COLUMN

A government that has run out of puff

August 3 1992
COLUMN

A government that has run out of puff

August 3 1992

A government that has run out of puff

COLUMN

The flameout of the impostor Ross Perot, the billionaire who wanted to be president until he discovered it involved work, has put attention on the people who enter public life. Why do they do it? Is it worth the candle? What drives them on?

As Canadians wait—not-so-patiently—to get this Conservative government into the polling booth, it is useful to pause and observe what eight years in power have done to those at the top. Just look at those satchels under B. Mulroney’s eyes. It is a face by Samsonite. Why didn’t he stay a lawyer?

Someone once described Joe Clark as a Brillo pad. No matter how much you bash him, he springs back to his previous self. The native peoples pound him because of his concessions to Quebec? His own wife sues the government of which he is a cabinet minister? The Prime Minister dumps on his proud new constitutional solution? The Reform seems likely to take his Alberta seat from him? Never mind. Look at that weary face, those sagging jowls. The Brillo pad is intact.

This is a tired cabinet. John Crosbie, scion of a millionaire Newfoundland family, gold-medal winner in every university he has ever attended, once the most entertaining speaker in Canada, has to nail his hotel door shut and pile furniture against it to fight of! his fellow Newfies who wish to hang him because of the disappearance of the cod. He seems likely, as with Clark, not to run again.

The perpetual windup toy, Michael Wilson—a home in Toronto already purchased prior to his return to Bay Street—goes on making those incomprehensible speeches, getting on and of! airplanes, no one listening to him, just another interchangeable part of a cabinet that has run out of puff.

This is the government that has lost one minister, however temporarily, to a midnight motorcycle ride. Another’s career disappeared in a German strip club, yet another vanished from the horizon after an expense-account limo ride that seemed to take her from the North Sea to the Mediterranean.

The amiable Mazankowski, floundering un-

der dollar numbers and statistics he may or may not understand, has lost the good nature and generosity that was his major strength in a cabinet full of too many lawyers.

Kim Campbell, the brainy and humorless lawyer from Vancouver, has now passed Barbara McDougall as the best chance to be the first female Tory leader and possibly prime minister. Perrin Beatty, the most ambitious pretender to the Mulroney tarnished crown, has the persona of a post-office clerk to most Canadians.

The voters, who are puzzled by most everything this government does, are puzzled by what Marcel Masse—who likes most of all to go to art galleries and invent new museums for Quebec—is doing as minister of defence. Mulroney, who does not dare sack him for fear of outraging Quebec nationalists, where he has a strong following, apparently has decided to make a joke of him.

The Tories, with a cabinet three times the size of the one in Washington, do not give the impression of having any new regenerative blood. Mulroney’s personal pick as his successor, Jean Charest—so as to retain that dearly won Quebec base—is a bright and charming fellow, but almost unknown in TROC, as The Rest of Canada is now known.

The malaise on the government benches, like measles, is apparently capable of infection elsewhere. Across the floor, Jean Chrétien seems a man on the hunt for a policy, or a consistent stand, perhaps a principle or two, a politician thrashing around in the thickets avoiding saying almost anything in hopes the election will reach him before a reporter asks him a question.

The NDP has sent out a search party in a quest for Audrey McLaughlin, who seems to have been captured by space aliens and carried off to some hidden destination. Her silence on major issues and invisible presence are almost eerie—a national leader with the impact of Casper the Ghost. Or is it Harvey the Rabbit?

Those who have not fallen asleep note that Quebec’s Bourassa, before winding his watch, first checks over his shoulder, fearing the reaction of Jacques Parizeau, who with his new barber and tailor has updated his image so that he now resembles someone out of a 1950’s detective movie.

The intelligent and oncebouncy Bob Rae of Ontario, ruined by the recession, now feels the recipe for his province’s travails to be mandatory helmets for bicyclists and slot machines in the bingo parlors. Getty of Alberta has proved to be a mountebank, willing to risk the separation of Quebec if only he can steal the platform of the Reform wave and demand a Senate that can never be equal under the parliamentary system.

There is gloom most everywhere, the most sensible politicians in the land seeming to be McKenna of New Brunswick and Ghiz of Prince Edward Island, the two without any power. Romanow of Saskatchewan is knackered because of his province’s economic plight. Harcourt of the Left Coast, isolated by his mountains, looking to Japan, envied and looked down upon because of the blissful lifestyle of his lucky constituents, is not the factor he would be in another location.

It is clear only an election can clear the air, or a referendum asking if you would like an election, or a referendum dependent on a skilltesting question as to how many angels can dance on Ovide Mercredis head.

My pick for prime minister? Quite simple. Mila.