As 1984s go, the one Canada had was not as bad as the one Orwell wrote. No one has written Nineteen Eighty-Five yet, so we can move confidently ahead, carrying no books, marvelling at another year’s worth of survival.
We were tested, sure. Politically, the first big event of the year was the Lalonde budget in February. Nobody remembers much about the budget, except that Brian Mulroney cancelled a foreign trip to hear it in person. Hardly anyone remembers the great snowstorm of late February either, although it made big headlines at the time. What people remember about the snowstorm was that Pierre Trudeau took a walk in it and decided to resign. That decision would trigger most of the great political events of the year, including the resignation of Charlie McKenzie, who carried the title of “national campaign director and concierge” for the Parti Rhinoceros. McKenzie’s decision to quit, he told a press conference in August, came while “walking in a sunstorm in Parc LaFontaine in Montreal.”
Trudeau’s resignation caused Paul Anka to write new lyrics to My Way, which he sang at the Liberal leadership convention in June. Of Trudeau, he crooned:
“He made history,
“With national energy . . .”
No song was written in honor of Charlie McKenzie, but perhaps none needed to be.
Trudeau’s resignation precipitated, in addition to a song, a leadership race. The largest event in the race was the entry into it of John Turner, whose decision to run was announced in a chandeliered hotel ballroom, complete with simultaneous translation booths and a red carpet upon which Turner entered to make his surprise announcement. “There’s nothing imperial about my arrival here,” he said.
Undaunted by Buttergate, a scandal involving the serving of imported French butter in a posh external affairs private dining room, the Liberals surged in the Gallup poll. It is estimated that as much as $65 of the taxpayers’ money was squandered in the purchase of French, as opposed to domestic, butter but a poll taken only a few days after the scandal broke revealed that the Liberal vote had risen by 10 percentage points,
Allan Fotheringham is on leave.
while the Conservative share had declined by eight. The more free-spirited of Canada’s political scientists saw in this the confirmation of a theory: that Canadian political parties are always more popular when their leader has resigned. Later, the Liberals filled their leadership vacuum and lost the election.
Internationally, it was a year of increasing recognition for Canada. Questioned in a worldwide Gallup poll, 22 per cent of Brazilians said they thought Canadians had a great deal of freedom. Another 22 per cent thought we had some freedom, and 19 per cent thought we had little or none at all. The premier of China, the Pope and the Queen visited, each bringing a press corps of sorts, although most of the British ones stayed home. This did not stop British newspapers, such as the News of the World, from providing vivid coverage of the royal visit, with headlines such as “Hands off our Queen,” after an Ontar-
‘Political parties are more popular when their leader has resigned: the Liberals replaced theirs and lost9
io cabinet minister allegedly touched a royal elbow. Later, London’s Sun would give us “Pot shock for Queen,” after the Hatfield marijuana charge.
Not all foreign press coverage was disrespectful. Time magazine did a cover story on Brian Mulroney after his election, allowing Mulroney to say, “If I were the President, I would wake up every morning and say ‘Thank God for Canada.’ ” The President of the United States had not known about this back in June when he talked to Mulroney’s predecessor in London about the Canadian peace initiative.
“Dammit, Pierre,” Reagan said. “What the hell more can I do to get those guys back to the table?” Trudeau, in all his 15 years in office, had apparently neglected to tell Time what he would say every morning if he were President.
Canada was also recognized by another important American, the commissioner of baseball, who attacked the federal government’s sports pool. As it turned out, the sports pool, operating under a disclaimer saying that majorleague baseball had nothing to do with it, took a bath and the Tories dumped it.
This was one of the major sports events of 1984. Others were the riots in Edmonton after the Oilers won the Stanley Cup and the riots in Detroit after the Tigers won the World Series.
In the area of culture and lifestyle, the year got off to a good start when a newspaper list of Ins and Outs for 1984 put nuclear war on the Out list, along with large buffet dinner parties. Worried about inconvenience to shoppers and possible injury to participants, the city fathers of Ottawa discussed setting aside a designated breakdancing area. In the United States the National Coalition on Television Violence condemned Disney cartoons, with particular reference to the incident involving Three Little Pigs, the boiling water and the Big Bad Wolf. The news director of a radio station in Iowa recovered from injuries suffered when he got an electrical shock while broadcasting from a hot tub. The December issue of the New York Citybased Penthouse was widely banned in Canada, even though its publisher said pictures of tied-up naked women were merely an attempt to depict an ancient Japanese folk art. Many Japanese said the ancient folk art of tying up naked women was news to them.
Germaine Greer and Boy George visited. Few Canadians attempted to dress like Germaine Greer, but Boy George made a big impression. A social psychologist said this was “a documented signal of the broadening of one’s choice in sexual identity or appearance.” For every person who hadn’t been aware that a choice was available, there were others, like the women who got caught up in the men’s underwear for women craze. A department store spokesman attributed its popularity to the fact that cotton underwear “is practical and fun,” a fact that had escaped most of the men who had worn it all their lives.
Later in the year women, according to the fashion pages, were wearing men’s suits. Men, according to magazines, were answering by becoming excellent cooks and crafty shoppers for furniture and curtains, at least in magazines. Brian Mulroney spoke to a women’s group in Toronto and was served a lunch of “a light yogurt appetizer, a large crunchy salad and bran muffins washed down with mineral water.” He survived and, as we know, became Prime Minister. We can only guess what challenges await the Prime Minister, and the nation, in 1985.
Charles Gordon is a columnist for the Ottawa Citizen.
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