It was exactly as advertised: the Speech from the Throne was boring and predictable. Not that there's anything wrong with that; I'll take clear boredom over majestic emptiness any day. Too bad the peace and quiet is about to be shattered by some awful monkey business.
I'm not talking about the Conseil de la souveraineté's guide for teachers - you know, the one designed to increase support for sovereignty among school children. This thing is so ridiculous it will most certainly do more harm than good to its own cause. La Presse's Pierre Foglia speculated that Gérald Larose, president of the Conseil, had secretly become a federalist and - just as criminal biker gangs insist new members commit some kind of crime to be accepted - released this guide as his initiation “crime” against sovereignty. Whatever the explanation, I love it when separatists bungle comically. It gives me more time to do my spring cleaning.
No, the monkey business I'm talking about involves real monkeys. And grizzly bears and exotic birds and beasties. All in all, we're talking roughly 800 of our animal-kingdom friends from the Quebec City zoo whose fate is now worse than uncertain.
Why isn't Question Period the only zoo that is Stephen Harper's problem? My word, you always ask such pertinent questions. Who could ask for better readers?
The Quebec City zoo is Mr. Harper's problem because its recent closing is causing much anger in the only part of Quebec where the Conservatives managed to elect more than one MP. It's not exactly a big secret that the Conservatives hope and need to build on their recent Quebec gains if they are to win a majority next time around. It's not a bad strategy, at least not on paper. But it does hinge somewhat on keeping most of the six Quebec City-area MPs the Conservatives already have. Right at the moment, it's not something upon which I personally would wage my future.
The venerable Quebec City zoo has been in trouble for some time. First opened in 1931, it hasn't been attracting as many visitors as it needed to keep its finances out of the red for some years. Which I think is too bad. I have fond memories of the place, particularly the monkey house they at least used to have (I think the last time I was there was in the early 1980s). The maison des singes was hot, smelly, and full of simians to which we could compare various classmates - ah, the carefree innocence of youth.
The elephant was cool, too. It looked like it was at least 300 years old, had funny-looking hair on its head and loved pink popcorn for some reason.
Unfortunately, Quebec City kids will no longer be able to develop such memories. The zoo's owner, the provincial government, put the padlock on the door last Friday afternoon, leaving some 200 employees and their furry, winged and scaly charges in limbo (here's hoping some other zoo buys the animals or accepts them as a gift so they don't have to be put down).
Oh, are the usually quiet burghers of Quebec City upset. And not just at provincial politicians; municipal and federal representatives are considered at fault, too. They had all tried, but failed, to do something to help the zoo. Including a multi-million dollar federal aid package in 2001, which then-deputy premier Bernard Landry turned down because the feds had asked that the Canadian flag be flown in exchange for the money, which compelled Mr. Landry to utter his famous “red rag” comment. Various municipal politicians were also looking for ways to keep the zoo afloat, but in the end nothing came of their efforts.
Quebecers were hoping by electing Conservative MPs they'd get better representation by which, as so often, they meant bacon not some seat at UNESCO. There are reports that during the campaign Charlesbourg MP Daniel Petit, one of the new Tories, pledged over $20 million to save the zoo while Josée Verner, now the regional minister, said she wanted to keep it open, too. As far as I know these reports have not been denied. And the Bloc Québécois is doing its best to make sure Quebecers don't forget their adversaries' promises.
I find it despicable to expect nothing but goodies from your elected representatives. But hey, if politicians offer to bribe electors with untold millions of “free” money (think Mr. Harper's promise to fix the so-called fiscal imbalance), they can't expect their constituents suddenly to become models of disinterested virtue once they're elected. If the Tories don't deliver, they'll get punished.
Ah, well, it's politics. And it's about to shatter the peaceful mood.