Cover Story

A happy warrior with a little luck

Roy MacGregor November 6 1978
Cover Story

A happy warrior with a little luck

Roy MacGregor November 6 1978

A happy warrior with a little luck

Just about the worst that can be said of Barney Danson has already been said. On the night of the 1974 federal election, Stephen Roman—the mega-millionaire boss of Denison Mines who had just spent $108,759 fighting a losing campaign to knock Danson out of his Ontario York-North riding—stood up to demonstrate why some candidates get called “graceful losers” and others do not. His opponent, Roman said, was “a despicable human being—a son of a bitch—and you can quote me on that.”

Four years later, Barnett Jerome Danson may well be the least despised of a generally unpopular federal cabinet. After two years as minister for urban affairs and the last two as defence minister, the 57year-old self-made millionaire—contrary to being called a son of a bitch by even nonattributable sources—is widely admired, and probably quite capable of beating Stephen Roman yet again, for the third fall out of three.

When he was appointed to the defence portfolio in November of 1976, Danson was mainly interesting because he was billed as the only Jewish defence minister outside of Israel. Since then, however, his image has come into focus as an intriguing wild card in the federal cabinet, a classical mugwump ^ who is capable, within a few weeks, of ; suggesting the Western alliance make a '¿ gift of the neutron bomb to the Soviet Union g and then stating that Soviet policy is to -impose its political philosophy by force. For the first suggestion, he was resoundingly criticized in Canada; for the second he was raked over red coals by Tass, the Soviet news agency.

Danson’s statements range from profound to banal. About his penchant for bilingualism he has said, “We have made the mistake of turning a Canadian opportunity into a Canadian problem.” But he wrote to the company that sent him two pet rocks, and asked: “Do they get stoned? If so, do they become passive or 'boulder'?”

Behind the corny prankster, not surprisingly, is an adroit politician who was once called “dangerous" by an officer who feared the Armed Forces might actually get to like their new minister, something that is generally just not done. Through such acts as promoting military service as a character builder (his Katimavik program for youth), buying rounds of beer for noncommissioned officers and letting his wife’s autographed panties sit on display at the Arctic Circle’s Alert base, Danson has become the most popular defence minister since Léo Cadieux in the late '60s.

A grade 11 dropout, Danson's down-toearth manner has caused little bad blood; most of the arguments have been minor, as

in the case of his vetoing the military's plan to base a commando unit in Ottawa. The worst moment was undoubtedly this past summer when he openly doubted the value of elite units and was chastised for his “stupid” remarks by Colonel Jacques Painchaud, the commander of the cocky Canadian Airborne Regiment. It became a trap for Danson: he had to have Painchaud removed, but in doing so he cost the Special Service Force its best-liked officer. Danson argues that he was really saying, “I

consider all of my troops elite,” but he does admit: “Perhaps I expressed myself rather badly.” For all that, the Airborne will never forgive him.

But most others genuinely like him. Danson is, after all, a veteran himself, a lieutenant in the Queen’s Own Rifles who lost his left eye and four of his five best friends in the 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy. He has also been defence minister—a position he openly coveted—at a most opportune time. James Richardson, an unpopular minister who couldn’t mix with the military, nevertheless had financial clout in cabinet, and before Richardson resigned over language rights he set in motion virtually every spending scheme that is currently pumping hot air into the Danson political balloon.

And no one is more aware of this great good fortune than the eternal optimist himself “There was a vacuum waiting to be filled,” Danson admits. And then the eyes close as the bird-smile grows in self-delight: “My timing was pretty good.”

Roy MacGregor