It's election time in Canada! We political nerds love the stumping season and I confess to watching way more hours of Power and Politics and other news programmes than is probably strictly healthy. But thank goodness for the internet, so I can be informed while working (currently) from Curaçao. And what better time to read Terry Fallis' 2008 award-winning and much-loved political satire, The Best Laid Plans?
The story opens with our protagonist, Daniel, fleeing Parliament Hill, fearing he has begun to sell his soul. He seeks a quiet, professorial life. First, though, he must do one last job: find a liberal candidate for a Tory stronghold riding. Much easier said that done, because everyone knows it's a hopeless cause and no one will step forward. So, Daniel makes a deal with his bristly landlord, Angus McLintoc - he'll be the candidate if, in return, Daniel teaches his dreaded English for Engineers class at the University of Ottawa. Daniel runs the campaign with a couple of volunteers called Pete 1 and Pete 2, recruited from E for E, and the help of Muriel, a five-time liberal candidate whose health doesn't permit her to try again - but she knows everyone in the community and can work the phones, so she's not giving up! It's a sweet deal - for Angus, at least - because E for E is off his hands and there's no hope he'll win the election, so he doesn't even have to campaign. Yep, it's win-win for him until . . . the reigning Tory self-immolates in a terrific scandal, and Angus wins!
Thus, a reluctant Angus is dragged to Parliament, an institution he reverentially respects, even if he has little time for the antics unfolding within. And he is that most disruptive of forces in the political arena: a person of honour.
As things spin out - or spin out of control, as the case may be - you might find yourself snorting and disturbing fellow commuters with indelicate guffaws. And you might even pick up some of the civics lessons you slept through in school, because Fallis has woven parliamentary procedure and political process throughout the tale in a way that goes down easy.
But the real story, I think, is in the choices of the characters. Though Daniel wants nothing more than to leave the political life, he can't help but help the campaign and later becomes newbie Angus' invaluable aid on the hill. Though Muriel can no longer campaign, she comes out of her nursing home to run campaign headquarters and later the constituency office. Though Angus really, really doesn't want to be elected, when he is, he takes his duty seriously and toils for his constituents - hilariously, but toiling! Even Pete 1 and Pete 2, outwardly anarchists as far as anyone can tell, give up some of their favourite things (such as wild, off-putting clothes and peircings), to do their bit.
This repeated theme made me see why Ali Velshi so vehemently (and ably!) defended the book in the 2011 Canada Reads contest. Some might say that The Best Laid Plans is a send-up of politics and politicians that could engender more cynicism. But, while cynicism is always an option should we choose it, I think this book is just the opposite: an ode to democracy and our political process - as flawed as it is - and a call to participate. Every one of us.
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