Canada

The kidnapping of Ged’s baby

Jane O’Hara November 5 1979
Canada

The kidnapping of Ged’s baby

Jane O’Hara November 5 1979

The kidnapping of Ged’s baby

Like an anxious child rising early on Christmas morning, Gerald Baldwin awoke at 6 a m. last Wednesday, a good nine hours before the Conservatives tabled their freedom of information bill. His excitement was justified. Having spent the past 10 of his 22 parliamentary years as a single-minded Tory freedom fighter for more open government, Wednesday was, as one MP put it: “Ged’s day.” And although, politically, it promised to be the best of times for the 72-year-old gentleman lawyer from Peace River, Alberta, personally it also had to be a bit of a letdown. Baldwin, who had carried the ball for the Tories since 1969 when he introduced the first of his four freedom of information private member’s bills, was subtly shunted to the sidelines last week while ministerial heavyweights Walter Baker, the deputy prime minister, and Justice Minister Jacques Flynn scored the political touchdowns. “It would be a misnomer to say that I was consulted on the bill,” said Baldwin, once the parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and later Opposition House leader under Robert Stanfield. “The bill was drafted by Baker and the bureaucrats. My part was quite limited.”

It is somewhat ironic that Baldwin, the man Baker has called “the father of freedom of information,” was not shown a copy of the bill before Baker tabled it in the House. Equally surprising was the fact that Baldwin was not accorded the courtesy of seconding the motion to table the bill. Environment Minister John Fraser did the honors and, as one Baldwin aide remarked, “I think Ged was hurt by that. They didn’t ask him to second the bill and he didn’t ask them.”

The final snub occurred at a press conference outlining the specifics of the bill. As Baldwin stood in the shadows like an elder statesman in exile, Baker, Flynn, Liberal critic John Reid and NDP MP Ian Waddell made their partisan pitches for the primetime newscasts. By the time Baldwin stepped forward—1 Vá hours later—only one TV camera and a handful of print journalists remained. “I feel like Cinderella one minute before midnight,” said Baldwin, before giving the bill his qualified approval. “I was going to call the legislation a great leap forward, but I give it a B-plus or an A-minus.”

Throughout his parliamentary career, Baldwin has been neither predictable nor particularly partisan, facts evidenced two weeks ago when, surprising the Tory hierarchy, he stood up in the House and presented a motion calling for an investigation of the Official Secrets Act. “I was just testing the government,” said Baldwin, “to see if they were going all the way on this.” In a rare show of parliamentary unanimity, Baldwin's motion received all-party approval— a signal tribute from his appreciative colleagues. At last week’s press conference, Baldwin came in for another unexpected honor. Upon concluding his comments, Baldwin was ushered from the stage with a round of applause. Who started clapping? Not the Conservatives—none of them re-

mained. It was the press.

Jane O’Hara