03.22.2016 01:03 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: oink oink

The etymology of the phrase “lipstick on a pig” is politically timely. Bear with me, here.

Pigs, it turns out, have been bandied about in human expression for a long time. There is a plethora of porcine proverbs. In the Bible, there is Matthew 7:6, “pearls before swine.” Making a silk purse from a sow’s ear is another one everyone says, even whilst everyone knows that silk comes from insect larvae, not some unfortunate pig’s auditory system.

In the 16th century, a British physician, of all people, decreed that “hog in armour is still but a hog.” (Yes, of course, but why would a hog be wearing armour in the first place? Are pigs useful in battle?) And, a couple hundred years later, a Baptist preacher picked up the theme, and observed that “a hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog.” (Again, as with the wartime hog, why would anyone want to ruin a perfectly good silk waistcoat by sharing it with a pig?)

In any event, the precise origins of the “lipstick on a pig” aphorism are unclear. Some say it arose first in a January 1980 edition of the much-read Quad-City Herald, in Brewster, Washington (pop., 2,730), where one wag observed therein that “you can clean up a pig, put a ribbon on it’s [sic] tail, spray it with perfume, but it is still a pig.” Indeed, its pigginess is inviolate. No argument here.

Others insist that the actual phrase came shortly after, when The Washington Post famously quoted a San Francisco KNBR-AM radio host who — when commenting on a plan to fix up Candlestick Park for the Giants — decreed: “That would be like putting lipstick on a pig.”

A political cliché was born!

After that, political folks would end up saying it all the time. Barack Obama and John McCain both said it about each other, in 2008 presidential campaign. At least five political books were written with “lipstick on a pig” in the title. And, most ominously, Dick Cheney declared that it was his “favourite line.” (That’s almost as bad as being a Liberal, and enthusiastically welcoming warmonger Henry Kissinger to a state dinner for you, and … oh, never mind.)

So, in typically circuitous and long-winded fashion, 376 words later, we arrive at this moment. I have elected to append the “lipstick on a pig” cliché — which I personally consider vulgar and impolite, but occasionally apt — to Justin Trudeau’s latest Friday afternoon special, the appointment of seven new Senators by a panel of people he appointed. The appointees’ appointees.

It was in all the papers, along with glowing descriptions of the esteemed Canadians who have the thankless task, or the taskless thanks, of napping in the Red Chamber until the ripe old age of 75. There, they will receive the minimum annual salary of $132,300; at least $161,200 to maintain an office; $22,000 a year if they live more than 100 kilometres from Ottawa, as Mike Duffy knows too well; some $11,100 on top of their regular pay, for sitting on a committee; and many thousands more if they are lucky enough to become the Senate Speaker, or a Senate house leader, or what have you.

Nice work if you can get it, etc. Each of those seven Canadians — including the head of Trudeau’s transition team, so we can probably count him as a Liberal — will now doubtlessly shuffle up to a microphone somewhere, and earnestly pledge to serve their fellow Canadians without regard to partisan affiliation, without fear or favour or grubby political considerations, blah blah blah. They will say all the usual stuff, which have heard a million times before. And, in some cases (because, admittedly, there are not a few current Senators who are respectable and decent folks, focused on the public good) they may well end up telling the truth.

But the Senate of Canada is still — after all of Justin Trudeau’s efforts to affix lipstick to it — a pig. It is a disgrace. It is an anti-democratic abomination, and it should be abolished, not maintained. Kill it, now.

All of us have heard the arguments for the Senate. That it is a chamber of sober second thought. That it improves legislation emanating in the House. That its reports and resolutions are unsullied by politics.

But we don’t care. WE DON’T CARE. If the Senate of Canada were stuffed to its ermine walls with cloned replicas of Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Plato, Nelson Mandela, Mozart, Kahlil Gibran, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Socrates, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks — and, on civic holidays, apparitions of the Buddha, Moses, Mohamed and Christ — it would still be this: a body of unelected persons, however eminent, wielding real power.

It would therefore be illegitimate. It would be illicit. In a supposedly modern democracy, it would be unlawful, even.

Most of us, out here in the real world, don’t have expense allowances and living allowances and “travel points.” We aren’t guaranteed a job until age 75. We therefore don’t give a sweet damn about how impressive are the CVs of those who won the Mother of All Lotteries on Friday. We don’t give a sh*t, actually.

You can put lipstick on a pig, prime minister. But it is still — then, now and forever more — a pig.



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    Aongasha says:

    I see they are already breaking senate rules as well. One nominee does not own land in the Quebec Co. where appointed i.e before the fact. But hey it’s all good for Sunny Ways.

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      cynical says:

      With respect, the use of the word “nominee” is inappropriate. These are appointments. If they were only nominees, and there were some requirement for confirmation, there would be at least some small quantum of democracy left in the institution.

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        JH says:

        I think until sworn in they are referredd to as nominees. And the regs say nominees must own property for their area in Quebec prior to swearing in, or at least that’s what I’m told.

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    Maps Onburt says:

    Bravo. Harper was right. It should be starved of new appointments until it is killed. Put those activist supremes to work to rule it non-democratic and against the principles of “peace, order and GOOD GOVERNMENT”. Lipstick on a pig indeed.

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    Matt says:

    How can Peter Harder claim to be independent when he has been appointed the Liberal governments representative in the Senate. And a government house leader in the Senate gets an extra $80,000 a year. Does Harder get that only being the governments “representative” in the Senate?

    And who will chair the committees in the Senate?

    Liberal majority in the HOC means Senate committees are chaired by Liberals and have a majority of Liberal members. But there are (allegedly) no more Liberal Senators.

    Oh, and Harder was/is also a board member of the Peirre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, so yeah, he’s a Liberal.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Gone from gaming the system, to nicely gaming it.

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    e.a.f. says:

    I don’t know what people have against pigs. They’re great pets, are much cleaner than a lot of humans and other people and are very close to humans. in the last century they used pig skin for severe burn victims because human skin wasn’t being used yet and they experimented with pig’s heart values as substitutes for human heart values. O.K. now I see it, perhaps pigs are just too close to humans to be considered nice animals.

    As to lipstick on a pig, not much different than make up on a human, male or female.

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