Well now. Where were we? Your humble ink-stained wretch— partly by accident, partly by design—has managed to be in foreign climes for this so far boring Liberal leadership race. One would like to avoid the dreary thing entirely, since all it does is make Pierre Elliott Himself look like a demigod, but it hangs on, like a bad case of nasal drip, and a chap keeps stumbling upon it while fleeing from airport terminal to taxi to the shrink’s couch.
Mr. John Turner, alias Roger Ramjet, has been having some small troubles, it seems, readapting himself to the new postWatergate mood of the Ottawa press gallery scribblers. When Rusty Turner left Coma City a decade ago, Japan had not taken over the governing of Canadian politics. By this we mean that the chaps who have changed political reporting in Canada live in Osaka and Tokyo. They manufacture palm-size tape recorders that now come built in to every graduate of a journalism school, along with a Columbo trenchcoat. Mealymouthed politicians can no longer cry “misquote” when the inane thoughts that dribble out their brains are seen in the cold, black type of a newspaper the next day and the PM quickly calls them on the carpet. (Don McGillivray, the sage of Moose Jaw, recalls that Jimmy Gardiner, who was the lovable Huey Long of Saskatchewan Liberalism, was “misquoted” for 30 years—he blithely instructed his supine voters every time that the despicable press, naturally, had got his comment all wrong.)
Today, Mr. Ramjet has discovered rather tardily, the pol cannot get away with that. All the younger scribes (those of us in geriatric journalism gave up taking notes eons ago; we make it all up) would sooner lose his spritzer than the batteries for his tape recorder. After John-John confided to some of the pencil press on the leadership trail that he quit the Trudeau cabinet over wage and price controls, the nasty lads reAllan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.
ported it. This resulted, as we know, in Mr. Himself at last getting a longsought chance to stick a shiv in the handsome ribs of his putative heir. Mr. Trudeau smacked down Mr. Turner, suggesting he was guilty of, as Churchill put it, “terminological inexactitude,” and others present in the cabinet at the time supported the Trudeau version. Soon after, a grim-faced Turner was trailed, on the campaign bus, by a dutiful aide carrying a tape recorder to make sure his tiger could not be “misquoted” again. This has been standard practice in Ottawa by cabinet ministers’
flunkies for some years now, and one wonders where Turner has been hiding behind the door.
It is not exactly a state secret anymore that the reason Turner and Trudeau parted ways swiftly was because the former went into the office of the latter on Sept. 10, 1975, to arrange (a commitment he believed he had been given) a removal from the dead-end finance portfolio. When the Prime Minister, with the sensitivity for individual relationships for which he is famed, offered Turner the demeaning suggestions of a judgeship (or the Senate!), the proud man who is a decade younger than the PM was so insulted that he resigned and went back to his aides with tears in his eyes.
It’s been the only interesting punchup, though nine years revisited, of this Grit yawner. Any time we can get our dignified, incipient-statesman PM to actually reveal to us what he really thinks of the man who is going to succeed him, we should be grateful. Otherwise, we
have to make do with such as John Munro, who showed up an hour and a half late for a meeting the other night. This is par, since the harried Mr. Munro has been late for a train most of his life, but what was most significant was that only five people showed up for the rally in the first place. Perhaps Mr. Munro knew something we didn’t. It is remindful of the time Robert Stanfield, while running in slow motion for Prime Minister, appeared on a hotline radio show and no one phoned in. And Mr. Stanfield stayed. Shows you why he is such a nice guy and a terrible politician.
Would never happen to a Liberal candidate: Keith Davey or Jimmy Cutes would have rushed out personally and faked a call from a Clark Kent phone booth. We have the smartest chap in the race, Don Johnston, demanding that the other candidates give straight answers on policy and then trying to talk his way around his celebrated black eye, which is a very humanizing feature. He says it was a tennis match, but others say it was a car z door, and I say it’s spinach I and the hell with it. How c can voters not love a guy 5 who gets a black eye? It ranks right up there with
the hole in the shoe of Adlai Stevenson, another nice guy who also lost out at the polls now that you mention it. If the delegates could see Johnston at his most appealing, playing piano at a party, with or without his black eye, he would be even more popular than Harry Truman.
One’s heart bleeds for the valiant Jean Chrétien, who at his healthiest looks as if he hadn’t slept for three days. He now looks as if he hasn’t slept for three weeks. He started out an energetic second and will finish an energetic second. There is, for comic relief, Eugene Whelan, who doesn’t speak either of the two official languages and who says he is the best-known politician in the world because he attends a lot of global food conferences. (And looks as if he ate most of them.) There are also John Roberts and Mark MacGuigan. Unless Brian Mellowrooney stops laughing at this lineup, instead of outlining some policy, we could end up stuck with one of the above.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.