COLUMN

The real meaning of scandal

Allan Fotheringham July 10 1989
COLUMN

The real meaning of scandal

Allan Fotheringham July 10 1989

The real meaning of scandal

COLUMN

BY ALLAN FOTHERINGHAM

There may be hope for the nation after all. There may be some salvation beneath all the gloom. Things may not be as black as painted. Since Confederation, the country has been consumed by the complaint that the big province, Ontario, has bullied all the rest. The Family Compact ruled, and Sir John A. structured Canada under the National Policy so that Ontario would be protected by a tariff wall, the rest of the land being mere suppliers of cheap resources.

There is now a breakthrough, some proof that Ontario is not all that confident and superior as had been assumed. This astonishing revelation comes with the news that the entire province—Toronto especially—is quivering on the edge of collapse because of Patti Starr and a free fridge.

One is astounded that a smooth-sailing majority government can be shaken in its boots by a social-climber housewife and a gratis Westinghouse, but them’s the facts these days in the province that we once thought of as the height of sophistication and know-how. I guess we’ll have to rethink our thinking.

The story so far is that Patti Starr, an unknown to the general public a month ago, has emerged as a general busybody who has Premier David Peterson back on his heels. Patti, it seems, liked to get ahead and saw her chance when the Liberals—starving in the wilderness since 1943—finally achieved power in 1985.

Patti, it now turns out, while in charge of a nice Jewish ladies’ charity fund, was merrily sending off some of the money to various politicians—Liberal, Conservative, federal cabinet minister, whoever might be useful. This, unfortunately, is against the law. When this came out, Patti, who had been named chairman of Ontario Place by the Peterson regime, suddenly did a disappearing act and immediately became the Typhoid Mary of Toronto.

Patti had become close political buddies of the three Del Zotto brothers, sons of an immigrant bricklayer and now very wealthy developers. Gordon Ashworth, meanwhile, a thin

reed backroom type who grew up in the British Columbia Liberal party when it could have held its annual convention in a Volkswagen van, had reached his Peter Principle as chief aide and patronage dispenser in the Peterson office. When it was revealed that Ashworth—hitherto silent—had accepted a free refrigerator and a paint job on his house from a suddenly silent Del Zotto adjunct, courtesy the generous Patti, it was as if the world had ended in worldly Toronto.

This is why there is hope. It is as if the No. 1 city in the land had discovered sin. There was a sudden loss of memory about the plush 42-year reign of the Ontario Conservatives—the longest run by any government in the world outside Bulgaria. The Tories, through Leslie Frost to John Robarts to Bill Davis, were well financed by their business friends, who were treated well when it came to contracts and commissions.

Peter Lougheed and his Conservatives were kept in power by the generosity of the Alberta oil and gas interests, who benefited so much from the relevant provincial legislation. There is no great secret that Bill Vander Zalm’s rise to the leadership of the Social Credit party was financed by a prominent British Columbia developer.

We do not even have to get into the dreary tale of politics in Quebec, which have been based on patronage since Adam was a pup. A number of people get their driveways mysteriously paved in Nova Scotia just before elections, and recent prosecutions have shown that the old custom of mickies of rum on election day in return for a vote still prevails.

The reason the Brian Mulroney Conservatives are being so embarrassed at all their niggling scandals is that they are just not very skilful at governing and hiding things—unlike the Liberals, who have run the country for most of this century and were accustomed to a clever disguising of where they got their campaign funds.

Compared to what has gone before, a measly refrigerator and a touch-up on a paint job is a mere piffle. A scandal that amounts to perhaps $2,000 is hardly worth the name scandal. It is an affront to the English language, considering what has gone before. Sine Stevens’s wife was at least getting substantial loans, not a lousy fridge. Bob Coates’s resignation at least had a little sex in it, not a housepainting job, which must be the least erotic bit of political hanky-panky ever devised.

The shock coursing through Toronto cocktail parties at the moment is actually a function of nostalgia. The veterans of Bay Street are surprised that the pristine Liberals of David Peterson, only four years in power, are exhibiting some of the traits of the Conservatives at Queen’s Park who knew that a surplus of campaign donations always guaranteed electoral success.

If Toronto can be shocked by this, it is not the mini-New York it aspires to be. Such consternation is worthy of a really big scam, a major disappearance of funds or a high party functionary fleeing the country, as a mayor of New York once had to do, not to mention a Vancouver police chief. The loyal voters don’t mind an occasional scandal (in fact, expect them), but they demand only one thing: spectacular details and juicy intrigue.

Refrigerators and house-paintings don’t supply those necessary ingredients. Patti Starr and the Del Zottos and Gordon Ashworth aren’t really interesting enough yet. Toronto must be going soft.