I have this friend, you see. Of the male menopausal age, short of hair and long on vanity, his tennis skills not as high as his ego, undeserving of his young wife, who has just delivered a bouncing baby girl—who is more hirsute than he is. His wife has astounded Ottawa friends by appearing, three days after giving birth, at a great party for an award-winning colleague, with baby in tow of course. A day or so later, she discombobulated acquaintances by appearing in the local supermarket in her jogging suit, athletically wheeling the calorie cart up and down the aisles. Nine days after the babe’s birth, she trotted out to the Ottawa airport to meet Mummy, who was flying in from Blighty.
When I asked my alleged friend whether his wife was taking the tad to the airport, he replied, somewhat heatedly: “Bloody right. I believe that’s the way it should be. A baby, from that start, should absorb the sounds and the smells, the noise and the confusion. Even though she can’t understand it.
That’s the way it all should start.”
Well now. That’s a great idea. I’d never really thought of such theorems before, absorbed as I am in the philosophical esoterics of Eugene Whelan, John Turner’s clarifications of his clarifications, John Roberts’s attempts to elevate himself from Noël Coward into a statesman and Don Johnston’s explanation of how he got his black eye by walking into a right wing in the dead of night.
The idea that a newborn babe should absorb, from birth, the true smells and confusion of Ottawa is indeed a unique concept. But is it fair? Why should a mere child be confronted with the truth that is shielded from practically all Canadian adults? Life indeed is cruel.
The proud father’s idealism is no doubt correct and should not be sullied, but is there a child fresh from his mother’s womb who should be thrust, unasked, into the melee of mediocrity that disguises itself as the Liberal leadership race? With the winner automati-
Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.
cally becoming Prime Minister of this innocent land, after being anointed in the Ottawa shinny rink late on the Saturday afternoon of June 16? John Munro, still smarting from his losing battle with a bathtub, seriously passing himself off as a successor to Pierre Elliott Peacemaker? Mark MacGuigan, who holds more degrees than delegates, stumping the land and asking us for the greatest sacrifice of all—which is to stay to the end of his speeches? Are her tender ears ready, really, for the perambulations of Dr. MacGuigan who denies on camera that he would sack Bank
of Canada boss Gerald Bouey and then, when they pause for a commercial break, willingly boasts to the interviewer that he would? And Liberal Acting Prime Minister Jean-Luc Pepin explaining to the Commons that off-camera “doesn’t count”?
Surely there is a better prospect in the world for a new statistic than to hear the leadership qualifications of Mr. Whelan, the only man in the House of Commons who doesn’t speak either of the two official languages, and who claims that he is the “best-known politician in the world” because he attends food conventions around the globe. Or to Mr. Turner, who has testified that he is on both sides of the language question in Manitoba, agrees or does not agree with Bill 101 in Quebec, depending on which day, in which press conference you catch him, and—just to hedge his bets and demonstrate how sincerely he wants to be the new Prime Minister— has had during this leadership trauma his directorships in both Canadian Pa-
cific and MacMillan Bloedel renewed. People who know such things confide that Mr. Turner’s income from his myriad directorships in the corporate world comes to $110,000 alone, outside his income from his Bay Street legal firm. Mr. Edward Broadbent, who otherwise is not having a good season, is batting a very high average when he says that the essential choice for the Canadian voter in the coming election is between the Royal Bank and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce—one of which recruited Mr. Turner as a lawyer and the other, Mr. Brian Mulroney as a director.
Mr. Richard Needham, the licensed wit at a serious Toronto paper, says both Brian Turner and John Mulroney remind him of The Man in the Grey Flannel Soup. Is this mere babe, a newcomer to Planet Earth, ready for all this? Should she be?
Should it be left to the stripling to explain to Jean Chrétien, who is as honest as the day is long, that there is no chance whatsoever that a country that is 67-per-cent nonfrancophone is going to z elect as the new PM an8 other francophone after 16 t years of Mr. Trudeau’s > brilliant but inward-di“ rected, ethnocentric leadership? Surely that task should be left to someone else. How do we explain to the one in swaddling clothes a capital that disguises from the benighted taxpayer for years the fact that Canadair is hopelessly inefficient, disastrously in debt, still producing unsalable airplanes while increasing executive pay and laying off workers? Wonderful!
How does one delineate, speaking of sounds and smells and nostrums, to our newest arrival the delightful hypocrisy of our Prime Minister—inventor of the Just Society, purveyor of world peace and the lowering of hostile nuclear voices—busily filling, in his final hours, that pastureland of the emotionally exhausted, the Senate, with retreads, sycophants, tokens and corporate corpses, the brave newcomers to the chamber that is heavy on hearing aids and oxygen tents?
Father, we adore your bravery and born-again hopes, but is the babe really ready, this soon, for all this, for all that Ottawa encompasses?
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.