenting wryly on last May's election, Mr. McKenzie says, "We feel that the Clark administration committed one of the grossest acts of plagiarism in political history. We went with a promise to keep none of our promises. We were pledged to an era of indecision and incompetence. We accuse Clark of lifting that and making it Tory policy." And he adds with a smile, "A national sense of humor is just as important as a national energy policy."

The official leader of the Rhino Party is Cornelius (sometimes known as Cornelius the First), a baby rhino born at the Granby, Quebec, zoo last Dec. 10.

Once in power, the Rhinos plan to endulge in shameless patronage. "You'll be able to get a Senate seat for $10. An ambassadorial post of $15, and the right to set up a Royal Commission on any subject for larger gifts," declares Mr. Gourd.

At the party's headquarters, known as Grand Rhino Central, Mr. Gourd points to maps of Canada pinpointing the precise location of Rhino candidates.

The telephone rings. Jean-Luc Arene (who has been feeding yogurt to his baby son, Oliver) answers it by saying "RCMP." It stands for Rhino Candidates' Meeting Place -- but many callers ring off abrupty, thinkin they have reached the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The Rhinoceros Party was founded in 1964 by Dr. Jacques Ferron, a Quebec physician, author, and playwright who held the rhino to be "the perfect symbol of the Quebec federal member of Parliament -- myopic, clumsy, and thick skinned, indeed somebody who loves to wallow in mire but who is quick to sense danger and run from trouble".

When active in the party, Dr. Ferron went by the title of "His Eminence of the Great Tusk"; he encouraged candidates to speak French with a strong English accent and published party literature in English only.

What would the Rhinos do if they were catapulted into power by a listless electorate? "There are some very competent people in the party, which is a forum for all sorts of views," says Mr. McKenzie. "I don't think any of us are genuine idiots, but we're not looking for power."

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