Column

A poker table, a schoolgirl feud and the three mother-driven men from Quebec

Allan Fotheringham March 12 1979
Column

A poker table, a schoolgirl feud and the three mother-driven men from Quebec

Allan Fotheringham March 12 1979

A poker table, a schoolgirl feud and the three mother-driven men from Quebec

Column

Allan Fotheringham

The analogy that always springs to the forehead of a simpleton is this: imagine a visitor arriving by UFO from Mars. He discovers that the United States is rent asunder, that Texas wishes to separate. To his astonishment he finds that the three figures controlling the debate are all from Texas. The bloke from the UFO has good reason to be somewhat puzzled, wondering what has happened to all those other Americans who might ordinarily be expected to be involved in the argument.

We have a like situation in this strange land. The debate on whether Quebec will be allowed to separate is being conducted—to the virtual exclusion of English Canada—by three men from Quebec. Their names are Pierre Trudeau,

René Lévesque and Claude Ryan. While some threequarters of the country sits aside, mesmerized by the brilliance and eloquence of the three interlocutors from one province, the mass force of the population is basically unrepresented in the argument that may make or

break this impossible dream country.

What is so intriguing is that the three men—while in truth being so unrepresentative of some 75 per cent of the population-share in uncanny fashion certain traits, however uncomfortable. They are all products of the same eralate Depression, early war—Trudeau, although appearing the most vigorous, is the eldest at 59, Lévesque is 56, Ryan, although appearing the father figure, is the youngest at 54. All three achieved their early prominence as journalists: Trudeau as the incisive anti-Duplessis pamphleteer of Cité Libre, Lévesque as the most charismatic TV commentator in Quebec, Ryan as the conscience of the intellectual community while editor of Le Devoir.

It is Vincent Lemieux, a shrew'd Laval professor, who has detected another link. All three mercurial men came to their present power by somewhat detouring routes. Lévesque was a Liberal cabinet minister in Quebec before

founding the Parti Québécois. Ryan easily could have become a member of the 1969 Union Nationale cabinet under Jean-Jacques Bertrand. Trudeau, of course, was an NDP supporter before he decided the route to power lay with the Liberals.

The Latin Triangle? Of course. As Lemieux among others has pointed out, the reason these three so dominate national affairs—while their supposed equivalents on the other side of the solitudes wallow in law practices—is that they really are citizens of the world.

Trudeau topped his interminable university studies in the U.S., England and France with his leisurely, dilettantish travels around the globe. Lévesque as first a U.S. correspondent and then a CBC correspondent roamed the world. (It has always amused me that Lévesque, as the man who wants to break up Canada, is the only present Canadian political leader who has ever seen a war.) The worldly Ryan did his graduate work in Rome.

One does not have to have a doctorate from Vienna to detect yet another trait that affects all of us: all three have a driving ambition fuelled by the fact of their having lost their fathers early. The fathers of both Trudeau and Lévesque died while the adoring sons were in their early teens; Ryan’s father disappeared when his son was three. They are mother-driven men, intent on fulfilling dreams that their own imaginations have evolved. There is also an honesty and humanity there—Trudeau and Lévesque are the only top Canadian pol-

itical leaders to acknowledge publicly, and formally, that their marriages have not worked. Others fake it.

What is so legitimately interesting to the three-quarters of Canada shut out of direct access to the debate is that the next player at the poker table, Joe Clark, if this spring's election should so wish it, actually could break the logjam with the PQ simply by being a new player in the game. The Trudeau-Lalonde fix on Lévesque, as witness the

tiresome one-upmanship on the embarrassing Barre visit, is as rigid and inflexible as a schoolgirl feud. A country is more important than individual egos.

What might be of thoughtful interest is the identity of the successor if the stubborn Trudeau, still regarded with hostility west of Toronto’s Humber River, should fall on his own word come his spring election. His pride is such, as he has confessed, that he would not last five minutes in opposition. Allan MacEachen, the fill-in man for all rea-

sons, would become the interim PM until a Liberal leadership convention. This temporary, moody man of course would be a candidate. So would Don (all-pipes, no-depth) Jamieson. Jean Chrétien, with no chance of winning, would stand merely to advance a Quebec stance. Otto Lang, naturally, would hoist his charismatic banner.

You would be surprised at the winner. Not Mr. Blue Eyes incarnate John Turner, the victim of a media myth, resented by middle-party factotums for deserting the party when he was most needed. In a party which has had rather more dazzlement and intellect than it really bargained for, the pressure is on The Thumper himself, large Don MacDonald, who quite legitimately regressed into law practice with McCarthy and McCarthy and blissful family life. He was sincere at the time. Events have a strange way of adjusting priorities. If Pierre the Pet expires, you will be surprised at how much pressure will be exerted on Donald the Dull as his successor. Have I ever been wrong?