Column

The hero who flew into a week-long temper and blocked the big bad bear from Montreal

Allan Fotheringham February 12 1979
Column

The hero who flew into a week-long temper and blocked the big bad bear from Montreal

Allan Fotheringham February 12 1979

The hero who flew into a week-long temper and blocked the big bad bear from Montreal

Column

Allan Fotheringham

The most useful weapon in politics is spurious anger. Those who cannot manufacture passion cannot generate it in the voters. John Diefenbaker, naturally, was the best proof of that, able on a moment’s notice to summon giant buckets of outrage that took hours to empty, word by word. It was one of the fatal political weaknesses of Lester Pearson: he could never bring himself to fake a tantrum. (Joe Clark can’t quite get the accelerator past the indignant stage on his own emotional speedometer. He would be wise to slip around to George Hees’s place on Tuesday afternoons for some classes in histrionics.) In successful politicians, there is so much ham you could slice it with a page boy.

Best current example is provided by last week’s cover hero, Bill Bennett, who flew into a week-long temper and blocked the big bad bear from Windsor Station, Ian Sinclair, from swallowing huge MacMillan Bloedel, £ thereby saving virginal little British Columbia from the terrible predators of Lower Canada. It was a tale of bravery that would bring tears to the orbs of the most heartless corporate raider. What Bill Bennett saw, actually, was not a red haze before his eyes but a way of beating the NDP in a spring election. What he did was produce an outrageous example of government interference in the marketplace that, done by a party of another persuasion, would have brought in everything, including the marines. What it all illustrates is that it doesn’t matter what a politician does: it is the perception of what he is that really counts.

Because the perception is that Premier Bennett is a rabid free-enterpriser, he can get away with things that no socialist could. When then-premier Dave Barrett set up public car insurance and passed a Land Commission Act that is now a North American model, Barron's of Wall Street—that journal for those whose politics still reside with Teddy Roosevelt—called Barrett “the Allende of the North.” When

Bennett—with no laws, rights or precedents to back him up—orders Canadian Pacific Investments to unhand the MacMillan Bloedel forest kingdom mainly because CPI is from Montreal—the premier is hailed as a brilliant leader.

It’s good politics, granted. Bennett, who suspected he couldn’t get elected by running against the socialists and the unions, has decided he can get elected by running against big business. And, of course, he will retain his credentials as the bastion of capitalism in B.C. just as Peter Lougheed, the repository of free-

enterprise moral principles in Alberta, went out and bought Pacific Westetn Airlines without blinking and then went back to denouncing government (federal government, that is) intrusion in the marketplace. He is safe. He is perceived as an unbending right winger.

Once the perception is complete and inviolate, any sort of hypocrisy is tolerated. Sinclair’s CPI was not allowed to toy with MacBlo, announced Bennett, because he wanted to make sure the resources of the province would continue to be controlled by the citizens of the province. That, despite the fact that B.C. residents are the greatest hewers of wood and drawers of water in the country and probably own less of their resources than any equivalent population.

The blushing Mr. Sinclair, a shy lad, was too diffident to finger Crown Zellerbach, Rayonier, Weyerhaeser, Scott Paper and like U.S. giants who reap the local forests. B.C. Forest Products is

controlled by Noranda. The two major fish companies are controlled from outside. B.C. mines? What Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Nippon Kokan of Tokyo do not control, Kaiser of Oakland does. B.C. is a branch-plant economy. Even the small-town papers are owned by the Sterling chain which originated in Sherbrooke, Quebec. (Bennett has managed a unique feat: designating a Montreal conglomerate less-Canadian than a B.C. conglomerate.) MacMillan Bloedel itself? That Bennett was so eager to keep for B.C.? Only 20 per cent of it is owned by residents of B.C. Not to worry—the perception of the valiant Socred Horatio at the bridge is implanted.

One strays from the philosophical path whena, ever necessary. Principles I are fine, but power is better. There was once a liberal called René Lévesque who re-elected the Lesage government by nationalizing the Quebec power companies and creating Quebec Hydro. Bill Bennett’s father, when he couldn’t bend the B.C. Electric Co. to his will, suddenly confiscated it in a lightning move. When the private ferry system went on strike, he nationalized the ferries—then stayed in power for 20 years by warning that the “socialist hordes are at the gate.” Perceptions are most persistent. R. B. Bennett has gone down in the public mind as the heartless father of the Depression, a classic Tory. Little matter that he set up the CBC, CNR and TCA (now Air Canada), three public-enterprise institutions that so distinguish us from the buccaneer Americans.

That is what sets our current prime minister so apart. Does anyone doubt that Pierre Trudeau, the champion chameleon of our time, would adopt the policies of Socred leader Lome Reznowski if they were necessary for re-election? As the hippy-dippy priest of welfare of one election lurches into an imitation of a stern bureaucracy-slasher of another election, does anyone doubt his “pragmatism?” As the politician said, “I’ve got principles. And if you don’t like them —I’ve got other ones.”