You want to know the latest in female fashion? Should skirts sweep the ankle? Or are they creeping to the knee bone? Are fingernails still to be the whore-red of a few years ago, or are they painted white? Can matrons now wear semi-punk hairstyles? It is easy to determine these matters of great import. One need not travel to the Paris openings, or to the New York boutiques. There is a simpler way. Merely attend any convention of the Liberal party of Canada. It shall all be revealed to you.
There must have been $400 worth of hairstyles on display at the short head table, when the leader of almost-all-theLiberals addressed the Grit women at the John Turner Follies. Leader of the pack was the luscious Lucie Pépin (who graces your TV screen in a backbench Commons seat behind Turner) and who could grace the cover of Vogue and is talked of vaguely as the first female to be put forward for the party leadership.
A glance over the wardrobes of the audience confirmed the long-held secret: the party that paints itself as the party of the centre is decidedly uppermiddle class, with designer labels written all over it.
This is no surprise to any scribe who has been dragging his frail body to these Liberal tribal rites over the years. They are essentially gatherings of the managerial class, the well-salaried sect that has kept the party in power for six of the first eight decades of this century. If you want to gauge how much money the concerned Liberals of the country make, just check how their wives and girlfriends are dressed.
The great, hoary myth is that the fumbling Tories are the party of Bay Street, representing only bloated capitalists who all look like J.P. Morgan. Yet at a Conservative convention one finds all these types from small Alberta towns and the back reaches of Ontario. It is the Liberal conventions that
Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.
are Pinstripe City. The Liberals are the Natural Governing Party, and the people with money like that consistency. A glance around the Westin Hotel, which sits overlooking the Rideau Canal and the Château Laurier—which sits reminiscing about Queen Victoria—and the new Ottawa Congress Centre confirms that this is a fashion show as much as a political convention.
It’s no surprise. There were some 200 “observers” at the Turner fandango—spies from other parties, pointy-headed academics preparing
books, political groupies and other assorted sadomasochists. It cost them $250 just to sit and observe. The delegates themselves—the usual 2,650 of the 26 million Canadians who decide on prime ministerial candidates —had to fork out $595 apiece just to attend. It is a lawyers’ holiday, a feast of plastic in this recession-proof town that lives off meetings rather than production.
There is an imperial tone to any Liberal gathering. Marc Lalonde, lonely without power, arrived from Montreal with his own public relations emissaries. Jimmy Cutes, naked without the protective covering of power, huddled in Delta’s Inn of the Provinces with a protective covering of pals, rejecting invitations to do his famed imitations of Paul Martin Sr. and Jack Pickersgill, as familiar to partygoers as wearing lampshades. Pierre Trudeau, ever the tantalizer, waited until opening day to announce he would be in Hawaii instead. Jean Chrétien flirts about, at-
tracting crowds like moths at a Turner convention —exactly the same as Turner used to do at Trudeau conventions. His staged entrances to the convention, as orchestrated as old matinee idols arriving at opening night, were perfected previously by Turner. Politics is such a lovely business.
What we have here, within the cavernous confines of the Ottawa Congress Centre, is a party fighting with itself. Turner and outgoing president, Iona Campagnolo, speak fiercely of “reform”—sounding rather like CCF puritans on the ramparts in Regina in
1933. They want to make the party “democratic.” Oh? Meaning it has been undemocratic all these decades, going back to the early 1960s, when the hated Keith Davey, on Lester Pearson’s instructions, went up to Montreal to recruit Turner as a Liberal candidate?
The Tories are in power, and Ed Broadbent is high in the polls, and so the Liberals must play the only card they have never tried through the years: to become “democratic” in nature. It is a huge giggle. The Davey that Turner now denounces as “old-guard” in Turner
halfway through his disastrous 1984 campaign in hopes old-guard ways could save things. The Mulroney government is now taking the rap for the revelations that its Liberal predecessors skewed job-enhancing funds to Quebec in attempts to keep their traditional political base. The Liberal party-based on patronage, the loosest monopoly laws of any developed country and a packed Senate—has been profoundly undemocratic for all these years we know and love so well.
It’s amusing to watch the managerial class of the country, splendid in their designer threads, passing brave resolutions on women’s rights and day care and a national youth corps and a Western industrial strategy when it really is interested in only one thing: power. A Liberal party out of power seems as uncomfortable as a fish with a bicycle. The fashion photographers, not the political scientists, would be the proper analysts of this gathering of non-democrats.
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