Column

The making of a party joke -Joe Clark’s globe-tripping lives on

Allan Fotheringham February 26 1979
Column

The making of a party joke -Joe Clark’s globe-tripping lives on

Allan Fotheringham February 26 1979

The making of a party joke -Joe Clark’s globe-tripping lives on

Column

Allan Fotheringham

Ottawa in winter, with its tattletale grey dumps of snow looming like beached whales on its streets, turns inward on itself. Topics become even more constipated. The town, secure in its belief that it not only controls but “possesses” all the conventional wisdom in the land, talks to itself. What is so surprising—in a place where the turgidlike Canadian Grill in the Chateau Laurier is still regarded as a desirable place to eat—is that some weeks after the

event, the ill-fated Joe _

Clark tour of the universe survives as a topic of incestuous conversation.

That it is reflects largely on the Tories and has some pertinent bearing on the results of the spring election campaign.

It is one thing to so thoroughly botch up a world trip that you resemble a Laurel and Hardy version of Innocents Abroad. It really takes quite a remarkable talent to come home to the womb of Ottawa and make § the whole matter worse. S Clark (whose advisers £ seem to have gone out to § lunch in early January and have yet to return) surprisingly turned into a whiner and, behind closed doors, tried to kill the messenger by giving a juvenile report card to the Conservative caucus on the attitude of each reporter who had accompanied him. It was all the more remarkable since the insecure Clark—supposedly on the advice of his twitchy staff—managed the incredible feat of circling the globe with 14 reporters in his hip pocket and barely confiding a single moment of relaxation or insight with them. With a captive audience at his disposal, he blew it— then cried about it later.

The two strongest weapons in the human arsenal, a wise judge once said, are anger and ridicule. Clark, in this frigid capital that intellectually hibernates through these dreadful months, has managed to turn himself into cocktail party entertainment. Joe Clark jokes are now a cottage industry. (“Maureen gave Joe a gift when he got back from the trip.” “Oh?” “Yeah, gold cuff links.” “Oh?” “So he rushed right out and got

his wrists pierced.”) His lost luggage is now a Question Period staple. There was the veteran TV reporter on the tour who said, “Phileas Fogg went around the world in 80 days in a balloon filled with hot air. Joe Clark has managed the same feat in 10 days—minus the balloon.” And: “The Conservative party of Canada has spent more than $30,000 so Joe Clark could learn about the world. Unfortunately, the world has learned about Joe Clark.” Splat.

Dalton Camp, the honest guy who through his honesty demonstrated once

again that Tories eat their young in public like mink frightened by lowflying jets, wrote in his column that at some point all Clark’s problems couldn’t be blamed on his staff. The nipple standard of journalism, the blatantly Tory Toronto Sun, which is nearly vicious in its treatment of Trudeau and in the Ontario election called Liberal leader Stuart Smith “a dink,” says in its lead editorial that it still supports Clark but asks him: “Why have you become such a ... well... nerd?”

There is the Clark entourage with its post factum ludicrous excuse that it shouldn’t have “invited” so many reporters on the trip.

The press is not “invited” to anything. It covers what it regards as news and a putative prime minister, 10 points ahead in the Gallup, who attempts to repair a shallow grasp of international affairs with an insane global trot, warrants coverage.

The Ottawa postmortem, as boring as it may appear to those who were never

interested in the non-event in the first place, is useful for two reasons. The detailed story of the stacked incompetence has yet to be told. It started with the itinerary dispatched by the Clark office (revealing that it couldn’t spell: “sittuated,” “embasy,” “specailty”) and continued through airline connections that were clearly Mission Impossible to any basic Air Canada passenger. There were the gaucheries of Clark too numerous and too pitiful to be inflicted on an unbelieving Canadian reader. (“How old are the chickens?” “This is a well.” “You have a lot of rocks here.”) The reason this reporter and, supposedly, 13 were dispatched on the jaunt was because this was market testing for a 60-day campaign. If so, the product was found wanting.

More to the point, it revealed an internal bitchiness in Tory ranks. The people in charge of the national campaign have kept Clark out of trouble for three years. This disaster was run by Clark’s own office. One of the more respected Ottawa columnists, safe beside the Rideau, wrote halfway through the tour that, well, both Clark and his caucus knew quietly that the putative PM had a weak staff. Oh? If so, when was this deep secret to be corrected? The day before the campaign begins? Two weeks before election day? The day after? Please tell.

There is the problem of Sine Stevens, the Tory shadow finance minister who was the only senior PM trailing Clark (his cheek glued to Joe’s shoulder, for close-ups in TV shots). Stevens is regarded by serious Canadian businessmen as a bit of a rounder, via the Bank of Western Canada. Clark, his staff and even Stevens himself will confide he has no serious chance of becoming finance minister. If so, why continue the charade? Has Clark the guts?

There has never been a gang of cynics, manipulators, procrastinators, and prevaricators so deserving of oblivion as this crew of Liberals. Clark and his collection of boy scouts may yet prevent that hoped-for future coming about.