Little boys and their toys

Allan Fotheringham August 9 1982

Little boys and their toys

Allan Fotheringham August 9 1982

Little boys and their toys


Allan Fotheringham

I personally get a fair amount of pleasure from daring people to do certain things. That is why I'm enjoying this period in my political life.

—Pierre Trudeau, talking about present economic conditions to a recent Ontario Liberal conference in Kingston.

So now we know. Our present parlous fix is not due to Ronnie Reagan’s interest rates at all. Not due to Milton Friedman and his goofy supply-side philosophy that has so dazzled the Orange County real estate tycoons and country club companions who rule the tax department in Reagan’s good-guy/bad-guy brain.

It has nothing to do with our previous pinchfaced Canadian bankers who indulged in an orgy of corporate takeover financing, the boys in the boardrooms these days looking like kids who broke into the candy store and are now more than slightly bilious around the gills.

Instead, it has now been revealed, plants are closed, men are put on the dole, bankruptcies skyrocket, industrial capacity dawdles—because the prime minister of the land is enjoying the tickle of daring.

It fits in, actually, with the pattern of boredom that dominates his political career, speckled only with periodic fits of enjoyment. Pierre Trudeau can only enjoy when he is in confrontation, when his lofty lassitude is startled by a punch-up, an encounter with a disputatious adversary, a slap in the puss. He is a political sleepwalker, jolted out of his daze only by a bucket of cold water.

His whole record of serving us confirms his Kingston confession. He is an emotional roller coaster, dozing between fits of passion. The War Measures Act was his finest hour, bringing out a courageous, tough leader who rallied the nation against an unknown foe with his chilling eloquence and undeniable courage. A man who did not have a war, Trudeau saw the October Crisis as his moment in the fire, an expiation perhaps. The fact that we now know the

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

“apprehended insurrection” was in fact a tiny handful of revolutionaries— straggling home for their penal spanking—has nothing to do with it. Trudeau for once was roused and he responded magnificently.

He needs confrontation to concentrate his frozen-in-aspic intellect. The boy in Saskatchewan tossing wheat at him is told he is about to get his ass kicked. The demonstrator in Vancouver is cuffed. The striking mail truck drivers from Montreal are told what edifying diet they can eat as the PM of all the people speeds off in his lim-

ousine. The TV reporter on the Parliament steps who presses him on how far he would go in restricting civil liberties in the FLQ drama is told “just watch me.” Watch me, if you think you can kick sand in my face, just watch me.

It’s all educational, useful in studying the psychological pattern of one person, but it’s a strange way to run a country. We are all guinea pigs, watching in some bemusement while Pierre Trudeau decides what he wants to be when he grows up. The economy has always bored him. He lunges at it only in fits of exasperation, such as the memorable time when he returned from a lesson in reality delivered to him by soul mate Helmut Schmidt of West Germany and went on television to overturn the Canadian economic picture, only neglecting to inform then FinanceMinister Jean Chrétien among other members of his cabinet. It fits his record of dabbling periodically in the tiresome exercise of the national accounts. He bursts into periodic fits of concern, rather viewing

it all as a Mr. Fix-It, giving the impression that a little repair job on the shingles is all that is needed. Otherwise, he rests on his intellectual oars, bored with the tiresome subject.

Pierre Trudeau, in essence, has never outgrown the need to be the youth, knotted red bandana around the neck, running before the bulls of Pamplona. He likes to dare to do certain things. The first to wear sandals and an ascot in Parliament. To throw snowballs at Lenin’s statue in Moscow. To ride around Montreal on a motorcycle wearing a German helmet. To marry a dazzling beauty 30 years his junior. To be the first prime minister to tell an MP to “f— off” in the Commons. To do a mocking pirouette behind a queen. Always there is the image of the little boy wanting to stick out his tongue during the formal photography session.

Now, we have the country used as a yo-yo. The man consigned to lead us (again, only in reluctance, having to be persuaded to roll back the stone after his shrugged resignation) has promised the uncongvinced that he does not 1 plan to stand for election £ again. The half of the

2 country he has destroyed for his own party’s political prospects, Western Canada, sullenly settles in to await his departure. The Chrétiens paw impatiently in the starting gate. The Turners watch impassively, refusing to give away their hand. MacEachen twists and turns, his tongue his only defence as his prime ministerial chances disappear and his dollar flops in the wind.

Only now do we get a flicker of interest, a reluctant raising of the Venetian blinds of the mind. From the government that converted an anticipated $10-billion deficit in seven months to a confessed figure of $20 billion, we have the magic Six-Per-Cent Solution—proposed by a party that has approved a 47-per-cent increase for MPs in 18 months. Only now do we have the traces of the War Measures testiness, the sense of a man on a motorcycle who wants to put his helmet back on again. He wants to take on the country again.

It’s a hell of a way to keep a guy amused.