The year Rhinos invaded Queen’s

How a political party promising to break its promises came to campus

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Birds have, for too long, held a monopoly as political parties’ mascots. Eagles stand for nationalism, and doves for peace and democracy. It follows then, that a party whose views range from “abolishing the environment” to making the U.K. a Canadian province would choose a bird’s polar opposite as their mascot: the rhinoceros.
 
The Second Rhinoceros Party, as it is now officially called, is a satirical federal political party currently making itself known across Canada in the 2019 election. Though no Rhinoceros Party member has ever successfully ascended to government, the 1980 federal election marked a golden age for getting the party’s intentionally mixed messages out. 
 
Within the year, party members popped onto television screens across Canada, baffled countless reporters, and took the political stage by storm—even on our very own Queen’s campus.
 
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The Rhinoceros Party was born in 1963, founded by Jacques Ferron, who died shortly thereafter in 1985. Ferron hoped to satirize politics—to make people laugh, while pointing out some real problems in Canada’s democracy, and lead eyes toward absurdist solutions.
 
Party members branded themselves as “spiritual descendants” of Cacareco, a Brazilian rhino that became an elected member of São Paulo’s city council in 1958. Rhinos, they declared, were a fitting symbol for politicians, who are naturally “thick-skinned, slow-moving, dim-witted, can move fast as hell when in danger, and have large, hairy horns growing out of the middle of their faces.”
 
Artists, singers, and poets joined the party in the 1970s and developed satirical platforms to contest federal elections. The Party steadily built up an array of candidates across the country and were especially popular in Quebec, where 14 people ran on the party’s ticket in 1974.
 
17 years after its formation, the Rhinoceros Party finally met the threshold to get their name on to federal ballots.
 
Heading into the 1980 election, the Rhinoceros Party had 63 candidates running in 62 ridings. They were led by official party leader Cornelius I, who was, yes, a real rhinoceros from a zoo just east of Montreal.
 
The Party’s national election platform contained its usual fare of outlandish promises. They proposed installing the Queen of England in Buckingham, Quebec. They set out plans to replace the post office with ponies. They reasoned since it was difficult to maintain two national tongues throughout the country, the Party would change it to two national ears.
 
As their policies brought attention to the party, the Rhinos entered their first candidate in the riding of Kingston and the Islands. That candidate was Ted “Not Too” Sharp, a Queen’s graduate student studying history.
 
Sharp wasn’t required to toe the party line. In fact, for current Rhino leader, the very human Sébastien Corriveau, this is one reason the party has always been particularly appealing.
 
“Even in the more left-wing parties like the Green Party or NDP, you get stuck in saying what the party wants you to say,” Corriveau told The Journal in a recent interview. With the Rhinoceros Party, each candidate has complete autonomy over his or her campaign.
 
“[Our party] gives you space to be yourself, and not conform to what [your head of party] wants,” he said. 
 
For Sharp, this freedom meant basing his entire campaign around a pun about Kingston’s running incumbent, Progressive Conservative candidate Flora MacDonald. Sharp’s slogan was “Fauna, not Flora.” 
 
“Flora is running scared,” Sharp told The Journal in a 1980 interview. He also proposed annexing Antarctica and tying the value of the Canadian dollar to the price of McDonald's French fries, as “to see the value of our dollar rising in real terms.”
 
Sharp drummed up a decent amount of local support, with one former Queen’s professor calling his platforms “the only sane solution,” before admitting his son was one of Sharp’s campaign managers.
 
When election day arrived, Sharp mustered 373 votes—one percent of total votes cast—against Flora MacDonald’s 18,146. The Rhinoceros Party as a whole captured 110,597 votes across Canada, placing fifth out of 12 parties, and racking up more votes than the Communist Party of Canada, Libertarians, and all Independent candidates combined. 
 
Despite the loss, it seems Sharp got what he wanted out of the experience. He’d promised to resign if elected anyway, since “Rhinos think elections are so much fun, [they] want to have them all the time.”
 
After Sharp, a new crop of students vowed to keep the Rhino vision alive at Queen’s. They entered into the 1980s AMS election on behalf of the Alligator-Rhino Party (AMS candidates did not, and still do not, endorse federal parties). 
 
Rufus T. Firefly, Chicolini, and Marijuana Brownie—the “Party” candidates—intended to finance the AMS through lottery ticket sales, declare war on the Thousand Islands, and add penicillin to Queen’s water supply. When asked about how to expand OSAP, Firefly told The Journal in an interview at the time his team would “put a monkey on every back at Queen’s and a back on every chair.”
 
At the AMS election on Feb. 7, 1980, Firefly and his cohorts received 234 votes, coming in fourth place out of six. Marijuana Brownie aptly summed up their experience by saying, “I’m silent so you canta quote me.” No candidates from the Alligator-Rhino party ever ran in the AMS election again.
 
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While the party gained attention back in the 1970s and 1980s, it didn’t have the means to carry on when, in 1993, a law passed stating all registered political parties must have 50 candidates running at a price of $1,000 each. The Party dissipated, leaving politics back in the hands of traditionalists.
 
But in 2006, François Gourd, an entertainer in Montreal, noticed Quebec’s hostility towards federal politics and sought to bring back the Rhinos. Brian Mulroney’s 50-candidate minimum had been repealed, and with the potential comedic material in politics growing, Gourd felt he had a lot to work with.
 
13 years later, in 2019, the Second Rhinoceros Party of Canada currently has 40 candidates running in ridings across six provinces.
 
Party leader Corriveau, who joined the party as a candidate at age 22, says this election is a moment of pride—though he hopes to have 100 Rhino candidates in the next election.
 
For him, the public’s cynicism towards politics has turned into national apathy, with the Rhino Party providing a way to bring people who don’t believe in politics back into decisions affecting their country.
 
“The regular people have to stay aware of what the MPs are doing in Ottawa,” Corriveau told The Journal. “Politicians only work with people who care about politics, and that’s dangerous.”
 
Corriveau says when people are excluded or choose not to participate in politics, equality is compromised. He claims his version of equality is not extreme, but “everybody deserves to be able to buy cheese at the grocery store.” 
 
Today, the Rhino’s policies span from wrapping factory workers in bubble wrap to prevent accidents, to increasing the number of green cars by introducing new shades like forest and lime green. Most notably, they’ve entered a candidate named Maxime Bernier in the same riding as the People’s Party of Canada leader of the same name, who told CBC the prank was a “good joke.”
 
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Beyond its fun and games, the Rhino Party—like most of satire—holds worth beyond a punchline.
 
“It’s a good laugh with a very deadly purpose under it,” said Queen’s historian Duncan McDowall in an interview. “It takes away the legitimacy of those in power and says [their power] won’t last.”
 
“The Rhinos got on the news each night because of the preposterous things they were proposing. [They] made people confront what’s wrong with the political system.”
 
Today, outlets like Golden Words and Queen’s Players keep satire alive on campus, poking fun at flaws in our allegedly fair system.
 
Although the Rhino Party is currently running fewer candidates than is 
possible to run a government, they hold “real” politicians accountable. While Polimeter, a political news website, claims Trudeau’s government has broken 23 per cent of the promises he made in his 2015 electoral platform, the Rhinos will always remain the most “honest” party since their chief promise is to break all of their promises.
 
The Rhinoceros Party’s 15 minutes of fame each election season remind us why it’s important to follow, critique, and question politics, and use our right to vote to influence it. And although Canada isn’t the Rhinos’ stomping ground, they’ve certainly made a footprint.

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