For a chap who is the most intelligent man in the Mulroney cabinet, John Crosbie says some awfully silly things at periodic intervals. The only man in the House of Commons who doesn’t speak either of the two official languages ended his quest for the Conservative leadership (he would have been prime minister today) with his celebrated remark that equated his failure to speak French with his inability to speak Chinese or German either. And of course he hasn’t read every word of the free trade agreement (that’s what deputy ministers, aides, flunkies, factotums and grunts are for) —but why would he invite so much trouble by even mentioning the fact?
His most nonsensical utterance, however, is his remark—as the designated shill for free trade—to a Montreal seminar: that Canada would lose its culture or sovereignty in a free trade agreement with a partner 10 times its size is a “nonsensical argument.” In 1946, Crosbie explained, 38 per cent of Canada’s exports were sent to the United States, compared with 80 per cent today. “Yet I don’t think anyone could argue that our culture is more subordinate to the U.S. today than it was in 1946 or that we’re less sovereign.”
This is such preposterous piffle, such naked codswallop, that one wonders whether John, so sweet of nature, has had his brains addled by Sheila Copps’s shrieks. In 1946, there used to be a Canadian magazine called Liberty. There was The Star Weekly. There used to be a magazine called Mayfair. Go to any newsstand in the country today and take a look. It is dominated by American magazines, swamped by American magazines telling our teenagers how to cure acne and buy condoms, offering house and garden advice and the latest Vancouver popsy bedded by Hugh Hefner. That’s what has happened from 1946 to 1988—a period when the Newf with the high IQ apparently was out to lunch.
In 1946, there actually used to be
real live Canadian football coaches coaching in the Canadian Football League. Annis Stukus used to wear his wristwatch, and no shoulder pads, when he kicked field goals for the Edmonton Eskimos —before admitting Vancouver into Confederation by inventing the B.C. Lions in 1954. In 1988, we’ve got all U.S. coaches who—their intellects not capable of contending with our 12-man game—simply send one receiver wide every play so as to get rid of him so they can get on with the American 11-man game.
Our culture is no more subordinate to
the United States today? Look at the best-seller list. It has been topped for some weeks (to our shame) by the ghostwritten autobiography of a young New York billionaire by the name of Donald Trump, who is everything a boy should not grow up to be. Back in those days that Crosbie seems so ignorant of, Canadians used to get their evening television news from Earl Cameron and then Stanley Burke. Today they get their suppertime fix from Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings (who sends a frisson of delight through American matrons every time he pronounces “about”).
In 1946, the National Hockey League was dominated by the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. The NHL headquarters was in Montreal. The NHL president was a Canadian, most notably a fearless autocrat called Clarence Campbell who had the guts to come to the Montreal Forum for a vital playoff game, after suspending Quebec folk hero Rocket Richard, and stoically
faced up to the taunts and tear gas of the mob that wrecked Ste. Catherine Street in the Montreal riot.
In 1988, the NHL is populated by strange collections of weak-ankled goons from places called Hartford and New Jersey, the NHL headquarters is in New York, and the NHL president is an empty suit called John Ziegler, who can’t be found at vital moments and who attends games only when his missing weekends don’t interfere.
In 1946, we had a strange little prime minister who, in his own mysterious way, was winkling Canada away from Mother Hen Britannia. In 1988, we have a prime minister who is a Yankeelover, seems more personally comfortable in Washington than in Toronto and does not seem aware of the country he is selling off to the elephant that would like to swallow its water and its resources.
John Crosbie was the gold medallist when he graduated from Queen’s University. He was the gold medallist when he graduated from Dalhousie Law School, the top law student in Canada and o winner of a scholarship to £ the London School of Ecog nomics. Unfortunately, he “ did not receive a degree in common sense.
In those postwar years that he airily dismisses, the most important men in Canadian film-making were John Grierson, a genius who built the National Film Board, and Norman McLaren, a genius who won world fame for his painting-on-film animations. Today, in 1988, the most important person in the Canadian film industry is a squat little man who lives in Washington. His name is Jack Valenti, the rich lobbyist for the Hollywood interests who has R. Reagan’s ear, attends every White House party and through Washington-via-Sussex Drive pressures has emasculated Flora MacDonald’s brave but futile attempt to guard Canadian film interests. Crosbie knows all about it; he sat around the cabinet table as Flora was stripped of her principles.
John, you don’t have to read every jot and tittle of the free trade pact. We don’t care. But, for once, would you just sit down a minute and think?
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.