COLUMN

Opting for the burning deck

Joe Clark decides to relive Dief's struggles, and the bloodletting approaches

Allan Fotheringham September 28 1981
COLUMN

Opting for the burning deck

Joe Clark decides to relive Dief's struggles, and the bloodletting approaches

Allan Fotheringham September 28 1981

Opting for the burning deck

COLUMN

Joe Clark decides to relive Dief's struggles, and the bloodletting approaches

Allan Fotheringham

The shame about Joe Clark, the hiccup of history, is that in his waning days he is acting so unlike the Joe Clark we have anticipated. We have been dining out for a year and a half now on the soothing assurances that, for all his faults, J.C. was a team-player, one who has spent his whole life working for the Conservative party (that’s the problem) and in the end would do what was best for the party.

Not for Joe, we reasoned, a suicidal replay of the Dief-Camp internecine bloodletting that poisoned the soup and divided ranks in the party for more than a decade.

Party man Joe, was the theory, would do what was best for the party and voluntarily lay his syncopated body on the sacrificial shield, announcing in a dignified way the date of a leadership convention and then let his rivals emerge from the bushes where they are lurking. The party would thank him for his unselfishness, awarding him premature statesmanlike stature, and those of us who pick on him could be re-

lieved of the task and consigned to other duties.

Alas.' Not to mention alack. Jolting Joe has been persuaded by unknown mental processes to relive Dief, his teen-age hero. Joe will not go quietly into the Tory night. He will, as it turns out, stand bravely on the burning deck, feet planted slightly braced, as is the advice of the new television consultant he has hired on a contract, and stick with the mutinous ship as it rumbles and mutters beneath him—and the Liberals giggle in glee, given what they want: another Tory feud. The news that Clark has not only vowed to stay on as leader but has also demoted his chief rivals in a shadow cabinet shuffle is exactly the tonic needed by the feckless Grits, who are stumbling all over the map these days.

Joe will not read the entrails on the

floor, even though he has to step in them everytime he goes out the door. His office has been decimated, the scurry of tiny little feet abandoning a sinking vessel becoming a drumbeat. The latest to sniff the wind and leap for a lifeboat is Richard Clippingdale, Clark’s senior policy adviser, who has announced that as of Jan. 1 he will be back safe in academe at Carleton University. All those chaps who brought you the lost luggage and the Marx Brothers movements of the world tour

and who couldn’t count, that fateful night in the Commons, have finally departed the Clark office—but replacements can’t be found, though most every closet and executive washroom in Torydom has been scoured. Clark, the man who has vowed to stay on because he can unite the party, still hasn’t found a body to replace chief of staff Bill Neville. He has the thinnest personal staff since Napoleon wore out his last snowshoes on the way back from Moscow.

A prominent Toronto Tory fumes that by travelling across the country and calling five press conferences to demand a leadership convention, he could force Clark to recant and let the party decide. There is all the subterfuge of Peter Blaikie, the ambitious president of the party, who maintains that the national executive has not discussed seriously the leadership problem. What he does not say is that the party brass, to maintain the fiction, recently ad-

journed a meeting in full flight, debated the Clark issue, then formally reconvened the meeting so as to be able to announce that they had not done what they had just done.

There is the estimation, probably correct, that Clark has only seven MPs in his caucus that he can count on as loyalists. Since he had only two who supported him when he went into the leadership in 1976, the acquisition of just five true-and-blue in five years does not exactly indicate a man radiating leader-

ship. Clark, while trying to appear progressive, is stuck with a sullen and resentful caucus that represents little of what is modern Canada—few commanding figures (if you include David Crombie) from the major cities, only two women (and Clark in his shuffle

somehow managed to downgrade one of them, Flora MacDonald, by taking away her External Affairs responsibilities and giving her the status-of-women cliché. Why not give it to a man?).

The caucus, because it Sis more conservative £than progressive, consistently emasculates “Clark, forcing him to

waste Commons time with a debate on the noose even though he, like any intelligent animal, is against it, lazily opting for summer holidays when Clark was

starting to capture public attention

with his stand on the post office strike. The polls which indicate Clark would win if an election were held today are irrelevant since an election isn’t going to be held today and not for several years, by which time the Liberals will have either John Turner, just in. from Elba, or the grey-bearded Trudeau, playing Methuselah in yet another reincarnation. Any other leader than Clark, argue the Tories, would have had an easy majority in 1979 and wouldn’t be in this fix, and certainly wouldn’t have self-destructed in nine months. The slim lead in the polls, considering the massive distaste in the country at the moment for the Liberals and for Trudeau, is simply proof that he can’t take advantage of the situation. Sorry, Joe. Here comes the blood.

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.