I ONCE WENT to call on Judy LaMarsh, then Secretary of State, to discuss a story I was doing on Walter Gordon. I carried a list of 14 questions to ask her about Gordon, but, one after another, she refused, pointblank, to answer them — until I asked why she thought Gordon had allowed himself to be out-manoeuvred by Mitchell Sharp at a National Liberal meeting. At that Judy exploded: “You bastards . . . you guys are all alike,” and she banged a letter-opener she was holding down on her desk. I rose, embarrassed and angry, to leave the room, when suddenly she began to talk about Gordon, and Pearson, and life in Ottawa. She talked for nearly an hour, with only occasional murmurs from me; and she was informative, intelligent, abrasive.
Her Memoirs of a Bird in a Gilded Cage is like that monologue. This is Judy’s story, told on Judy’s terms with no questions, no qualification, and no interruptions. Friends, allies and colleagues are called up, examined and, for the most part, dismissed with a shrug. Pearson was “gutless.” Jean Lesage “a weak leader and very vain.” Bryce Mackasey “acted like a fool.” Arthur Laing was “somewhat of a joke with many of his colleagues.” Allan MacEachen was “sometimes moody and oddly irresponsible.” Mitchell Sharp was “probably the worst Minister of Finance of recent years.” Robert Winters had “no understanding whatsoever of Quebec and very little of modern government.” Opposition MPs are let off much more lightly, although Gordon Aiken is described as “persnickety.”
To let us know what she thinks of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, she describes a cabinet meeting at which they quarreled and she inscribed “arrogant bastard” on her note pad while he spoke.
Of all the judgments advanced, the most damaging is the one that Pearson was “gutless,” because while most
PETERSON ON THE PROWL
of her brutal labels are merely tossed off, Judy sets out to prove this one, and the evidence she marshals is impressive. Discussing Pearson’s relationship to Guy Favreau, that tragic figure, she points to irresolution, thoughtlessness and what looks very much like cowardice on Pearson’s part. If what she says is true, “gutless” is perhaps too mild a word.
And there lies the difficulty for most of us. Judy writes from the inside, of things we cannot possibly know, and her judgments are so bitter, her understanding so slim, that I would rather trust the chronicles of those who may have known less but grasped more. Historians will do better to read Peter Newman than Judy LaMarsh; her political insight is not that of a Madame de Staël, but of a Dorothy Kilgallen.
There is only one chapter, on the place of women in politics, in which she writes dispassionately, and that calm chapter forms a devastating critique of male smugness, prejudice and stupidity. Judy reveals that Pauline Jewett, who would have been an asset to any cabinet, once hinted she would like a place in Pearson’s: he told her he already had one woman minister, and that was that. Perhaps it has been a lifetime of this kind of bland blindness that made Judy so unnaturally aggressive; I do not know, and her book is no help, since she shuns in-
trospection like the plague. (I once asked her if she would describe herself as a lonely person and she growled, “Hell yes, next question.”)
Whatever its origin, Judy’s aggressiveness bubbles in full, venomous spate through her memoirs, and reduces what could have been the insight of one of the most intelligent politicians of our age to mere gossip — fascinating gossip but gossip nonetheless.
The book is sloppily edited, with spelling errors (not little ones; both Allan MacEachen and Gordon Aiken have their names misspelled), pointless repetitions and bad organization. I have the feeling that no one at McClelland and Stewart dared suggest any changes, and from my own experience with Judy, I don’t blame them
a bit. WALTER STEWART
Memoirs of a Bird in a Gilded Cage by Judy LaMarsh (McClelland and Stewart, $7.95).
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