30 April 2010

How it all began...

It was winter, 2002, and I was writing my first novel...mostly to see if I could.

The US had invaded Iraq along with the ‘coalition of the willing’. Canada wasn’t willing. Along with that, our two countries had been arguing over trade since the Clinton administration. After 9-11, Bush neglected to thank Canada for all our help and taking in the displaced air travellers. Some Liberal backbenchers referred to the president in less than glowing terms (I thin ‘idiot’ was the mildest). The press on both sides of the border were doing their best to fan the flames. In the middle of all this, the US entered Iraq with claims that they would be welcomed with open arms.

That bugged me. After all, no matter how bad your government, you don’t want someone from the other side of the world invading. I watched the army roll across the desert. I watched Hussein’s troops surrender in droves. I watched staged media events of American troops being cheered, of Saddam posters being stomped on, of the statue being torn down. It was interesting to flip between American and non-American news channels to get different fields of view. CNN appeared to show crowds of happy Iraqis. The BBC, which had a wider lens, showed the ‘crowd’ was a few dozen people. Most of the citizens of Baghdad hung back, uninvolved. Perhaps they were glad for the fall of Saddam, but they were not cheering. Days later, the counter-attacks started and continue even now. The people of Iraq may not have wanted Hussein, but they don’t want America either.

All of which tumbled about in my brain like a load of sneakers in a dryer - smacking, banging, irritating, and sort of amusing. I considered Iraq. I pondered US-Canada relations. I wondered what would happen if the US suddenly realized that we supply 60% of their oil and that Canada is a lot closer than the Middle East. The answer? Invasion. What would I do? Would I stand back and watch? Would I seize a hunting rifle and shoot back? Would I hide? Would I start making improvised explosive devices?

When the dryer’s buzzer went, I was typing away madly, already scripting the US invasion of Canada. I snatched news clippings of the day, re-worded them, and had a background of declining relations and increasing tensions. I drew characters from across the country, ready to gauge their reaction. I drafted a presidential address and a parliamentary response. I created a President and a Prime Minister from whole cloth.

But I was very careful in selecting a Governor General.

I didn’t want a fictional character. I wanted a real person, someone believable. This would add weight and substance to the fictitious plot. I agonized for days considering athletes, politicians, activists, musicians, and discarding them all as unrealistic. Who would believe Ashley Mac Isaac or Don Cherry could advance to the role of Queen’s Representative?

Then it struck me. Mary Walsh. This Hour has 22 Minutes had become a leviathan of Canadian political commentary with MPs willing to put themselves in outrageous situations just for the chance to appear. Not only was Mary a driving force behind the show, one of the actors and a contributing writer, she had more. She was developing political clout.

During the Chrétien reign, Mary developed the character of Marg Delahunty, an average East coaster who spouted political views from her bed and bath, lacing into whatever MP had the biggest case of foot-in-mouth disease that week. Marg became a recurring figure, cropping up whenever something serious needed to be said. In a funny way, in funny positions (I believe Mary was suffering from back problems at the time), Marg could expose what we all were thinking.

Then Xena Warrior Princess becomes a massive hit. Parliament disintegrates into squabbling over the PM's footrest. And Marg transforms. The bathrobe comes off, the former caterpillar emerges metamorphosed, and Marg Princess Warrior marches off to Ottawa. In the now famous scanty red velvet suit and armed with a plastic sword, Marg is gone to the Hill to straighten out ‘that crowd up there’.

This was exactly who I needed. Anyone who could so brazenly speak for the people could surely be elevated to the lofty post of Governor General. So that’s how I wrote it: Mary Walsh - actor, writer, comedienne, and Head of State for the Country of Canada.
Later, as publication approached, I, somewhat shamefacedly, contacted Mary requesting her permission to enthrone her, albeit in the pages of a novel. As gracious and supporting of the arts as always, she gave me the Yes B’y and off I went.

A year and a different world later, the GG was stepping down and some nerds had the bare-faced gall to start a petition to put Cap’n Kirk in charge. Just what we need, a Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces who keeps wanting to fire photon torpedoes and set Parliament on auto-destruct (not that it needs help).

I stewed. I resisted for 24 hours. I tried had to keep my mouth shut and not let the Trekkies bug me. I knew that no one takes them seriously. Then I thought about how Jedi was a recognized religion in the UK because a whole lot of similarly-minded folk wrote that on the census. Something had to be done of our next official language might be Klingon. So I did. I started a counter petition. I was half-kidding, in that I wanted to show up Shatner. I was half serious, in that I figured IF the PM would listen to the people, the people should recommend a good candidate not a crank or someone who’s claim to fame is the decibel level of their suits. As for an excellent choice, I did not have to think at all. I already had sorted this out.

See, in the intervening years between concept and print, Mary had become even more political. She openly supported a variety of causes and politicians. She appeared alongside the three opposition leaders to show her support of a coalition government. Mary wielded plastic sword and sharp tongue at the Prime Minister, delivering deathly blows of both in open criticism of his policies and practices. In a brilliant bit of political showmanship, Mary held a bonfire sweater burning mocking his attempts to look friendlier on the campaign trail. Yes, now even more than then, my choice for Governor General made complete sense. So naturally, I didn’t expect anyone to take it seriously. I posted the group, invited my friends, and expected them all to give me a pat on the head. That’s how they usually treat someone with my combined condition of creativity and lack of discipline.

Imagine my surprise when, just three days later, the CBC wanted to interview me. They were taking me seriously. Or perhaps they just needed to fill five minutes of morning airtime. And I, like the head case I am, said absolutely! I’ll do it! What else am I going to do at a quarter to eight in the morning? I’ll take a stab at being queen-maker.

Twenty-four hours, 1 interview, and 2 national news feeds later, Mary’s support is growing. I’m not the only one who thinks that, plastic sword or not, Ms. Walsh is a perfect fit for the Governor General’s seat. Mary, for her part, seems bemused by the whole thing. Like me, I expect she doesn’t really expect anything to come from my campaign. After all, she has made enemies in Ottawa as well, especially of our PM, who will be deciding who gets to move in to Rideau Hall. I’m sure she thinks this is a nice tribute but little more.

I’m just running with it. I want to see where it goes. Could the people of Canada really get together and choose their next Head of State? Can we gather so much support that the PM dare not ignore our wishes? Could Mary actually get the job? (After all, it would be her doing, not mine. All I did was point her out. She did the work.) If so, what then? If I managed to predict a Governor General, will more of my book come true? Will the US actually invade?

Probably not.

But if you do make it to Rideau Hall, Ms. Walsh, I like a GG Award for writing. Thanks.


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