George Orwell’s 1945 political satire Animal Farm was about a group of animals who take over their farm from the drunk and inept Mr. Jones and enjoy success until the pigs that led the revolution become corrupt and human-like. Orwell was commenting on the Russian Revolution, but Animal Farm may be somewhat prescient in terms of the way the municipal election is shaking out in some quarters. You see, the animals are making a play to take over.
Last month, a bear unofficially running for Mayor of Kitchener made the news. Of course Bear4Mayor can’t actually run for mayor, because in order to become an official candidate requires the signing of some legal forms and the ability to speak in public. Instead, Bear4Mayor aims to promote discourse and awareness of this fall’s municipal election. “I hope that in my little way I can bring more attention to the fact that we have a municipal election happening,” he said in an e-mail to CTV Kitchener.
But don’t think this is merely a gag, Bear’s got some substance in his platform and takes all questions seriously. Using social media, Bear4Mayor hopes to promote conversation and concern about municipal issues. For example:
Bear4Mayor is part of a growing class of animal candidates. In Toronto, a mayoral race that’s already a proverbial circus thanks to the antics of a man euphemistically known as the “Crack Smoking Mayor of Toronto,” animals are making their political mark there as well.
Take Squirrel for Mayor, who isn’t just talking about issues on social media, but is offering his own platform via his website too. Although filled with appropriately squirrely metaphor’s like, “Squirrels can’t eat acorns they haven’t gathered,” Squirrel for Mayor does have a point to make, or rather several points to make. He suggests that Toronto should have an independent budget office like the Federal government, and the implementation of tolls to pay for improvements and maintenance on the Gardiner and Don Valley Expressways.
And then there’s Duck for Mayor. Yup, there’s also a duck in this race although its purely self-promotional for what used to be called a cable access TV show about local politics. The duck in question will interview candidates, politicians and policy makers as a way to “make the subject of Toronto politics interesting,” according to his website. One might argue that the Toronto political scene doesn’t need a stuffed duck to make it more interesting, but that’s the way it goes. In fact, Squirrel for Mayor and Duck for Mayor have already had a tiff:
Now you might say, “Wait a minute, these guys aren’t taking the race seriously, nor are they taking the important issues that come up in these races seriously.” That’s a fair point, I suppose, but let me phrase this another way: Are the people who don’t vote and don’t pay attention to local political issues taking it seriously? You may not agree with Bear, or Squirrel, or Duck, but at least they’re paying attention, and they’re trying to encourage others to do the same.
So what’s the harm? The answer is that there is none. In Toronto, you have at least one major candidate who makes a mockery out of the system by the mere fact of who he is and that he’s still a contender. The impact on voter turnout may be questionable because in 2010, 53.2 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in Toronto, which is really, really good for a municipal election and at par for the last provincial election in June. In Guelph, the turnout barely tipped the meter at one-third of eligible voters, but civic-minded people in Kitchener were watching us with admiration, because only 27.4 per cent of voters there cast a ballot in 2010.
Silly though it maybe to throw your support behind a bear, if that bear has something substantive to say he’s worth listening to. You may never end up seeing someone in a bear costume take the oath of office (especially in light of the fact that they do not speak), but he can at least point at things and use his voice on Twitter to draw attention to the things that matter to him. At least he’s then part of the process. If nearly three-quarters of your citizens can’t be bothered to vote, then they’re the ones making the mockery, because while a guy in a bear costume can’t talk, not casting a ballot says nothing at all.