Column

Some delicious justice and Crosbie’s artful con job

Allan Fotheringham December 24 1979
Column

Some delicious justice and Crosbie’s artful con job

Allan Fotheringham December 24 1979

Some delicious justice and Crosbie’s artful con job

Column

Allan Fotheringham

It is the most droll irony of all that the Liberals, whose wisdom emanates from the boardrooms of the nation, have been muckered into an election they do not want by a living Newfie joke. John Crosbie, who is as rich as half of Bay Street but affects the rustic drawl of an educated Li’l Abner, is the real architect of the hilarious scenario of Canadians going to the polls in midwinter, with the trapdoors of their minds still frozen open. By dangling before the befuddled Opposition a budget drafted by Scrooge, the only finance minister to graduate from Laugh-In has conned the supreme cynics of the political stage into a contest they must fight without a coronated leader. Some Newfie. Some joke.

John Crosbie, at this stage in December, is the real heart of the Tories.

Joe Clark is a synthesizer, a chairman of the bored, a nervous lad whose quavering palms reveal his conz stant surprise at being § where he is. He is many £ underestimated things, £ but he is not a natural g leader.

Clark, on the fumbled Thursday night of bluff when his tiny imperfect government fell, could not hide the tic of distress on his face at the prospect (unlikely) of so much so soon suddenly snatched away from him. He was just swinging into the role, gaining confidence perceptibly week by week, an overachiever at last rewarded with the fruits of his diligence, a stamp-licker elevated light-years beyond his aspirations. Was all this to be yanked from him so precipitously?

Crosbie, on this same night of Marx Brothers japes, was the opposite—an intellectual brawler who cannot abide a reporter’s microphone without his lip curling in mischief. The finance minister who socks it to the taxpayers at the pumps and the grog shop wears $117 moccasins while doing so. He enjoys the incongruity of his role, the toff masquerading as a good ol’ boy.

In 1949, the day the stubborn rock of Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for the FP News Service.

Newfoundland joined Canada, there was an interesting little tableau at St. Andrew’s, the exclusive private school outside Toronto where the Newfoundland rich send their sons in a vain attempt to absolve them of their irreverence. The tired seed of the titled watched in wonderment as a clutch of Newfies stood in the dining halldraped in the laces of their rugby boots dyed black—tears streaming down their faces and bellowing defiantly the words to Ode to Newfoundland. One of the Newfies was Frank Moores, who

some years later became premier of that distinctive island. Another was Crosbie who would eventually tell Canadians where to send their taxes.

A Newfie in the counting room? In fact, as the Clark collection of superstitious rustics unfolded in their indecision, Jerusalem and Petrocan strung behind them like tin cans in a wedding getaway car, it was the ebullient finance minister—a punster in the seat of dour Presbyterian bankers—who assumed the tough-guy stance on the front bench. It was one of the artful con jobs of our time, the most daring and daunting member of an unexciting cabinet out front as the hit man, taunting the Liberals who are not used to that.

There is a self-destructive quality about this Liberal gang in the last month of the decade, their credibility seeping through the egg timer each day as Pierre Trudeau, his inner torments hidden within him, sits reluctantly on the front bench and broods through a question period he obviously finds irrel-

evant. Leaderless, the Liberals had become sloppy in their thinking and their execution. Leaderless, their coy Commons games to demonstrate their manhood—the boring nonconfidence ploys—took on an air of inside fraternity boy game-playing, a diversion in their unhappiness, a means of occupying their unaccustomed time in the unfamiliar fields of Opposition.

While the party twisted and turned in the wind, pulled this way by the Turner dream and somewhat desultory at the Macdonald prospect, the impatient crown prince who did not have courage for the kill squirmed in indecision. The front bench, redolent with left-over Liberal arrogance, gazed each day in puzzlement at the nervous twitchings of the left leg of Joe Clark, a man born with congenital twitchiness. The newcomers in the back bench, awed by the aloof grandeur of the Trudeau myth sitting mute in their prime seat, grew chippy and complacent. Each day, the empty spaces in the Liberal benches indicated their boredom with the process.

What is most ludicrous, in this country dominated by a young man who allegedly has the support of only 28 per cent of Gallup relatives and by the world’s most famous single parent who says he has lost the fire in his gut, is that Canadians will go to the polls on a frigid and irritated February day because of the most unpredictable factor of all: the double-knit cadre from usedcar rural Quebec.

It was delicious justice. The bored party of power, impatient at being out of office for six months after 16 years of reigning as royalty, fumbled into an unwanted election because of its uncaring contempt for those who also were elected by the same democratic process: the funny-money men of Social Credit. The Liberals did not take them seriously. Because they did not, the country has 67 days to really look at a party— without a real leader, without a policy or a direction—that wants to be anointed once again.