(SCENE I: Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democratic Party, is alone in his Ottawa office working late on a Parliamentary speech, when he suddenly stops, pen in hand, and stares blankly at the clutter of books and paper on his desk. The pen falls carelessly from his hand and he petulantly pushes his chair back from the desk.)
Jack Layton: “What’s the bloody point! Here I am, perfecting a speech against Stephen Harper’s new Harmonized Sales Tax, but what good will it do me? This government of despotic corporate kiss-asses still stands at 31 percent in the polls. Sure, that’s a 6 percent drop since the 2008 election, but it’s absurdly high for a government that systematically abuses Parliament, buggers the civil service, colludes in the torture of Afghan detainees, muzzles scientists who know the truth about climate change, and is now proceeding to sabotage the national census.
“Of course, the palace press is largely to blame. It does its best to ensure that this most treasonous of all prime ministers suffers as little fallout as possible. But the Canadian people… they aren’t stupid, or are they? (stands up and begins pacing in an animated fashion.)
“Where are the disaffected voters going? To the Liberals? It’s mired at 26 percent, just where it was in 2008, thanks largely to Michael Ignatieff’s ineffectual, vacillating ‘leadership.’ I should be thrilled, right? I have a higher approval rating than any other national party leader. I lead the only significant national party that speaks for working Canadians and doesn’t have a broken moral compass. If any party should be on its way to forming a government it should be my New Democratic Party, right?
“Let’s see: in 2008 the NDP stood at 18.2 percent; on July 14, Ekos Research put us at…18 percent! With all my party and I have to offer, voters still think they have to choose between Tweedledum and Tweedleinsane. Either that, or they waste their vote on the Green Party! What is it–”my breath?!
“After 7 1/2 years of leading a third-place party to perpetual mediocrity I want more. I deserve more. What will it take for me to become prime minister!? Obviously, I can’t rely on the electorate to vote intelligently. (shouts to the darkness) I…will…do…anything!”
Voice: (from behind Layton) “You don’t say!” (Layton whirls around in a nanosecond and betrays a look of utter shock and panic. He is standing not three feet from the intruder and starts backing away.)
Layton: “Who the hell are you, and how did you get in here!!”
Voice: (calm and inviting) “Hell, indeed! I am Mephistopheles. My master heard your lament and sent me to help you.”
Layton: “Sent from where?”
Mephistopheles: “Why, hell of course.”
Layton: “There’s no such place as hell. Where…did…you…come from!”
Mephistopheles: “Alright, I happened to be in Ottawa just now, but that’s only because I have to make regular visits. You’d be surprised how many politicians share your frustrations and call upon me to help them realize their ambitions.”
Layton: “How did you get into this office?”
Mephistopheles: “You invited me, when you said you would do anything to be prime minister.”
Layton: (flustered and perplexed) “Just who, or what, are you?”
Mephistopheles: “I am just a messenger sent by a very powerful lord who is willing to help you fulfill your deepest political desires for as long as you hold your party’s leadership.”
Layton: “What do you take me for?”
Mephistopheles: “A man who distrusts his own senses, and is afraid to do what is necessary. Do you want to be prime minister or not?”
Layton: “Of course I do, but I fail to see what you or your master can do about it.”
Mephistopheles: “You’re right about your failing eyesight, if nothing else. My master is all powerful and is the only one who can ease your path to the prime minister’s residence, provided that you give him something in return.”
Layton: “What would that be?”
Mephistopheles: “Your political soul.”
Layton: “I don’t believe in such nonsense. If your master is as politically powerful as you say he is, then this is a no-lose proposition.”
Mephistopheles: “You’re sure?”
Layton: “Of course I’m sure!”
Mephistopheles: “You understand that once you agree to terms, there is no going back? Many who have made this bargain have tried to back out, claiming they didn’t understand the true moral cost. That’s also why I have to make frequent trips to Ottawa–”to enforce politicians who forget that their careers now depend on the pleasure of my master.
“You wondered a little while ago about the ‘inexplicable’ standing of the government and the Liberals? Harper and Ignatieff and their respective parties still have a pulse because they have enlisted the services of my master. You may remember a few years back when Ignatieff nearly ended up a political corpse after failing to show sufficient respect to my master.'”
Layton: “Yes, I remember, but I fail to see what that has to do with me.” (Mephistopheles produces a ledger in which are written the names of numerous politicians. He hands it to Layton, who takes it to his desk to sign. Mephistopheles stands next to him and hands him a very ornate pen.)
Mephistopheles: “Just sign here. (points to the page on which Layton’s contract is written. The particulars of your agreement are spelled out below. Any questions?” (Layton says nothing and signs his name. Mephistopheles takes the ledger.) My master thanks you. (Layton lifts his head up to say something to Mephistopheles, but discovers that he is again alone.)
(SCENE II: The NDP caucus room. The air is agitated as party MPs seek Layton’s leadership on a sensitive matter concerning Vancouver-East MP Libby Davies, the party’s House leader.)
First MP: “Jack, we’ve got to stand behind Libby! She has been smeared and libeled in the Ottawa Citizen and other right-wing rags, to say nothing of the Internet, just for saying something uncomfortably true about Israel.”
Layton: “Cool your jets! I’ve already spoken to Libby, and I’ve accepted her apology."
Second MP: “Apology?! For what–”telling the truth? Here is a priceless opportunity for you to show leadership and distance yourself from the other two parties, but instead you leave her twisting in the wind!”
Layton: “The NDP has always supported Israel’s right to exist.”
Second MP: “What does that clichÃ© have to do with anything?”
Layton: “When Libby said Israel’s occupation dated to 1948, she implicitly denied Israel’s right to exist. That is not NDP party policy.”
Second MP: “But she’s right! More than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced between November 1947 and December 1948, and the Partition Plan was never ratified. So, how Israel came into existence is very much a legitimate subject of debate.”
Layton: “I will not take sides. I have already stated what has been long-standing party policy.”
Third MP: “Is it also ‘party policy’ to support gross human rights violations?!”
Layton: “Hold on…”
Third MP: “No, you hold on: You have said nothing, absolutely nothing, about Israel’s genocidal siege of Gaza, which many Western commentators liken to an outdoor prison. When was the last time you defended the flotilla of aid ships bringing food, medicine and building materials to Gaza? When did you last condemn Israel for its deliberate murder of 11 unarmed civilians on those ships? I’ll tell you–”never! But let one of your MPs utter a controversial truth about Israel, and all of a sudden you find something to say.”
Layton: “I have consistently steered a middle ground between Israel and Palestine. I don’t know where you get off making these accusations, but I would be careful if I were you.” (points a finger at the MP in question.)
First MP: (to Third MP) “Never mind what Jack has or hasn’t said. We can save that for another time. Right now, one of our own is under a vicious media disinformation campaign and we need to help her. (to Layton) What are you afraid of, Jack? The Israel Lobby? They don’t support us much anyway. We speak for Canadians, not foreign interests, like two other parties I could name. If we do nothing, if we do not vigorously denounce this attack, if we do not stand by Libby’s statements then we have no right being here. We might as well call ourselves the ‘Liberal-lite party’ and stop pretending we have any principles.”
Layton: “That’s enough! As I said, I accepted Libby’s apology for mispeaking herself and I apologized to the Israeli ambassador on behalf of the party. That’s the end of it!” (Gasps and murmuring)
Third MP: “Why the hell would you do that? Since when does the NDP apologize to the agent of an aggressor state for the honest comments of one of its own MPs! Tell me, Jack, whom do you serve–”Israel or Canada?”
Layton: “This meeting is over, and you (pointing to the Third MP) have just lost your shadow cabinet position!” (Layton walks very deliberately out of the meeting room, leaving behind a confused and dispirited caucus.)
(SCENE III: Layton’s office later that same day. He is again at his desk. Mephistopheles materializes behind his left shoulder)
Mephistopheles: “Tough day?”
Layton: (whips around, startled with his heart racing) “Don’t do that!” (catches his breath) “Yes, a tough day. Although I didn’t fire Libby as many demanded, I feel I let her and my party down. Most of my caucus is furious with me and think I’ve betrayed Libby Davies and the party.”
Mephistopheles: “They’re right, but so what? Can they control the media? Can they control campaign money? No, you did the right thing, though you should have gone further. (pause) You aren’t having second thoughts, are you?”
Layton: “No, no,… It’s just that… although I remember speaking, I felt as though some other power was putting words in my mouth.
Mephistopheles: “That was your master. You work for him now. Gradually, he will become more assertive, so your service to him will seem natural. You won’t even notice. Just look at Harper and Ignatieff. They’re ‘Stepford politicians’: do you think either of them cares what their party or the Canadian public thinks when he supports Israel or remains conspicuously silent when Israel conducts strategic murder? They serve the real political power in this country, even if you don’t, yet.
“Jack, you will come to realize that Parliamentary democracy is just a game that powerful interests use to delude people into thinking they have a say in how they are governed, when in fact they have no say at all. Pandering to the public’s vanity and inflated sense of importance is the essence of government.
“Now as you know, Israel has stripped Arab MKs of their immunity, is continuing to prevent aid ships from reaching Gaza, and has recommenced ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem. You know what your party’s official position on this is, don’t you?”
Layton: “Yes… I know." …
Lance Boyle: “Well, that’s a taste of what you can expect on Modern Classics. Did you recognize Benjamin Netanyahu as Mephistopheles? Stay tuned now for our regular feature, Zombieland.” (fade out)