This 1515 engraving by German artist Albrecht Dürer was adopted as the Rhino party's official logo. (Photo courtesy the British Museum)
The Rhinoceros party
The rebirth of the ridiculous
Last Updated Aug. 8, 2007
For those experiencing a Conrad Black-trial hangover and are tired of dragging legal battles, here's a summer blockbuster that no movie studio would deliver: The Prince of Darkness versus the Queen.
It's certainly a legal battle for the ages.
But it's happening. On Aug. 7, 2007, Satan — nee Brian (Godzilla) Salmi, president of Canada's Rhinoceros party — announced a $50-million lawsuit contesting an election reform law that stripped his party of its registered status in 1993. The suit is filed as Satan v. Her Majesty the Queen.
Rebirth of the Rhinos
Brian Salmi, a.k.a. Dark Clown Lord, Satan, or Godzilla, leader of the Rhinoceros party, in Montreal on Aug. 7. Salmi plans to rename the country Nantucket if elected. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)
Under Satan's leadership, the gratuitously absurd political party that promised, among other things, to repeal the law of gravity, pave Manitoba and move Toronto and Montreal closer together, is trying to horn its way back into the country's political scene.
Satan plans to run under the Rhino banner in a September byelection in Montreal's Outremont riding, making him the first Rhino candidate in 17 years. The party has not fielded a candidate since Bryan Gold's failed bid to win a 1990 byelection in Beauséjour, N.B.
The Liberal government essentially killed the Rhinos in 1993, passing a law saying registered parties must run candidates in at least 50 ridings, at a cost of $1,000 per riding, to keep their status.
In protest of the new law, the party planned to abstain from the election. Canada's then-chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, rejected the abstention and ordered the party removed from the Registry of Canadian Political Parties, effectively abolishing the Rhinos and ending a 30-year run of preposterous campaign promises and gleeful mockery of Canadian politics.
An inspiring namesake
Quebec author and physician Jacques Ferron founded the party in 1963 with a decidedly non-ambitious aim. When asked what his candidates would do if elected, Ferron replied "The same as yours — nothing."
The party drew inspiration, and its name, from another political rhinoceros: Cacareco, a Brazilian rhinoceros that won a landslide victory to take a seat on Sao Paulo city council in 1958. His nomination was the result of a prank by several reporters.
But the rhinoceros was a logical choice for another reason. As Ferron once explained, rhinos and politicians have much in common.
"[They're] thick-skinned, slow-moving, dim-witted [creatures who] can move fast as hell when in danger and have large, hairy horns growing out of the middle of their faces," he said.
While the founder of the party, Ferron was not the official leader. That title went to Cornelius I, a rhinoceros born in a zoo in Granby, Que. The zoo later swapped him for a giraffe from the San Diego Zoo.
Ferron moved on to more credible political pastures in 1969 when he joined the Parti Québécois. Cornelius went on to father a calf in San Diego and has effectively retired from political life.
Rhinos in the riding
While the party has never won a seat in its history, it has still enjoyed some success at the polls.
The party's greatest collective successes came in the early 1980s. In 1980, it captured 110,286 votes, just over one per cent of the total vote. Four years later, it came fourth overall, even if it didn't give the three major parties a run for their money. In 1988, the party ran a candidate named John Turner in Vancouver Quadra to compete against Liberal incumbent and former Liberal prime minister John Turner. The Rhino Turner won 760 votes, placing fifth overall (Liberal Turner won handily with over 24,000 votes).
Some measure of individual success also come in 1980 when professional clown/comedienne Sonia Côté came second in Quebec's Laurier riding, beating both the New Democrat and Progressive Conservative candidates.
Montreal Expos lefthander Bill (Spaceman) Lee, shown here pitching against the Chicago Cubs in 1979, ran on the Rhino ticket for the U.S. presidency in 1988. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)
The party's most high-profile candidate ran for office in 1988. Former Montreal Expo and American League all-star Bill (Spaceman) Lee ran on the Rhino ticket — for president of the United States. Not surprisingly, he didn't make the ballot in a single state. That marked the last year the Rhinos ran as a party, fielding 74 candidates.
However, any party success could prove ultimately counter-productive as the party's long-time campaign promise has long been to dissolve as soon as it wins an election, thus forcing a second race.
Of course, elections can often hinge on what a party pledges to do. And looking at the Rhino party's history of campaign promises, it probably needn't worry about winning an election anytime soon.
Here's a short list of some Rhino party election pledges:
- Abolish the environment (because it's too big and too hard to clean).
- Provide higher education by building taller schools.
- Ban Canadian winters.
- Pave the Bay of Fundy to create more parking in the Maritimes.
- Turn Montreal's Ste-Catherine Street into the world's longest bowling alley.
- Mandate three official languages: English, French and illiteracy.
For a party that doesn't take much seriously, the Rhinos once took a serious-sounding pledge: in 1980, the party promised to declare war on Belgium.
The threat was made after Belgian cartoon character Tintin killed a rhinoceros in the book Tintin in the Congo. However, the Rhinos promised to rescind the threat if Belgium delivered a conciliatory case of Belgian beer and mussels to Rhino party "Hindquarters" in Montreal. The Belgians acquiesced and war was averted.
Back from extinction?
The Rhino resurrection isn't just a one-man project though. The Neorhino party was unveiled in Montreal on Aug. 7 in a separate initiative. The two parties say they were unaware of the other's plans but said they will meet soon to discuss a union. Neorhino leader François Gourd plans to run in Outremont in the next election, a riding Satan also desires for himself. While there's nothing to stop them from running in the same riding, they might ultimately sabotage each other by splitting the silly vote.