Inside Politics

Is Movember a partisan issue?

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Looking around the Commons chamber, there is a sea of moustaches on the NDP benches, certainly a generous sprinkling in Liberal ranks, but amongst Conservatives, row upon row of clean shiny faces. The Conservative cabinet, the men, could be models in a Gillette ad, except for a few who already have moustaches. More on one of them later.

Members of parliament who participate in Movember have split up into partisan teams, and at the top of the fundraising tally is the NDP. The NDP team (New-De-MO-crats) has raised, so far, over $29,000, shooting it heads and shoulders above the Liberals at $15,000 and the Conservatives at $`11,000.

So, why are the Conservatives (Strong, Stable, National Conservative MO-jority), normally such formidable fund-raisers, at the bottom? Their team leader, London West MP Ed Holder, says he insisted on MPs only on his team. "The other teams are bigger, but they've added staffers, they added women MPs, and good for them by the way, but if you look at male MPs as your criteria, I think we all stack up pretty much the same." There are, however, two on the Conservative team who are not MPs -- one has raised no money, the other a mere $36. Of one, Holder says, " I don't even know who it is, I tried to get rid of him, but I have no clue who he is."

"We've always had staff involved," says Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault, leader of the NDP team. "We did it last year, to show support for Jack, this year, because we lost him. I don't care if it's 100,000 staffers and just 2 MPs, we're doing this to raise the profile of the disease to Canadian men."

Most of the NDP front bench, he points out, have grown moustaches, and so has one of the leadership candidates, MP Robert Chisolm. Of the moustache of one of the NDP's best known MPs, Pat Martin, says Thibeault: "He'll need a lawn-mower. Talk about the Wheat Board (Martin is the Wheat Board critic), he could farm that thing."

Thibeault says he's looking forward to losing his own moustache. "I turned 42 years old, all of a sudden my moustache is white. Last year, I told people I had a Jack Layton: it grew a little longer on the left."

Conservative team leader Ed Holder has also grown, not just his moustache, but also his hair, into a sort of Harpo Marx halo. "It's nothing to do with Movember," says a Conservative staffer: "Ed Holder's hair has been growing out of control for a long time. It's just the changing styles of Ed Holder. He often dresses up in crazy outfits -- he wears a Don Cherry outfit when he's coaching MPs' hockey, with faux crocodile red shoes."

The Liberal team (Li-Bros) is headed by Papineau MP Justin Trudeau, he of the Errol Flynn "hairy ribbon," the weird phrase the Movember organization employs. Trudeau first got on board, "because he thought it was a hipster thing to do," says a Liberal staffer. But now Trudeau chairs the Canadian Politics Network team, the conglomeration of all the Hill teams, which has collectively raised  $72,000.

So, is Movember left-of-centre? Maybe, says Matt Matheson of ca.movember.com. "Growing a moustache for men's health -- that's not the norm." And yet, Canada leads the world in raising money in Movember: $34 million so far this year, way ahead of the U.K. and the U.S. Matheson explains, "Growing a moustache is something that tickles the funny-bone of Canadians. Canadians are good fund-raisers as well."

So, why so few moustaches in the ranks of the Conservative cabinet? "Movember is not for everyone," says Matheson. "Maybe you're getting married. We have so many actors who do it, and then they have an audition."

A Conservative staffer says, of the ministers, "A lot of them travel abroad. They don't want to be half-shaven, standing at a G8 summit."

But there is one cabinet minister who has embraced Movember. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz promised to shave his ever-present and luxuriant moustache at the end of the month, if he could raise $10,000.

"That's against the Movember rules", says Glenn Thibeault. "You're supposed to shave if off at the beginning of the month and let it grow back."

Nevertheless, Ritz has already topped $13,000. And, interestingly, in light of Canada's move toward possibly joining the free trade organization called the Transpacific Partnership, some of Ritz's biggest Movember donors are producers who are anxious to keep Canada's supply management system for dairy and poultry. Amongst other donations. Ritz has a $1,000 pledge from the Egg Farmers of Canada, $1,000 from the Turkey Farmers of Canada and $500 from the Dairy Farmers of Nova Scotia.

Ritz is a member of a non-political Movember group. But, add his $13,000 to the Conservative team's $11,000, and the Tories surpass the Liberals and come within a respectable distance of the NDP.

Ed Holder says, "It's too bad we can't count his (Ritz's dollars) for our team, but it's a friendly rivalry, that's how I view this. One of my dearest friends died of prostate cancer. I sat with him every day and it was horrible. This is about doing the right thing, it's about trying to bring awareness, it's about trying to have fun with a serious issue."

Justin Trudeau, Ed Holder and Pat Martin will shave off their moustaches on CBC's Power and Politics on Wednesday. (UPDATE: See video below)

Gerry Ritz is still looking for a location to remove his.

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