COLUMN

A government tired and confused

The Liberals wobble on, out of touch and abiding in their arrogance

Allan Fotheringham October 5 1981
COLUMN

A government tired and confused

The Liberals wobble on, out of touch and abiding in their arrogance

Allan Fotheringham October 5 1981

A government tired and confused

COLUMN

The Liberals wobble on, out of touch and abiding in their arrogance

Allan Fotheringham

A return to Ottawa after several months away in the real world is like tripping and falling into a plate of mush that is partly dog food, partly granulated piffle and mainly shredded cynicism. A great wind of bafflegab wafts over you like a fetid breeze oozing from an overripe swamp. The bullet-proof dark suits still walk about. Press releases divide and multiply; summer ends and the city scrunches its shoulders, prepared for the onslaught. The main impression, however, is of a government that is grandly—magnificently— out of touch, wobbling about like a unicycle, electorally safe with a comfortable majority but completely confused and virtually leaderless.

Pierre Trudeau’s coquettish hints about when he might or might not go have merely left a Liberal party that is uncertain whether to obey (and follow) him or spend its time looking past him to some imagined savior who hopefully will descend from his hubris more than this one and commune with ordinary mortals. The Liberals are in a mess with the voters and at the moment are just as unpopular as when the disillusionment after 1968 plunged them to within an inch of Stanfield in 1972.

They have such a wonderful gift for it, their natural arrogance overlaid with sloppiness grown out of too many decades in power. (Joe Clark’s greatest sin, historians will record, is that his nine-month bungling deprived the Canadian political process of a healthy cleansing in that a Liberal party forced into thoughtfulness in the desert for a good spell would be of far more benefit to the country.) The examples abound. There is the delightful André Ouellet, once—incredible as it sounds—profiled earnestly in the magazines a few years back as a future leader of the party out of Quebec. Ouellet’s insensitivity approaches even that of the prime minister (though he lacks the brains) and his

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

now legendary quote that small businessmen who depend on the post office had best find another trade has already been enshrined in the mythology of our times, proof incarnate that Liberals who stay too long in Ottawa tend to have large gobs of their grey matter disintegrate into Pablum.

There was that striking cameo at the inner cabinet’s deliberations in Cape Breton, when the angry coal miners on strike surrounded the large car carrying finance minister, Allan MacEachen,

and Treasury Board chief Don Johnston. MacEachen’s fuzzy performance in his portfolio was demonstrated perfectly by the fact that, proudly hosting the think tank in his own hard-times riding, he was completely unprepared for the demonstrations and led his complacent and oblivious colleagues into the ambush. The helpless and bewildered look on the faces of the two captives, transmitted across the country, illustrated exactly the recent posture of a cabinet that would be trounced if an election were held today.

To complement things in appropriate style, in this rare foray of these innocents abroad outside the safe ghetto of Ottawa, there was the startled figure of External Affairs Minister Mark MacGuigan, accosted by the irate miners who demanded to know what his annual salary was. MacGuigan, who seems to wander through the world of diplomacy like little boy lost, is so guileless that— unlike most politicians—he sometimes blurts out the truth by accident. He con-

fessed first of all that he didn’t even know there was a strike and then—oh fabrous joy!—that he couldn’t remember how much he was paid. One wanted to be a coal miner at that moment.

There is the ineffable Jean-Luc Pepin, an intellectual sent to the meatand-potatoes transport portfolio because the PM doesn’t like his constitutional ideas (there is a certain children’s birthday party pique to these matters of high state). Pepin’s contribution to democracy was to slash Via Rail services over the summer when MPs weren’t in Ottawa to protest and without bothering to refer the matter to the Canadian Transport Commission, which is there to represent the public. (Since the Liberals don’t, someone has to.)

There is the delicious vignette that is the best evidence yet of the mood of this particular government. It is the day when angry and worried mortgage holders bus in from Toronto to hold a demonstration on Parliament 8Hill to protest high intertest rates. Not only does g the housing minister, Paul “Cosgrove—or any other minister—not have the courage or courtesy to come out and address the crowd, some insensitive twit within the system ordered Mounties equipped with helmets, clubs and the usual riot gear to guard Parliament from the people who own it. A government that sends armed guards against people who are merely frightened of losing their homes is not a government that deserves any support.

To rub in the point, the supposedly departing Mr. Trudeau has now expanded his bloated cabinet to 36, the largest number in Canadian history. It means one-quarter of the whole Liberal caucus is now in the cabinet. It means that the Liberal cabinet is now larger than the entire legislature of Prince Edward Island. It means, to further represent the West where they can’t get elected, the Liberals have appointed yet another senator, Jack Austin, the only Vancouver mining promoter ever to be appointed a QC, and one of the less popular figures in B.C. public life. This government is suicidal.