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The Revenge of the Rhinoceros Party

Rhinoceros Party Of Canada

By Darren Atwater

Wednesday August 8, 2007

The Rhinoceros Party has launched a lawsuit against the Federal government to strike down a law meant to discourage small political parties. [Globe & Mail story]

Only cares because the leader-schmeader of the Party is one Brian “Godzilla” Salmi, former Greenpeace rabble-rouser, punk-club impresario, and Terminal City political columnist. After walking into the woods several years ago, he has resurfaced in Montreal where he plans to run as a Rhino in the Federal by-election Sept. 17.

Salmi blames former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for killing off the party in 1988 when the Progressive Conservative government passed a new electoral act that required a minimum of 50 candidates, deposits of $1000 per candidate and the retention of a chartered accountant. All of Canada’s small parties that then-existed and which did not meet these standards were wrapped up. Any remaining assets were seized by the Federal government.

Nineteen years later, the Rhinos are looking for revenge–and they just might get it. Salmi tried this tactic once before in the 2001 BC election and had it not been for a judge lacking a sense of humour, the law is on his side.

Click here to read the Supreme Court of BC’s judgement on Salmi’s Charter Challenge to have BC’s $100 candidate fee quashed.

In 2001, as it was in progress, Salmi wanted to have the election in soon-to-be-Premier Gordon Campbell’s riding of Point Grey re-started, this time with Salmi included. Salmi had been denied a candidacy because he did not provide the $100 to Elections BC.

At the hearing, Salmi argued that the point of $100 (or $1000) was not to discourage frivolous parties, as the government says. The point is to bar candidates who do not have the money. If a person has $100 or $1000 or $10,000 they can be as annoying as they wish.

As for the argument that the money could easily be raised by asking 100 or 1000 or 10,000 friends for donations, Salmi said that requiring a payment to vote at the polls has long been agreed to be wrong and undemocratic. Why is it less so when the money is requested on the other side?

The government lawyer then tried to bring up the idea of plausibility, that only candidates who believe they stand a chance of winning should run and the fee is to help regulate that. Salmi dismissed that argument by pointing out that the NDP, Liberals, Greens, Communists and Conservatives run candidates in ridings they have no reasonable hope of ever winning. Because candidates can knock on doors, go to debates, and be interviewed in the press there is value in the process itself, not just in being elected.

The judge agreed with Salmi on every point and admonished the Government for their poor showing. Unfortunately, the judge said the Supreme Court of Canada had already ruled that he does not have the authority to cancel an already-in-progress election. Instead, he ordered it to go to trial, stating:

I think that the various interests can best be protected by allowing the election to go ahead and then setting it aside if the applicant is successful in his Charter challenge… I must say I find it difficult to see how imposing a $100 fee on the right to be a candidate is in the public interest… Were it not for the admonition of the Supreme Court of Canada, I might well have granted the injunction in this case.

After this, a new judge was assigned. Salmi came to court in full regalia, similar to what he is wearing in this video. The new judge refused to hear Salmi and retreated through the secret judge door in the back of the courtroom. The 2001 Charter Challenge ended not with wisdom and law but the petulance of a judge.

But it’s 2007 now and the case will be heard in a Quebec court room. If you intend to follow the case, you will hear much mockery of Salmi’s fashion and you will hear pundits whine about frivolousness as if they came up with that argument all by themselves. But that is all just typical press laziness.

The Rhinoceros Party may indeed have the last laugh.