When the denizens of the Cabbage Patch invade Rideau Hall, those august walls may well bear the first brunt of the impact: Toban Schreyer, aged 3½, much enjoys crayoning his name (sometimes even backwards) on any available surface; the manic gleam in his eye offers bleak hope he will be able to distinguish down-home, slightly-soiled walls from highfalutin Upper Canada GovernorGeneral’s mansion walls. This is a kid who can’t even say protocol, let alone follow it. “Can you imagined groans Lily Schreyer, flashing a charming smile at some determined art work on the kitchen wall of the Schreyers’
chaotic, cluttered bungalow (which Schreyer himself named the Cabbage Patch) on the outskirts of Winnipeg. The writing on the wall was not, alas, the kind that could have foretold the stunning impact on the nation—and on his own family—of the news that Edward Schreyer had just been appointed Governor-General. A reserved sometimes aloof man whose wife and four
children are widely considered to be his only emotional intimates, Schreyer was particularly touched when his 14-yearold daughter, Karmel, offered her support: “If that’s what Daddy really wants.”
That proposition was just as intriguing to those familiar on a much more formal basis with Schreyer as the past premier of Manitoba and one of Can-
ada’s leading New Democratic Party politicians. Did Ed Schreyer, 43 this month, a populist politician from a party with a healthy skepticism toward the monarchy, really want to submerge himself in the pomp and ceremony of the vice-regal life in Canada, offering up Governor-Generalities instead of hard-nosed political speeches in a role that was by definition pompous? Schreyer, in a private interview with Maclean’s a few hours after his appointment, seemed bothered by the merest suggestion that there would be anything stuffy about what he was doing: “The last two governors-general were certainly not pompous and I won’t be the one to revive it.” He promised to be a travelling Governor-General, “the kind you’ll see less in Ottawa and more in towns like Corner Brook and Meadowview.”
here may be little in Schreyer’s
background to recommend him as a I traditional Governor-General, but there is much to suggest that he could well be an up-to-date reflection of the Canadian cultural mosaic. Born in Beausejour (40 miles northeast of Winnipeg) to Roman Catholic parents of
German extraction, he was raised on' a farm,developing into a crack baseball player (he once thought of turning pro) and an earnest scholar. He moved quickly through the University of Manitoba, earning four degrees before going on to teach political science and international relations at his alma mater. He considers his academic career “not irrelevant” to the job he now begins.
Over the past year, there seemed little doubt that Schreyer, long after embarking, at age 22, on a stunningly successful political career with only one loss—the defeat of his two-term government in October, 1977—had been looking for a way out of Manitoba political life. “And who can blame him for wishing to lay down the mantle,” sighs Saul Cherniak, his former finance minister and a longtime political admirer. “I guess we just got used to the idea of him not going.” Yet even as the Manitoba NDP lurched like the victim of an electrical shock into an uncertain leadership campaign, there was a sense of button-bursting pride that Schreyer had become the first Governor-General with genuine Western roots. There was also among party members the gratitude that Schreyer, in taking a nonpolitical post, had left the party’s dignity intact. Anything else but the embodiment of country, Queen and national unity (he was offered, among other things, a Liberal cabinet post and the chairmanship of the National Energy Board) would have appeared as an abandonment of the party. In the past other politicians have swooned over Schreyer’s sense of timing. (In 1969, as MP, he returned to Manitoba to win the party leadership and then, astoundingly, barely three weeks later led it to victory after it had stood third at dissolution). §
Last week it seemed that Schreyer x still had a good eye for directing his own destiny. “He would not have taken this job simply because it was offered,” said one Manitoba businessman.
“Clearly he thinks he can do something with it. Ed Schreyer is on his way to becoming the nation’s social conscience.” A passion for the North, a driving commitment to native rights, an exhaustive knowledge about resource husbandry and, finally, a desperate desire to do his bit for national unity—here is clearly not a GovernorGeneral who will be talking about the weather.
Because of his farm background, Schreyer has an affinity for hardworking people of the land and a grace in dealing with them he never quite developed with city slickers. Some urban sophisticates, in fact, claim he is deadly dull. However, the fact that he has, at different times, found himself intellec-
tually simpático with well-known thinkers as disparate as author Farley Mowat, economist John Kenneth Galbraith, California Governor Jerry Brown and, of course, Pierre Trudeau says something of his lively mind (although he has admitted to reading hydro reports for pleasure and relaxation). Lily, who some predict will make “the best first lady ever,” is socially brighter and quicker than he is and likes to tease him about his less than sparkling wit. She loves to tell about the time she and then-premier Schreyer, while driving through her hometown of Grandview, bumped into a former boyfriend of hers who had been reduced to pumping gas. “Where would you be if you had married him?” said Schreyer. “I’d still be the wife of the premier,” she shot back. Another time, they were at a party when the dancing started. Schreyer, who is, predictably, not Mani-
toba’s answer to Fred Astaire, was looking a little down at the mouth. “Go to bed, Ed,” instructed his wife. “You’re dull.”
To say the Schreyers are unpretentious does not quite do justice to their tired, blue, 1973 Plymouth parked in the driveway, their open-door policy with friends and neighbors, their appetite for pork hocks and perogies. They previously admitted that the last time they lived in Ottawa (during his 1965-1969 stint as a federal MP) they missed their family and friends and had a difficult time feeling at home. This time, with an expanded family and a lot
more experience in public life, they are returning to play a far more prominent role in the cultural and political arena. When Trudeau approached him, said Schreyer, “I asked myself whether it was really credible that I, of all people, should be asked.” Once the shock of such a tradition-shattering appointment had passed, the feeling among political participants and observers seemed to be one of delight and anticipation of a new place in history for the Governor-General. “I don’t think the question is, ‘Why did I want it?’’’says Ed Schreyer. “It has to be, ‘How could I not accept it?’
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.