Guy Lafleur? Barth Gimble? What ministry do they work in?

Allan Fotheringham June 12 1978

Guy Lafleur? Barth Gimble? What ministry do they work in?

Allan Fotheringham June 12 1978

Guy Lafleur? Barth Gimble? What ministry do they work in?

Allan Fotheringham

If you want to know why this country is in trouble you must know that one night recently, over a quantity of gin, I was sitting around a kitchen table with a senior minister in the Liberal cabinet—this happened to be in the midst of the Stanley Cup annual fisticuffs—who professed not to know who Guy Lafleur is.

This recalls the famous story when the Trudeau aides, seeking as always to hu-

manize his image before a working-class audience, suggested that he toss in a topical reference to Hank Aaron. Who is Hank Aaron? Well, ahem. It was explained, he is a baseball player who at the moment is set to surpass Babe Ruth’s home run record. Who is Babe Ruth?

Well, er, ahem, it was explained, with some rolling of eyes, who Babe Ruth was. So came the speech and there was the prime minister, exhorting the voters not to give up on the Liberals because even Hank Aaron is allowed three strikes and of course they knew that

Hank Aaron was soon to break the home run record of “Baby” Ruth.

Now, Mr. Trudeau is from a different milieu and a different culture and is not exactly a devotee of the nuances of American professional team sport, but others have fewer excuses. In Ottawa the other day I made some references, several times on several different occasions, before some very responsible journalists, to Barth Gimble, the hottest figure in satire these days. They looked blank. They’d never heard of him.

Barth Gimble is the fictitious talk-show host played by Martin Mull on the crazy Norman Lear creation, America 2-Night. It puts down politicians and inane journalistic questions and has pretty well destroyed anyone who still takes seriously Johnny Carson and like-minded minor imitators. Martin Mull’s Barth Gimble has become a cult figure over the last year, the program is carried on an Ottawa TV station every night and my friends had never heard of him. I once made mention of Robert Fulford, editor of Saturday Night and one of the best-known critics in Canada, to one of the quickest cabinet wives in Ottawa. She had never heard-of him.

All these seemingly-unconnected items are little chips of evidence in what makes up Coma City. Ottawa is in a mental void. It floats out there, zonked on its own power, inhabited by a self-obsessed popu-

lation that is cut off from the ordinary flow of thought that links people and centres in the real world.

Proof of all this is given by, surprisingly, someone who thinks he is defending this intellectually-orphanized city. Dr. Gerald Sarwer-Foner, head of psychiatry at the University of Ottawa, says the city’s residents demand more personalized psychiatric services than any similar popu-

lation in Canada—not because they’re sicker but because they’re smarter. “Ottawa has the highest concentration of welleducated university graduates—blue collar, middleand upper-middle-class people—of any city of its size in the world.”

All true, and all the more reason why it is a complacent ghetto dedicated, mainly, to the further comfort of the subsidized people who live there. Ottawa—the Canadian voters resent this without precisely knowing why—has become a freak pasture for those who lust after security. As the good shrink proudly tells us, most of his patients have upper-form complaints. Ottawa civil servants are now the highestpaid in the world. It is a one-industry, oneowner, pulp-and-paper town, all three facets of employees—whether politician, press or civil servant—sucking off the main teat.

We’ve dealt with this before in this space, but it is the simple lack of touch with the common reality that affects the rest of the country that is so apparent. The Toronto Star, largest and richest paper in the land (4*5 minutes away by air) is almost unknown in this town. On the other hand, it must be one of the few national capitals in the world where the major influential papers—the Toronto Globe and Ma,l and Montreal Gazette—are from elsewhere. The national and U.S. magazines that

somehow make it to Vancouver, 3,000 miles distant, on Tuesdays, vaguely drift into Ottawa on Thursday or Friday. No one seems to notice. It is a city that operates in mental slow motion when it comes to matters relating to the real world.

The airport, serving the nation’s capital, is the most disorganized and chaotic terminal in the country. Dick and Jane have been hired to paint the directional signs to

the planes. It is so bad, one gets the impression civil servants run it. In fact, they do. They are called Air Canada. The latest good book? Sorry, the bookstores don’t have their order in yet. Restaurants? Someone misplaced the order and Ottawa—with the once-fabled Hull establishments having declined also—hasn’t even the mediocre standard it was stuck with four years ago.

One small cavil must be established here. It is not to suggest Ottawa is an unpleasant place for those who live there. That is the entire point. It is

now a plus playground for those who have their molars sunk into the public purse. Everyone who lives there has a vested interest in the process. Because it is not on the main path to anywhere, it is not in the mainstream of the country’s thought processes.

Because it is a city without pressure— without real marketplace pressure and the impatience of inhabitants of real cities—it is therefore a city without deadlines, without priorities, a serene orchardland where salaries and seniority and tenure never perish. It is the equivalent of an Arizona Sun City where procrastinators—rather than pensioners—go to die.

It is a village (masquerading as a city) that thinks everything that happens here is terribly important and that nothing that happens outside can ever be important. In fact, as the village-manque grows even more affluent and comfortable, it simply increases its isolation from the real world. Do you really want your country run by a government that includes a guy who has never heard of Guy Lafleur?

They may not be sick and they may be smarter, but they’re out of it. The denizens of this-here place are simply not connected with reality. Barth Gimble and Guy Lafleur may be strange touchstones to j udge a city’s relevance, but they are an interesting litmus paper for a smug suburbia that is Coma City Inc.