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Comic strip provided by Jeff Burney

Hot: Jeff Burney. You may recognize the last name - it's a pretty big one in official Ottawa. Mr. Burney, 40, is the youngest son of Derek Burney, former Canadian ambassador to the United States, former chief of staff to Brian Mulroney and the man who helped Stephen Harper prepare for his transition from opposition to government.

Given Mr. Burney's background you can probably assume that he doesn't look at the comics page in the newspaper first thing in the morning. That will change Monday when the younger Mr. Burney's cartoon, Attica, starts running in the Ottawa Citizen.

Set in ancient Greece, it's the younger Mr. Burney's take on democracy. In his imaginary world, the citizens of Athens "have chosen to overthrow their ruling class of nobles and aristocrats in favour of candidates elected by the people." Every citizen must serve in the military and his main character, Ajax, an earnest, young man, trains the recruits. It's not easy and his exploits are the source of just some of the humour in the comic strip.

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Mr. Burney, who is married with two young children, recently left his job at Bell Canada after 14 years as a research engineer. "Cartooning has always been a hobby for me," he said. "But it wasn't until I turned 30 that I started to think about it as a career."

Attica is his third attempt to get onto the funny pages. He thinks his desire may have come from his mother, Joan, a big fan of Gary Larson's famous cartoon, The Far Side. "And I do remember she had to explain the punch-lines to my Dad on a few occasions."

Not: Poor parliamentary behaviour. Jeering, heckling and cat-calling politicians are a real turn-off for Canadian viewers who literally turn off Question Period on their TV sets when it takes place. The numbers don't lie.

"If they are going to fight and just do one-liners people turn it off. But if they are actually going to talk about issues and policy [Canadians]will watch," CPAC President Colette Watson says. She recently appeared before a Senate committee, providing her analysis of Question Period viewership numbers.

She said the commercial-free, privately-owned, not-for-profit bilingual service has seen a big increase in viewership so far this season. In the 2 - 3 p.m. slot, when Question Period takes place, the channel's daily reach is 70,000 compared to 20,000 last year.

An impoved method of data collection may account for some of the increase, but Ms. Watson believes concern over the economy and the H1N1 flu pandemic have more people tuning in. Interesting, too, is how viewership has fluctuated over the years.

In 2001, Question Period reach spiked to 300,000 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A gradual decline followed until May of 2005 when former Tory MP Belinda Stronach crossed the floor to join the Liberals, ensuring that Paul Martin's minority government survived.

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And then viewers fled again during the Gomery Commission hearings into the Liberal sponsorship scandal. "For two years everybody stopped watching … just the whole antagonistic, fighting, backbiting thing," Ms. Watson said, noting that viewership bottomed out at 14,000. "They got totally turned off by the arguing."

She added that a succession of bickering, minority governments has not helped bring people back until now.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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