Jack Knox: Read my lips, no new promises

“Broken promises don’t upset me. I just think: ‘Why did they believe me?’ ”

— Jack Handy, Deep Thoughts.

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“Read my lips, no new taxes,” promised George Bush the Elder in 1988, and Americans made him president.

Pierre Trudeau got elected in 1974 by promising no wage and price controls, then brought them in anyway.

His son, Trudeau 2.0, came to power after telling us straight-faced (though not blackfaced) that the 2015 election would be Canada’s last under a first-past-the-post system. It wasn’t.

In 1993, Jean Chrétien successfully campaigned on a vow to kill the GST. You might have noticed that it’s still breathing.

Just like John Horgan did last week, Stephen Harper called an early election in 2008 — despite promising to not call one until 2009, as mandated by his own fixed-date election law. He won anyway.

You might be shocked to learn that politicians break promises now and then. Income tax, Canadians were told, would disappear after the First World War. Land expropriated in the Second World War was supposed to be given back. How’s that going, Esquimalt?

In truth, most political promises do get kept. A CBC analysis showed that, snap election call aside, B.C.’s New Democrats lived up to 96 of the 122 promises in their 2017 election platform, with mixed results on 14 more before COVID derailed the train.

When promises do go unfulfilled, it’s often reality, not duplicity, that is to blame. Note that after the 1993 election it fell to Victoria’s David Anderson, as federal revenue minister, to convince Chrétien that while the prime minister might have vowed to kill the GST, impartial analysis showed Canada would be better off with a stay of execution. Chrétien agreed, knowingly taking the hit to his own reputation.

That just highlights the voters’ challenge over the next four weeks: figuring out which promises can be kept, and which ones can’t.

It’s the flimsy ones that make for great satire, that lead the parody parties to present outlandish campaign come-ons of their own. Canada’s Parti Rhinoceros promised to repeal the law of gravity, count the Thousand Islands to ensure none were missing, and breed a mosquito that would only hatch in January so that “the little ­buggers will freeze to death.”

Frequent French presidential candidate Ferdinand Lop vowed to move Paris to the countryside so residents could breathe fresh air. (When the Nazis raided one of Lop’s meetings during the Second World War, he clambered out a window declaring: “We do not retreat. We advance backward for strategic purposes.”)

Britain’s Official Monster Raving Loony Party proposed reducing class sizes by “standing kids closer together,” a suggestion that would give parents kittens during the pandemic. (Speaking of kittens, in 1999 the Loonies chose as leader a house cat named Catmando whose promising career was abbreviated by a car tire in 2002, leading the party to call for cat crossings at all major roads.)

Really, the parody parties have the proper approach. If you can’t keep your word, then at least make your word ­entertaining. Were I running (for office, not exercise, though both are highly unlikely) I would promise to:

• Bring back the lash, but only for those who are disrespectful to Dr. Bonnie Henry.

• Ban overworked pandemic terms: a $40 fine for saying “pivot,” “the new normal” or “in these unprecedented times.” The fine would rise to $400 for ­spelling it “unpresidented.”

• Bring in a $75 fine for people who wear their mask under their chin — $50 if you cover your mouth but not your nose, $25 for using it as an emergency coffee filter.

• Compensate anyone still waiting after their elective surgery was bumped by COVID. After languishing three months, they should get a free burger and fries* on B.C. Ferries. After six months, their local MLA should have to do chores around their home. After a year, a ­geographical feature should be named in their honour. (*Not for heart patients.)

• Make Trudeau 2.0 apologize for apologizing all the time.

• Require anyone breaking the “nine items or less” rule at the grocery store to pay $5 per excess item to each customer in line. (This might be a perennial pet peeve.)

• Require grocery stores to change the “nine items or less” signs to the grammatically correct “nine items or fewer.” (Ditto.)

• It would still be punishable to wear a mask while committing a serious crime, but would also be punishable not to do so.

• On second thought, I would also apply the lash to people who say “nucular” or “Febuary.”

jknox@timescolonist.com

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