The Mennos of Parliament

This post first published on the old site on Oct. 1, 2015.

elections canada 2I ask you, doesn’t that title just scream TV sitcom? Like the freaky love child of Yes, Minister and Breaking Amish.

Maybe someday.

Today, let’s talk politics.

Here in Canada, the news is all about the upcoming federal election. For my non-Canadian readers (yes, both of you), I’ve prepared a little primer of Canadian politics. We have a parliamentary system, which means that we have divided the country into a little over 300 regions based on a compromise between area and population. Every few years, each of these little regions — called ridings — elect a member of parliament who is a member of one of 4 or 5 political parties. The party with the most elected members of parliament gets to form the government.  There are good things and bad things about this system.

I won’t bother you with a debate on First Past the Post or the distribution of seats.

The important thing for readers of this blog to understand that Mennonites are responsible for neither the good nor the bad  in the Canadian electoral system. It came from England; it’s not our fault.

Some Mennonites refuse to participate in the civic public sphere, and abstain from voting. These include various branches of the Old Order and Old Colony Mennonites and, of course, most of our youth. The rest of us are pretty diligent about showing up at our local polling station every election day to put our x on the spot. This isn’t a new thing; both my maternal and paternal grandparents voted since at least the 1920s. In my father’s family, the kids would badger their parents as to how they voted, to which my grandparents inevitably replied “by secret ballot.”

There are three major national political parties in Canada, and a fourth with aspirations. Mennonites vote for all of them, and probably even for some fringe parties that hardly ever make the news. Most of the Mennonites that I know lean to the political left, seeing their politics as an expression of  the social justice bits of their faith. These Mennonites are daily embarrassed by the Conservative politicians currently in power who sport Mennonite names, Mennonite lineage, and possibly even affiliations to Mennonite Churches. We would evoke the ban for such politicians if only they were members of our own congregations.

I expect that the Mennonites who vote for these right-wing politicians are equally appalled when they see Mennonite names among the candidates of the left. It is a fundamentally Mennonite experience to spend a good deal of one’s life embarrassed about other groups who simultaneously claim a Mennonite identity.

I’m told there were times in the past when Mennonites voted as a bloc for pacifist candidates or for fellow Mennonites. There are reports of this happening, but I’d like to see the data on that one since unity of purpose is not really one of our strong suits. I remember well my father on the phone to the Mennonites in the area trying to sell Liberal party memberships to help Frank Epp get the nomination for the Waterloo riding back in the 1979. Well loved and respected in the Mennonite community though Frank was, my father still reassured  his peers time and again that buying a membership did not obligate them to actually vote Liberal when election day came around. It is, perhaps, not surprising that Epp won the nomination but not the election.

Despite their variation, most Mennonites who vote emerge from the voting booth knowing that they will probably be disappointed, and maybe even disgusted when the results start rolling in. This isn’t because we inevitably vote for underdogs. It’s just that we’re like the rest of the Canadian population — suffering from a system that routinely gives power to parties with only a smidgeon of the popular vote. I guess it helps to keep us humble.

It also means that a drink or two are generally needed to ease the pain of election night.

While there are plenty of elected Mennonite politicians who have embarrassed one branch of the Church or another, I have named today’s cocktail for that failed political campaign that I remember from my youth. The story I heard had it that even the nomination race was tight and after the results were announced, the other contender objected because a few of their supporters had inadvertently missed the vote, having been busy, at the time, in the hotel bar.  The meeting room, full as it was with  Mennonite newly-minted Liberals who would not have been caught dead in a hotel bar, had little sympathy.

That’s the story, anyway. It might not be true but I’m betting it’s every bit as true as any legends about Mennonites successfully voting as a bloc.
I​t does mean that all those Frank Epp supporters are well-nigh overdue for a drink.

Frank Epp’s Campaign

1 egg white Frank Epp's Campaign
1 1/2 oz Canadian whisky
1 oz maple simple syrup
1/2 oz lime juice
1/2 oz lemon juice
two dashes rhubarb bitters

  1. Shake the egg white vigorously in cocktail shaker 20-30 times.
  2. Add 4-5 cubes of ice​
  3. Add other ingredients to the shaker.
  4. Shake until chilled.
  5. Pour into two martini glasses
  6. Garnish with cocktail cherries
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