COLUMN

If he had a hammer

Allan Fotheringham June 15 1981
COLUMN

If he had a hammer

Allan Fotheringham June 15 1981

If he had a hammer

COLUMN

Never sack a minister; that would question the wisdom of the appointment

Allan Fotheringham

The main problem with the Trudeau cabinet—aside from its impressive mediocrity, its lack of strong figures, its meandering, swaybacked style—is that practically all the members are in the wrong portfolios. Effete visionaries are in meat-and-potato ministries. Horny-handed rustics fumble delicate departments. Men who don’t like women are put in charge of areas touching on women. Pierre Elliott Reincarnation has spent so much of his life tending the fertile garden of his own cranium that he in fact is a lousy judge of talent in others. How can one who has spent a lifetime gazing in the mirror of his intellect have had the time (let alone the interest) to gauge the nuances of others? It is why this man, for all his formidable individual gifts, has produced such monumentally pedestrian cabinets since those heady days of 1968, when so many bright men were attracted to his cause and have since gradually drifted away so that he is now surrounded only by the lump, the halt and the bland, leaving his star alone to shine in the firmament. The word around Ottawa is that the summer break will see a cabinet shuffle with the prime minister—who, strangely enough, almost never sacks a minister; that would mean questioning the wisdom of the choice in the first place—rearranging the faces and putting more casters on the chairs. Here is what he would do if he were wise.

Marc Lalonde, the energy minister who is as insensitive to the West as some of the cornflakes ministers in British Columbia are to Quebec, needs a reassignment of his brainpower. Lalonde, as David Crombie says, would pick a fight on the way to church. However, he has one redeeming feature. Marc Lalonde genuinely likes women. For years, any male with a severe case of the Ottawa blahs has known the remedy: just drop around to Lalonde’s office—whatever portfolio he’s in—and invariably it is filled with the liveliest, most stimulating ladies around. The obvious solution is that Lalonde should be put in charge of the Status of Women. He would find, to his great surprise, that Alberta actually has women also, sprinkled intermittently among its population.

Allan MacEachen, we feel, has been unfairly maligned. The brooding finance minister, to be honest, can’t be blamed for our economic woes. He didn’t invent inflation. He didn’t discover unemployment. He didn’t unveil high interest rates. He hasn’t done anything.

Eugene Whelan is miscast also. The blunt-talking agriculture minister is openly bored with consorting with farmers, as witness his increasingly barefaced campaign toward a leadership bid. External Affairs is his natural métier. Canada for once represented abroad, in the emissaries and cocktail parties of the chancelleries, by someone who is truly representative of all that is great about Canada: ill-dressed, clumsy and speaking neither of the two official languages. Foreigners would praise us for our honesty.

Robert Kaplan, the earnest solicitorgeneral, is obviously in the wrong place. The right place would be as director of a summer camp, in charge of volleyball, on Toronto Island.

Jean-Luc Pepin, the poet currently in charge of boxcars, would be the most happy man in Ottawa at a change. Those who still doubt the exquisite cruelty and sardonic humor of the Trudeau mind need only refresh themselves by regarding the posting of Pepin into Transport, with all those unfathomable steel rails and hectares of wheat before him. He likes to talk. Put him as Culture Czar to replace Francis Fox, who can’t talk.

Fox, the handsome Rhodes Scholar from Quebec, goes to Fisheries. Let him soak awhile. It will help his greenness.

Walter Gordon would be brought back into the cabinet, now that the Liberals are adopting all the policies that were the reason they drove him out of the inner circle.

Jean Chrétien in Justice is a tough one. Since he is spending practically all his time these days figuring out how to be the next leader (and since he’s worked hard on the constitution marathon), a special portfolio would be devised for him: Secretary of State in Charge of Figuring Out How To Be the Next Leader.

John Roberts looks so uncomfortable in those hip waders pretending to be concerned about acid rain. John also wants to be leader and is more at home with the fallout from elegant dinner parties. He would go to Agriculture and instead of hip waders could wear slip-on gum boots.

Gilles Lamontagne, the defence minister, is a natural for Finance, where he could defend the dollar, which is about in the same shape as the F-18.

Iona Campagnolo would be brought back into cabinet mainly because she’s the only one with as much hair as Lloyd Axworthy. Lloyd would go to a newly created portfolio tentatively named Shell Shock, where he will emerge wearing a crew cut in hopes of initiating a new career.

Herb Gray, who wants to be leader so much he has grown out his crew cut in a desperate attempt at trendiness, would go to Northern Affairs, to consolidate the Eskimo vote at the convention.

John Munro, the only man to make a bathtub an offensive weapon, would naturally shift to Defence.

The prime minister has never ignored my advice before.