The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. —Henry VI, Part II
The famed lexicographer Patrick Nagle maintains that lawyers can pick fly droppings out of pepper while wearing boxing gloves. As evidence, we have only to look at our pockmarked constitution, still quivering at Westminster, all full of pinpricks, loopholes, crochet work and binder twine. Only a nation whose leaders are lawyers could construct a new Magna Carta built on a “notwithstanding” clause. That is the metaphor for Canada: notwithstanding. A perfect Mackenzie King word. Notwithstanding that it excludes one of our two founding races and tried to exclude native people and the 51 per cent of the population that is female, notwithstanding we have a pluperfect product of the lawyer mind.
It is why the most overlooked event of the past yearisthat sometinyprogress in the creep of civilization was achieved. We actually acquired a new premier without adding to the legal imbalance of the land. James Matthew Lee took over Prince Edward Island and, glory be, he is not a lawyer. No one outside the legion hall in Charlottetown noticed it, but those of us put here on earth by God in Her wisdom to supervise the legal profession marked it down as a significant act, just short of Harold Ballard’s brain transplant. It means that the never-ending struggle to keep our affairs from being dominated completely by nitpickers in laced shoes is still in a holding pattern, not yet swamped beyond repair. We’re still fighting a losing action, but maintaining our position in the trench. It now leaves four of the 10 premiers with their heads still held high, unsullied by the millstone of an LLD. They are allowed to walk about in public, small boys do not stoné them and dogs greet them with a friendly wag of the tail. They are a rare breed, these four, due for extinction eventually like the three-toed wombat, and we should cherish them.
Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.
William Richards Bennett of British California is not a lawyer on account of you gotta attend university to be one and MiniWac grew so impatient that he didn’t finish the niceties of high school, eager to get out and make a million, which he did. Bennett is a believer in Bud McDougald, who, when he died, owned most of Canada and always confessed: “Left school at 14 and I’ve regretted it all my life. Should have left when I was 12!” The reason Bennett, who was chairman of the Gang of Eight, was fast asleep at 3 a.m. when the notwithstanding nonsense was scotch-
taped together was that, not being a lawyer, his mind grew exhausted at all the legal mumbo jumbo and his body gave him a signal. If you listen to lawyers talking for too long, it makes you sterile. You can look it up.
René Lévesque is not a lawyer, but it was a close call. With that Gallic gift of the gab, the courts might have been on overtime. His father was a lawyer, and he was following in the path, in his third year of law school at Laval, when Louis-Philippe Pigeon—later a justice of the Supreme Court of Canadakicked him out of class for smoking. René, in retaliation, joined the U.S. Army as a war correspondent, and journalism—not law—must take the blame for what has followed.
Lucky Mr. Lee, as mentioned, is not a lawyer, nor is his colleague across the water, Brian Peckford. The Newfoundland premier is probably the only passionate high-school English teacher in captivity and has achieved the satisfaction of shoving across the table the final
compromise solution that supposedly solved the constitution muddle. Peckford’s brimstone soul is fired like a furnace at the sight of Pierre Trudeau across the federal-provincial table because the Cartesian mind of the PM is so bloodless (Where’s Poland?) it inflames someone who thinks words should be used to communicate, not obfuscate. If Shakespeare hadn’t said it, Peckford would have.
A chap called Plato talked of lawyers’ “small and righteous” souls. We are run by them. Always have been. Of 242 federal cabinet ministers between 1867 and 1940, 48 per cent were lawyers. Dr. John Porter, in his The Vertical Mosaic, showed how the percentage is increasing and how lawyers are far more prevalent in our political system than in Britain or Australia. Lawyers make up 50 per cent of all United States senators and representatives and 70 per cent of all presidents, vicepresidents and cabinets. Is it any wonder the world is in such a notwithstanding mess?
Keats wrote, “I think we may class the lawyer in the natural history of monsters.” We somehow are cowed by monsters, mainly monsters of the language. Ontario’s Bill Davis uses words like a jungle camouflage, hiding himself like a Vietnam combat veteran with his voice box as the uniform. When he intones, “finally,” in one of his short speeches, you can go out for a hamburger and be assured of returning for the final cliché. Saskatchewan’s Allan Blakeney approaches the English language carefully, as a bomb-disposal expert creeping up on an explosive car, ever circling, until the bomb defuses for lack of sleep.
Joe Clark expired, among other reasons, because the public was slightly nervous over a chap who—given the choice of two law schools, Dalhousie and the University of B.C.—flubbed them both. Joe’s distaste for the law was his greatest gift, but the public is in awe of the mouthpiece. The chances are the next prime minister (Macdonald and Turner on one side, Mulroney and Crosbie on the other) will rise from the legal beagles. Notwithstanding. We are i brutes for punishment.
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