Canada constitutionalized the right of people to join and leave organizations, take collective action, and pursue interests of members in section 2(d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada also enshrined the right to participate in federal elections (section 3). These are the same rights that allows political parties to assemble and have candidates run under a party name in every election.
There are many ‘serious’ parties that run in every election. Excluding the biggest contenders (Conservative, Liberal, and NDP), there are also many small parties who benefit from s 2(d) of the Charter, such as the Communist Party of Canada, Democratic Advancement Party of Canada, and the Libertarian Party of Canada, to name a few.1
But what about the satirical parties, who, some would argue, abuse this Canadian fundamental freedom, allegedly making a mockery of the democratic process?
The Rhinoceros Party of Canada was active for 30 years, from 1963-1993 and in 2010, re-emerged under a new name. The party ran new candidates in the 2015 federal election, and their main campaign promise was “a promise to keep none of its promises.”2 Their platform included repealing the law of gravity, banning Canadian winters, and getting rid of the Rocky Mountains so “Albertans can see the Pacific sunset”.3
Though humorous and satirical, the Rhino Party is considered a legitimate political party under Canadian law. As long as they ran candidates in at least 50 ridings (see Figueroa), the Rhino Party was able to keep its status into the 90’s. Through its 30 year-long existence, no one from the Rhino Party was ever elected as an MP; they were not victorious in any riding.
Should the party have been allowed to exist in the first place? They have never had a successful candidate, and their platform is both outrageous and unrealistic.
Sections 24 and 28 of the Canada Elections Act legislates that to be a registered party, a party must have 50 candidates on the ballot. In the 2003 case of Figueroa v Canada, Figeuroa argued that the 50-candidate rule discriminated against smaller parties and was unconstitutional under s 3.4 The Supreme Court of Canada found that s. 3 does not provide unlimited participation in the political process.
“The mere fact that the legislation departs from absolute voter equality or restricts the capacity of a citizen to participate in the electoral process is an insufficient basis on which to conclude that it interferes with the right of each citizen to play a meaningful role in the electoral process.”5
The Court has clearly taken the position that although it understands the importance of section 3, it will not provide unlimited rights for participation in democracy. But should parties including the Rhino Party be allowed to run candidates?
However offensive as this may seem to some, fringe parties like the Rhino Party play an important role in the Canadian political scene. Sebastien Corriveau, the Rhino Party’s leader, hopes that his party’s approach to politics will help to “engage at least some Canadians in the democratic process”.6
"There are so many people who don't care about politics. If we can make them engage through humour, then that's okay," he said. "We always run for a majority government, but failing that, some comedy. There are some things worth saying that no one else can say."7
So perhaps it’s important to have these parties who are willing to take a different approach to politics, all in the name of the democracy.
1“Rhinos and Pirates: A Look at Canada’s Federal Fringe Parties”, CTV News (30 August 2015), online: <www.ctvnews.ca/politics/rhinos-and-pirates-a-look-at-canada-s-federal-fringe-parties-1.2538158>.
2“Rhino Party Escapes Extinction to Run in September By-Election”, CBC News (7 August 2007), online: <https://web.archive.org/web/20121109030040/https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2007/08/07/rhino-election.html>.
3“14 Weird Platform Promises From teh Now-Defunct Rhinoceros Party”, Maclean’s (30 August 2014), online: <www.macleans.ca/society/14-weird-platform-promises-from-the-now-defunct-rhinoceros-party/>.
4Figueroa v Canada (Attorney General), 2003 SCC 37.
5Ibid at para 36.
6Kathleen Harris, “Fringe Parties Fight to Spread Message, Sway Swing Ridings”, CBC News (29 August 2015), online: <www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-fringe-parties-marijuana-1.3206935>.