THE WEEK

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Queen of the zingers

ROBERT SHEPPARD March 24 2003
THE WEEK

Exit

Queen of the zingers

ROBERT SHEPPARD March 24 2003

Exit

THE WEEK

Queen of the zingers

She arrived in a blaze of glory, a 36-year-old schoolteacher from northern Alberta elected in a by-election in 1989—the first Reform MP from the again disgruntled West. Official Ottawa was determined not to notice. The Mulroney Tories stashed her in a far-off corner of the House of Commons, almost hidden among the curtains, and said she’d be a one-term wonder. Boy, did they get that wrong.

By the time the 1993 election was over, Deborah Grey had 51 Reform MPs beside her, including party leader Preston Manning. And the Tories were wiped out in their Alberta bastion. For many at that point, she was the matriarchal face of Reform—her schoolmarm certainty and booming auctioneer’s voice forming an odd congruence with her relentlessly middle-aged male colleagues. Her attacks on the trough-fed To-

ries over the Charlottetown accord and MPs’ pensions—she ridiculed fellow parliamentarians as “porkers” and cut her own pay by 10 per cent to protest runaway spending— did as much to drive the Conservatives from power in their western base as anything the Liberals ever did. And when she turned full circle two years ago and bought back into the parliamentary pension plan, you could hear the enmity dripping from Tory leader Joe Clark’s description of her as “the high priestess of hypocrisy.”

It just rolled off. By that point, Grey was the self-described queen of the zingy oneliner. The target could be Brian Mulroney or Jean Chrétien—“Why can’t the Prime Minister just swallow his pride, spit out his foot and say he’s sorry? ” she badgered Chrétien over his GST flip-flop. Or even the many female MPs with whom she never bonded (“I didn’t turn out to be the sister they thought they were getting”). She was also the

one who drove the final nail—“the gig is up”—into Stockwell Day’s coffin. Her highprofile defection legitimized the dissident group who split from the Canadian Alliance caucus for nine months, paving the way for Stephen Harper’s leadership ascent and her own eventual marginalization, back to the same remote Commons bench.

Now her gig is up. She told her Edmonton constituents last week she won’t seek reelection. She’s going to get her motorbike out of storage and maybe look for a job as a talk-show host. As the insistent outsider, one who never forgot her early parliamentary slights or saw a sacred cow that wasn’t worth attacking, she has all the qualifications. She had those for Parliament, too. It needed her breath of fresh air.

ROBERT SHEPPARD