Allan Fotheringham

Shall we dump ’em, Mr.Sinclair? The pleasure’s mine, Mr.Clyne

Allan Fotheringham April 19 1976
Allan Fotheringham

Shall we dump ’em, Mr.Sinclair? The pleasure’s mine, Mr.Clyne

Allan Fotheringham April 19 1976

Shall we dump ’em, Mr.Sinclair? The pleasure’s mine, Mr.Clyne

Allan Fotheringham

Allan Fotheringham

There are great moments in human theater that deserve to be enshrined on film. Unfortunately for future historians, the documentary cameras of the National Film Board are not yet allowed into the fusty confines of the British Columbia Legislature where bored lawmakers, leaning backward in their yawns, can feast their eyes on the frieze of well endowed plaster nudes that decorates the upper reaches of the chamber.

The tableau in question came the other day while the passionate new evangelists of Premier Bill Bennett’s Social Credit flock were unveiling their first budget. They splintered their desk tops in enthusiasm as the two-hour budget speech waxed sanctimonious about how the infidels of socialism had been driven from the temple and how the incompetent mathematicians of the New Democratic Party would never again be allowed to send the province into economic ruin. At the height of this tiresome tirade, a pagegirl slipped a note to two high priests of capitalism seated on the legislative floor as guests— former premier W.A.C. Bennett and Robert Bonner, a former Socred attorney general, former head of Macmillan-Bloedel and present chairman of BC Hydro. The note brought the news that minutes previously the directors of the mighty Macmillan-Bloedel forest empire had summarily lopped the heads off two of the highestpaid men in Canada: $166,667 president Denis Timmis and $137,424 chairman George Currie. Their sin? They had allowed Canada’s biggest manufacturer and exporter of forest products to fall into a $ 19-million loss last year. The incompetent socialists, it seemed, weren’t the only ones who couldn’t add. Bonner tucked the note into his threepiece suit and stared fixedly ahead, successfully avoiding the nudes.

Aside from the minor thrill of titillation that runs through beer parlors at the thought of bloodletting on the boardroom floor, this particular corporate coup d’état is educational in reminding us that we still have two great buccaneers of the marketplace—tycoons in heat—abroad in the land. In the age of the soulless IBM technocrats who infest most executive offices, it is reassuring to be reminded of the two Paul Bunyans of the broadloom who wielded the axe in thiscase and coldly executed the Mac-Bio executives, who, on sales of $1.3 billion, couldn’t keep the household budget out of the hole. The two—from opposite ends of the country— are Ian Sinclair and J. V. Clyne.

Ian Sinclair, of course, is the most powerful industrialist in Canada, one of the most overpowering businessmen in the world. As chairman and chief executive of the Canadian Pacific octopus, he admits he can take over Mac-Bio anytime he wants (CP controls 14% and three directorships). He didn’t even bother attending the MacBlo assassination. Instead, he sent out William Moodie, whom Sinclair stole from the Royal Bank last year to run CP Investments. “I’m innocent. I was in Mexico that day,” says Sinclair, with a baby-sweet smile. When Sinclair smiles, his eyeteeth droop down, giving him the look (or so it must appear to cowering corporate

enemies across the conference desk) of a fleshy Dracula.

Those of us who like to shout at him in bars call him “Big Julie,” an old reference to a Wayne and Shuster classic in which Julius Caesar somehow was transformed into a Mafia don. A hulking figure, he resembles a linebacker who has stumbled into the chairman’s suite by mistake. In the era of executive hose and coiffured hairstyles, he dresses like an unmade bed. His suits are so old you can almost detect mold growing on them. You could comb your hair in the reflection from the seat of his pants. He has the essential requirement of vast arrogance: he does not care what you say about him, is impossible to insult and stands like some burly timber, cigarette smoke constantly smoldering off him, while crashing glasses and collapsing bodies splinter at his feet.

He is almost a media groupie, willingly standing around press club bars while sodden reporters shout deprecations at his hulk. The highest paid businessman in Canada, he has bet a scribe a $200 dinner that his salary cannot be detected. (We

shall see.) He is from Winnipeg and believes, like football coach Bud Grant, who refuses to recruit in California, that the only tough people come from tough climates. Joy through adversity. The Protestant ethic incarnate.

Big Julie, of course, loves John Valentine Clyne. It’s natural. Clyne shares that vast arrogance that enables him to waft through life, stepping elegantly over the bodies beneath him. Clyne supposedly retired as chairman of Mac-Bio three years ago but, at 74, is the dominating force on the board of directors. An incorrigible ham, he is as fastidious as Sinclair is roughhewn and turned down a career as a Shakespearean actor to enter law. Vancouver Sun publisher Stu Keate, a close friend, once called him “the corporate welfare bum’s corporate welfare bum” (Clyne draws a lifetime $90,000 pension from Mac-Bio, plus another $25,000 for mad money).

An imperious figure who affects a mockEnglish accent, Clyne in fact spent his teen-age summers as a cowboy in the Cariboo and earned his university fees as a miner in the BC mountains. (His father died when he was two.) He subdued mobs with a billy club during the 1926 general strike in Britain, once served as Churchill’s private bootlegger during prohibition days and has been known, in the words of an eminent jurist, “to take as long as four seconds before deciding to call a man a scoundrel or a ruffian.”

When this magazine once detailed the Vancouver social set scandal in which Clyne dumped a glass of scotch over the elegant head of a corporate rival, Clyne exploded with rage. “That’s an outrage,” he shouted. “It wasn’t scotch. It was rye!”

The definitive Clyne came when he was on the BC Supreme Court. The late Mr. Justice O’Halloran of the appeal court overturned one of Clyne’s judgments and slapped down his junior colleague. One day the two feuding judges by mischance arrived at the same elevator, rode upward in stony silence and turned in opposite directions to go to their chambers. Twenty feet down the hall, Clyne could contain his rage no longer. Wheeling, he shouted: “Sir, it is not you who is not speaking to me. It is me who is not speaking to you!”

For the edification of future generations, at the appropriate time the figures of Sinclair and Clyne should be stuffed and mounted in some Canadian version of the Smithsonian Institution as prize specimens of the prehistoric capitalists. Tycoons Tyrannosaurus.