Making fun of politicians is a time-honoured tradition. It’s what keeps editorial cartoonists in business. Many photographers, illustrators and reporters spend a lot of brain power trying to find ways to embarrass politicians, especially when on the campaign trail during an election. Most political PR people try very hard to avoid embarrassing photo opps or gaffes, but some just didn’t learn their lesson.

Back in 1997, Gilles Duceppe was the leader of Canada’s Bloc Québecois, a sovereignist party (i.e. supporting the separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada) working at the federal level. The Bloc was running candidates only in Quebec’s seventy-five federal ridings, and this was Duceppe’s first federal election campaign as leader. The Bloc’s poor organization as well as its leader’s inexperience were much in the news at the time, and affected the party’s overall performance (they only won 44 seats, ten less than they had before the election).

GLLES DUCEPPEIn the middle of the election campaign, Gilles Duceppe visited an agro-business factory that produces cheese. All visitors are required by law to wear a hairnet while on the premises, so of course Duceppe donned a hairnet too, with photographers following him. Duceppe looked particularly funny in his hairnet, and was much ridiculed for it.

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(Translation) Duceppe visits a cheese factory “…And tomorrow I’m going to visit a condom factory. Don’t miss that!”

In fact, it became a symbol of how silly the Bloc’s campaign and organization were in the election. The Globe and Mail described the hairnet as “a very goofy-looking rubber headgear” that made Duceppe “an early favourite for the Award for Most Preposterous Photo-Op of the Campaign.” Duceppe fired his campaign manager, press liaison and media bus co-ordinator shortly after the cheese factory incident.

And that photo haunts Gilles Duceppe to this day. But he did go on to lead the party for more than a decade after that election, so it wasn’t all bad.

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