Art and life: Papineau's ex-Conservative MP candidate on why he fooled the Tories

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Photo: Chris Papineau/twitter

Chris Lloyd's thumbs-up shot with Stephen Harper has been making rounds on the Internet, ever since the Conservative party asked him to resign when they found out his candidacy for MP in the Papineau riding was part of an art project.

His bid for office was short-lived -- his Conservative candidacy ended before the 2015 federal election was even called -- but his art project has something to say about the strata that separate politicians and people in Canada.

He has been working on his project, Dear PM, since 1998 when he was a student at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

"[The project] was essentially to compare the goings on of my daily life with that of the politicians and the people with power that we read about in the newspapers or see on the news everyday. It was an exchange of information, but obviously kind of a one-way thing," he said.

Over the years, Lloyd has only received a few form letters in response.

He talks about his campaign nonchalantly, acknowledging its humour. But it does reveal a communications barrier between the elected and the electorate.

"How do you communicate directly with the people that have the most power over our lives or over our county?" he asked. "You essentially have a gang of people in the PMO that decide the future of the nation in secrecy."

Lloyd's letters, he said, have been similar to diary entries. He compares his daily life, that of an emerging artist, with that of the prime minister.

"He's usually climbing off a plane somewhere or meeting other G8 leaders. Not, like, cleaning out the cat litter," Lloyd said. "Who in [Harper's] household cleans the kitty litter? I know you love cats. You're always showing up in photos with cats."

After the 2011 election awarded the Conservatives a majority government, Lloyd started considering another way to get in touch with the prime minister. 

First, Lloyd realized how weak the Conservative foothold was in Papineau.

"It's not just that they're fielding weak candidates. They don't have an office -- we're meeting in Tim Hortons. They're not sending any delegates [to the Conservative party convention]. They have nothing," Lloyd said. 

Lloyd became president of Papineau's Conservative riding association in 2012 and earlier this year was acclaimed to run as the Conservative candidate against Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

"I was going to treat it as an art project but still run it as a real campaign," he said.

At that point, his letter writing project turned into a performance art work.

He believes politicians are very good performers -- noting that speaking in Parliament or fielding media scrums takes skill and practice.

"I was interested in the personal and the political," he said. "We all wear different masks depending on the context. I was interested in whether these people ever let their personas down and what they were like when they were together."

In addition, he wanted to disrupt.

"I wanted to kind of test the boundaries within the party to see what I could get away with saying or doing," he said of his bid for MP.

Throughout his subterfuge, Lloyd was surprised no one noticed he wasn't quite a faithful Conservative.

"How is it they don't know [I'm] someone who's been critical of the [Conservative] government for the last nine years?" 

He maintains he was always transparent about his letter project -- he included a link to his blog his application to run for MP.

"They never read far enough down, I don't think"" he chuckled.

But Lloyd doesn't think there's a problem with the Conservative candidate vetting process, as some have suggested.

"There's probably nothing wrong with their vetting process. In a higher profile riding where there'd be a stronger riding association and potentially a race… the process really takes care of itself," he said. 

He had planned to turn his campaign office into a venue for art events. He also wanted to debate with Justin Trudeau.

"I wanted to play with the norms of the debate format… It would be interesting to, at a highly publicized debate, move things a little sideways," he said.

Unfortunately, Lloyd did not get the chance to bring these ideas to fruition before the Conservatives asked him to resign.

He did, however, meet the prime minister twice for a photo op.

"I was going to put [a signed photograph] in my campaign office because these are the kinds of things that candidates do, right? They want to show 'oh, I've met the big man'… it bolsters your credibility among other members," he said.

While Lloyd kept his artistic goal at the centre of his campaign, he does have some strong views on Canadian politics.

Firstly, he believes the first-past-the-post system is broken.

"[It's] not the most representative type of democracy that we can come up with… The only way you can change the system is from within -- and it would have to be from within the Conservative party," he said.

He's also dismayed that youth aren't voting and that Green and independent candidates rarely get elected. 

Although Lloyd's bid for Parliament running under the Conservative banner was cut short, he plans to continue to run as an independent in Papineau. He's happy that he'll be unfettered from his Conservative persona. 

"I can just run as me -- Chris Lloyd the artist, the guy that writes letters to the prime minister, the guy who fooled the Conservatives," he said with a laugh. 

Megan Devlin is rabble's news intern for 2015. She hails from Toronto, but she's starting her Master's in Journalism in Vancouver. She got her start in journalism working at the Western Gazette where she was a news editor for volume 107 and online associate editor for volume 108.

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