Column

The Ottawa mindstamp: Made in the Black Forest

Allan Fotheringham November 17 1980
Column

The Ottawa mindstamp: Made in the Black Forest

Allan Fotheringham November 17 1980

The Ottawa mindstamp: Made in the Black Forest

Column

Allan Fotheringham

Ottawa, a sea of paper topped with large amounts of gas, exists on talk. The amount of physicial labor done in the town wouldn’t strain a gnat’s biceps and consists largely of people moving tables in place for a panel discussion. When the anthropologists dig into this midden, they will discover that at any given moment there were 14 panel discussions going on, composed mainly of people shifting their underwear and looking at the clock to see how long it is until the gin at the reception. Receptions follow panels as night follows day, receptions being where you discuss what you’ve just discussed while waiting for the gin.

There is gin.

There was this panel the other day, you see, mounted by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, on the pressing subject of the parliamentarian and the press. While delegates from Barbados and beyond watched in some wonderment, and Speaker Jeanne Sauvé tried to keep the boys separated, there was this earnest wrangle over the meaningless subject. It’s as useless as a panel discussion on sex. There are boys and there are girls. That’s all. There are parliamentarians (a parliamentarian is a politician out of town) and there is the press and it is war. Simple. No use getting disturbed about it, let alone having a panel on it.

The spectacle of politicians and reporters sitting around the Railway Committee Room wasting good gin time by talking about why they dislike one another is somewhat akin to penitentiary guards discussing with the inmates their differences and what can be done to solve them. The two don’t mix, and any time scribes and pols are found unctuously examining one another in close proximity the public would best feel for its wallet.

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

The politician, by the nature of the beast, wants to conceal all information save that complimentary to his image. In Sweden, it is now official state policy that all government business be open to public scrutiny except that deemed to be secret. In Canada, thanks to the casual arrogance of the Natural Governing Party which has been in power too long, government business is secret except that deemed to be public. The Liberals have got the world upside down—and have convinced themselves that what

they do is normal. Their efforts, as if by reflex, to bar the cameras and microphones from the crucial Senate-Commons committee on the constitution is typical. The logic is wondrous to behold. The nation, via the TV cameras, is allowed to watch the House of Commons debate the restructuring of this fractious land. But when the politicians (oops—parliamentarians) move into even more detailed discussion of the same subject, the public is not deemed trustworthy enough to be allowed as spectators.

One can just imagine, with delicious delight, the lawmakers in the Excited States of America attempting to shut out full public scrutiny of rewriting of their constitution. It would be the Battle of Bull Run revisited. The Yanks would take to the streets. Yet Canadians, tugging their forelocks and shuffling their Adidas obediently, put up with such effrontery. A country that is only now, a decade late, examining its own innards on the FLQ crisis is not too

apt to storm the gates of a Liberal-controlled committee that is run by quill pen rules.

The sluggish nature of the Ottawa mind slows the progress of the nation to the speed of a mud slide. The McDonald Commission on the naughty capers of some Mounties who had seen too many Jack Webb reruns has puttered on for so long now (we are approaching the fourth year) that the public has lost interest. Good. That was the original plan. Just as the Le Dain Commission on the global threat of pot took such an interminable length of time to arrive at the obvious that the junior stockbrokers, out of boredom waiting for the report, had moved on to coke. The Liberal mind, made up of two parts delay to one part deny, is best typified these days by Allan MacEachen, the finance minister who disci penses his words as £ carefully as cof£ fee grounds working o their way through the a filter. MacEachen studied at the feet of the ineffable Paul Martin, who in using the English language was like a mad carpenter building a hen house without any doors. MacEachen, in telling us what he is doing with our money, often sets out in the Commons in a northerly direction and meanders through so many points of the compass that junior ministers are seen leaving the house with the staggers, as if hit on the head with a load of Marc Lalonde’s charm. An eager if clumsy apprentice to this style, government Senate leader Ray Perrault sometimes strangles on his own convoluted verbiage and pages must be summoned to disentangle him from his syntax before it cuts off his air supply.

The problem is not between the parliamentarian and the press but in the Canadian politician’s reluctance to discuss candidly what he is inwardly plotting. The Liberals, in their own little Black Forest called Ottawa, have evolved into dwarfs in the art of communication.