The North Side Story: A Playground Primer on Canadian Elections and Foreign Policy


[ For this article, my friend and fellow political blogger Nic translates the Canadian election into a relatable story using personification and humor. Even though the election come in today, this satirical and informative article is nonetheless a great read for anyone who wants to catch up or is curious about Canadian foreign policy. If you want to see more from Nic check out PineTreeRepublic, which offers high-quality news content with an emphasis on community and context. ]

On Monday, Oct. 19, Canadians will go to the polls for an election that is expected to be among Canada’s closest in recent history. To help explain what the election means for Canada’s foreign policy, I offer a “playground” adaptation of key moments and policy positions expressed during the campaign. Hopefully, this synopsis helps explain the recent debate in Canadian foreign policy to outsiders, and provides at least a bit of comedic relief for compatriots who have endured a 78-day long campaign (and yes, that’s considered extremely “long” by Canadian standards).

Note that I am not endorsing any one party in this post, and have attempted to poke fun at each main character *roughly* equally.

The Main Characters:

“Stevie” – Stephen Harper, current Prime Minister and aging, stodgy leader of the Conservative Party

“Justin” – Justin Trudeau, youthful, energetic upstart and leader of the centre-left Liberal Party

“Tommy” – Thomas Mulcair, veteran and cranky leader of the social-democratic New Democratic Party

The clock struck 12. All the students of Earth Jr. High School rushed outside for their 30 minute recess and immediately gathered into their playground gangs – Chile and Argentina in one corner, Russia in the opposite corner. Russia immediately started beating up on the neighbouring Ukraine gang, while simultaneously launching stones and spitballs into the mid-eastern part of the playground. Meanwhile, members of the Canada gang headed off to their quiet corner of the playground, everybody staring at their shoes and muttering “I’m sorry” as they bumped others on the way. Nobody seemed to notice.

As the leaves started to turn colours and a brisk wind blew, Stevie, Justin, and Tommy emerged from the gang and climbed up onto a wooden platform, each preparing to make their case for why they should be elected leader of the gang this school year. Stevie, sporting a pair of spectacles and a blue vest, commenced the proceedings.

Stevie: My fellow Canadians, the time has come yet again when we must vote on who will lead this noble gang over the next school year. I trust that you’ll appreciate how stable our group has been through all the chaos going on out there (vaguely waving his arm between the European and Middle Eastern portions of the playground). While countries were asking to borrow money from each other and getting into fistfights, we enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. In fact, we enjoyed the most steady stream of allowances from our banks – er, parents – during the crazy downturn of 2008-2009, thanks to my management.

Tommy: (Sighing) We’ve heard that one before, Stevie. In fact, we’ve heard it for the past six years because you haven’t done anything good for our gang since then. I mean, look – our main revenue today is based on selling this drug called O.I.L., which none of the cool kids want to do anymore. And the administration of EJHS has already warned us that they’re going to crack down on it, starting in December.  If we keep going down this road, we’ll end up like those guys (pointing at members of the Saudi Arabia gang, who look like they are about to pass out while sprinting on a treadmill), or even worse, those guys (pointing in Russia’s direction, where more and more people are getting into knife fights)….

Justin: (Interrupting Tommy) Yeah! And you’ve wrecked our relationship with the U.S. gang. We used to be like this (crosses pointer and middle finger) – now they don’t even turn their heads when we holler at them. (Gazes admiringly at Barry, their leader) He’s so cool…. I wish we could just be friends again…

Stevie: (Snarls) Shut up, Justin. (Turns back to the Canadian gang and tries his best to smile) Now folks, let me be clear. The partnership between our gang and the Americans has never been better. Barry and I may not have spoken to each other in the past couple years, but I can assure you he holds us in the highest regard and still thinks we’re cool.

Tommy: Uh, Stevie, it probably didn’t help that you told him those monkey bars you wanted to build to send him more O.I.L. were a “no-brainer”. Remember how mad that made him? Now, you’ve been working on building those monkey bars for more than five years, and still nothing has gotten built.

Members of the Chinese gang are meeting with Barry and the American gang, but nobody in Canada notices.

Stevie: Uh, well look – Barry’s only got one more year left, and I hear my pal Donnie is gearing up to be the next gang leader over there. So we’ll be just fine. Now, if I may, let me be clear – Canada remains the most respected and admired gang in the whole playground.

Justin: (Sarcastically) Right, that’s why we got elected to one of those rotating Jr. High Student Council spots. OH WAIT WE DIDN’T. WE LOST OUT TO PORTUGAL – PORTUGAL! (All of Canada turns to look menacingly – summoning their best collective hockey “goon face” – at Portugal. The one Portuguese gang member on the playground looks up upon hearing his name, then quickly looks back down at his feet.)

Tommy: (Forcing an awkward smile that clearly hides years of pent-up frustration) Maybe that has something to do with the fact that we used to send more “hall monitors” than anyone else to help break up fights around the playground, but now we rank 65th in that department. Or maybe it’s that we once pledged to give the poorer gangs 70 cents for every $100 that we made, but in fact we’re only donating 25 cents – and that number is falling fast. Or maybe, it’s because we aren’t seen by our fellow gangs as being so neutral anymore (looks accusingly at Stevie).

Stevie: Now look, I don’t think we have to apologize for being clear about who our friends and enemies are on this playground. Rather than a sham institution like the Student Council, which includes a gang like Venezuela (all of Canada turns south to look at Venezuela, where gang members are fighting each other for a few scraps of food), I would suggest that a better measure of our playground standing is knowing whose back we have, and who has our back. That’s why I’m not afraid to say that we stand with gangs who know how to protect themselves and share our values, like Israel, the Kurds, Ukraine…

The Chinese gang, now noticeably bigger than a few minutes ago, starts marching around the playground, but Stevie, Justin, and Tommy are too busy to notice.

Justin: (Re-arranging his flowing hair) Well, standing up for our values doesn’t mean we have to whip out our baseball bats and show everyone how big they are to prove our manhood every time a playground scrum breaks out. We should be smarter about how we engage with the playground, seeking to coach up our friends to deal with their problems, while persuading the instigators to silence the violence.

Stevie: Well Justin, I would love to see you personally persuade Vlad over there. (Stevie points in the direction of Russia, whose bare-chested leader is bench-pressing two members of the Ukrainian gang. Tommy and Stevie share a chuckle at this thought.)

Tommy: We know from past history that getting involved on our own with fights in that part of the playground just leads to regret. We only have to look to our American cousins – it’s been 12 years since they went to Iraq to “coach up” their friends, and look at the state of that gang today. (Canada looks towards Iraq, trying to make sense of a situation where multiple gangs are fighting each other, with Iranian gangsters directing traffic.) That’s why we’ll only get involved if the Student Council approves of it.

Justin: Yeah – what Tommy said. Also, look at all those poor people that are trying to flee the Iraq and Syria gangs. They’re making their way through Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Hungary, taking punches all along the way. The German gang has been taking as many people as they can, but there’s so many other people looking for a safe place to go. We can and should be leaders – let’s welcome them into our flock.

Stevie: Now, let me be clear, Canada is already a leader in bringing in refugees who are fleeing their gangs. (Canadians look behind Stevie, where a long line of refugees from Syria are waiting to get through the Canadian bouncers. The line hasn’t seemed to move in quite some time.) But we can’t just bring in everybody and their uncle before properly screening them. Remember, there are folks in these gangs who want to do us harm, and we need to interview everyone properly before letting them in.

Tommy: Yeah, but the folks lined up behind our bouncers are *fleeing* those people doing harm. Almost all of us Canadians came from another gang at some point, and we need to hold true to our values. Now, Justin’s plan is unrealistic, but I will speed up the line-up of folks already waiting to get in. (Looks over at Stevie, who has quietly slipped away and is whispering with 11 other gang leaders in the Pacific sandbox) Hey – Stevie, buddy – what are you up to over there?

Stevie: Oh, don’t you worry Tommy. Just signing the biggest lunch-swapping agreement in history over here.

China, which has more than doubled in size since the start of recess, is now building their own fort in the South China sandbox, but nobody in Canada pays attention.

Justin: (Craning his neck and fixing his flowing hair) Care to tell us what that’s about?

Stevie: (Thinks for a second) Uh, nope. Not really. But trust me, it will be dynamite for our lunchboxes.

Tommy: Well I for one don’t trust you. These secret agreements rarely work out well for our rank-and-file gang members, so I’m ripping it up as soon as I’m elected.

Stevie: Hey, I already pinky-swore on it! No take-backs!

The other gangs around the Pacific sandbox observe this public disagreement nervously, bemused by the thought that all their hard negotiations could be undone by a country that used to be the most agreeable of gangs.

Tommy: (Sticks fingers in both of his ears) Can’t hear you Stevie. Besides, we need to start worrying more about our promises to the Jr. High Student Council, and that starts with showing up to this meeting in Paris in December with a credible plan for cleaning up all our smoke that’s polluting the playground.

Stevie: Now let me be clear – we’re already seen as a leader in cleaning up the playground. (All of Canada laughs bitterly at this statement.) Besides, the key priority for our gang is to continue to make money by selling stuff to other gangs, while backing our closest buddies when they need our help.

Justin: Well look, when I’m elected gang leader, we’ll go back to being the coolest, hippest gang in town. We’ll work collaboratively with all the other gangs, we’ll work with all of you guys – yes, even you Quebec – it will be one big love-in!

Stevie: (Crankily) Oh, Justin, lay off the weed already. (Takes a second look at Justin) Hey, nice hair though. Where do you get your hair cut again?

As the bell rang, signaling the return to classes, Canadians weren’t quite sure where to take their gang. Most had stopped trusting Stevie long ago, and frankly didn’t know what to make of Tommy, who seemed to be good at pointing out Stevie’s weak spots, but struggled at articulating his own vision for the gang. Justin had begun to seduce an increasing number of Canadians by tapping into their nostalgia for being the most admired kids around, but was he ready to be a gang leader in an increasingly rough and tumble playground?

To find out how this story ends, you can follow Canadian election results, and (in the likely case that no one party will win a majority) the deal-making in days to come, through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Globe and Mail websites.

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