There were a disproportionate number of Canadians in the newsroom of the English-language paper I worked for in Mexico several years ago, and a sizable number of Canadians in our ex-pat readership, but still, Canadian news rarely made it into our pages. The newswire stories coming out of my home and native land were just so boring. There did come a point just prior to the 2000 federal election when we had to do something, so in went the obligatory coverage on what was expected to be, and was, a landslide for Liberal incumbent Jean Chretien, with few compelling issues on the table. Snooze.
Our saviour amid those dry but necessary articles was Rick Mercer. As a cast member and writer of the satiric CBC series This Hour Has 22 Minutes, he turned the tables on Chretien's Canadian Alliance opponent, Stockwell Day. Day had put forward proposed legislation to force a referendum on any subject as long as three percent of voters signed a petition. Mercer quickly achieved that number on his petition entreating Day to change his first name to Doris, and provided our paper with much-needed sidebar material to liven up the Canadian election coverage. I'm not sure Doris's career ever quite recovered.
No wonder there's a Facebook group called Rick Mercer for Prime Minister of Canada, currently at around 24,000 members and rising. Sure, he's not exactly the best ambassador for Canada worldwide – he's famous for his Talking to Americans segments, where he traps unwitting Americans on the street into saying things like "Happy Stockwell Day, Canadians!" and congratulating us on moving to the 24-hour clock. But Mercer seems to have the answers to what's ailing our country, and even when he doesn't, he hilariously poses the questions. If we can't be right, at least we can be entertained.
Since 2003, Mercer has had his own show, first called Monday Report then renamed Rick Mercer Report when it moved to Tuesdays on CBC. (As Mercer wrote on his blog, "We ended the season as the highest rated comedy show on the network. Clearly some drastic changes were needed.") As always, he skewers all political sides while cozying up to politicians for hilarious bits like a sleepover at 24 Sussex Drive with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or skinny dipping with Liberal leadership candidate Bob Rae, or cutting down a tree with Green Party leader Elizabeth May.
His signature segments, though, are his rants on current events, which are generally constructed to end on a funny but painful truth. These rants are reprinted on Mercer's blog, and now are collected, along with some of his other blog posts and show segments, into Rick Mercer Report: The Book.
The jacket cover promises "all-new introductions," but with a handful of paragraphs consisting of original material, avid fans of the show and blog won't find much that's new. What they will find are Mercer's thoughts collected into themes, such as "A Few Modest Proposals" – Mercer's solutions in health care, or national defense, or child care – or one of my personal favourites, "Netting Jason Kenney," which displays Mercer's impish yet scathing humour to best effect.
Staunch conservative Member of Parliament Kenney is the kind of politician made for satire. Or as Mercer puts it: "Stupid and talking, my favourite combination in a politician." Kenney does things like berate an opponent, Don Boudria, for complaining that someone bought his domain name for an anti-same-sex-marriage website, making that look like Boudria's opinion. I'll let Mercer take over:
"Long story short, Jason told Boudria it was his own fault for not registering his own domain name. … I started thinking, 'What are the chances that Jason Kenney is so stunned that he would call another MP ignorant for not having registered his domain name when he hadn't bothered to register his own?'
Not a chance, I figured. I am not that lucky.
Turns out the chances were pretty good. Before he was down in his seat I was the proud owner of www.jasonkenney.org."
What did Mercer do with this URL? First he pointed it to the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada, then to Egale Canada ("Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere") in honour of Pride Week and of course in honour of Kenny, who famously said that gays and lesbians have always been allowed to get married, as long as they marry someone of the opposite sex, so what's the problem? Currently, it redirects to Liberal M.P. Michael Chong's website.
When the domain name came up for renewal, Mercer intended to let Kenney have it back. "But then I saw him on the news again, blathering on in that constantly incensed way of his, implying that anyone who is not on board with his vision of Canada is somehow anti-Canadian, and I just couldn't bring myself to do the right thing. So I renewed it until 2011."
I love spite. I Rick Mercer. I love his show, I love his blog. For that reason, I probably didn't need his book, which brought very little new into the mix. It was also a little discombobulating to cast my mind back to remember what was going on in the world back in February 2005, when Mercer's ranting about Prime Minister Harper's flip-flopping on the Iraq war, or September 2006, when Michael Ignatieff looked like the heir apparent to the Liberal leadership throne.
Still, if for nothing else than the picture of Canadian literary high priestess Margaret Atwood in a hockey goalie uniform, or the reminder of what Harper was saying before his position as head of a minority government made him tread more carefully, I'm glad to have Rick Mercer Report: The Book on my bookshelf, making the news of the last few years seem a little less dry.