Column

Has 24 Sussex been checked for termites and things that go bump in the night?

Allan Fotheringham June 18 1979
Column

Has 24 Sussex been checked for termites and things that go bump in the night?

Allan Fotheringham June 18 1979

Has 24 Sussex been checked for termites and things that go bump in the night?

Column

Allan Fotheringham

In Ottawa, the town where the taste buds went out to lunch and have never returned, there are so few de-

cent restaurants that one dares not blow the cover of the best one. It is presided over by a lady who is as broad as her wisdom and she moaned this night—it being the day when Joe Clark was sworn in as prime minister—at the sudden invasion of freshly scrubbed Tory toffs eager to spend their new ministerial salaries. “She’s getting tired,”

confided one diner,

“telling them that you don’t drink Dubonnet with steak.” This was the week when it was, when the superstitious rustics who now rule us felt their way around the corridors of power by braille and wandered wide-eyed, like little Dorothy in Kansas, in the broadloomed acreage that denotes a cabinet minister’s domain where the secretaries fan out like infielders. Elmer MacKay, the super-snoop transformed instantly into the minister for regional economic expansion, says, “I woke up this morning thinking ‘today’s the per-

fect day to overthrow the government.’ Then I remembered. That’s us.”

Ottawa, which is a state of mind more than a city, watches it all with an air of apprehended bemusement. After all, this place has been Liberal so long many of the doormen resemble cabinet ministers. And vice versa. It’s been so long since any outsider has had even a finger on a lever of power that there is still a public subscription for a statue on Parliament Hill to commemorate Mackenzie King’s dog, it being one of the more dominant influences on the Grit thinking of that era. Observant televiewers notice that Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Pitfield—who looks as if he comes out of an academic version of Happy Days, and was fired by Clark the day after swearing in the new PM—wore a suit so ancient it still displayed cuffs. The Liberals stick with the things they know: power, arrogance, cuffs.

There is black humor in this city of grey minds. How the towels at 24 Sus-

sex Drive will now be labelled Whos and Hers. What has Canada done for the International Year of the Child? It elected Joe Clark. And so on. There is the problem of the skunk, which invaded the inaugural day Garden Party at Stornoway and was pursued by a Mountie and his pistol. The Clarks were having their problems at Stornoway in their final days. The gardener, because of a death in the family, hadn’t come to tend the tulips, there was something wrong with the pipes and the skunk lurked under the house. Perhaps it’s the

reason why Mr. Trudeau’s office received the call asking whether 24 Sussex had been checked lately for termites, creepy-crawlies and things that go bump in the night.

Essentially, an overlay of unctuous rectitude made the transfer of power a 16-year anti-climacteric. The proceedings had the panache of a three-hour dental appointment and a visitor from Washington, accustomed to an air of celebration with the arrival of a new government, said he’d found more pizzazz in a rural town on auction Saturday. Perhaps it is the Tory foreboding over the ghost of Lowell Murray past. The invisible Maritimer, architect of the Clark victory, disappeared into a New Brunswick fishing hole almost before the last ballot box was stuffed and was last seen blushing prettily in Cape Breton. He has a mind as agile as a knuckleball and it is felt among the devious thinkers here that his humility, as famous as it is, will not prevent him from returning to this sump-hole of cui-

sine as long as he can rejoin the Clark cub scouts at some position superior to principal secretary Bill Neville who is rumored to put bootblack on his white pumps whenever he has to appear at a formal affair in the evening.

There is the surprise at continually stumbling upon former members of the PMO (i.e. Trudeau) staff who haven’t ventured out among the unwashed since Bryce Mackasey rolled his own. Several of them have even perfected an other-

wise respectable imitation of common people, dining on sandwiches and beer at the refurbished Press Club, which now has a decor resembling the runway at Omaha International Airport.

There is 83-year-old John Diefenbaker, sworn in for the 13th time and under the new, semifriendly regime finally moved out of his corner hideaway and established in comfort in a suite of offices in the Centre Block. It means, he says, cackling with glee, “for the first time in my life I can look down on the Rideau Club.” In 1909, when he was 14,

he was fascinated by Admiral Peiry’s conquering of the North Pole. His plans for 1979 are to stand on the North Pole and travel to China in September.

Did you hear the one about the Newfie finance minister? A reporter says Clark’s first press conference felt like a church supper meeting about to be addressed by an earnest young curate. The PM plows himself into the ground on Jerusalem. First big mistake out of the blocks. And, best of all, a muskrat crawled into the electrical system of the Château Laurier just before lunch, short-circuiting the great stone pile. Which means the massive ironwork portcullis that guards the entrance to the basement grill room cannot be opened and mandarins, desperate for their martini fix, hurl their plaintive little bodies against the stubborn gate, deprived of the fuel that gets them through the afternoon. The town trundles to a stop, foiled by a muskrat. It somehow fits. This was the week when it was.