With the biggest sweep in Canadi an political history, you also get the biggest undertow of rumor, myth and misinformation.
In my CBC bailiwick this melodramatic thriller is playing to full paranoid houses. On Ottawa’s Bronson Avenue the CBC Taj Mahal is being lined with sandbags; the Beachcombers have been sunk; Mr. Dressup has had his dress pulled down. Mike (Puffy) Duffy has fled to the Senate; Larry Zolf is pounding madly at the Upper Chamber gates. The CBC is suffering a huge Hanging In. And The Journal is recording everything. And I mean everything.
In the heart of the CBC Ottawa complex, rumormongers are spreading the latest word: Sine Stevens will be reading the news; Barbara Amiel gets the French net; Worthington the English net; Herrndorf will be president.
Somewhere in CBC executive row President Pierre Juneau hugs his Paycock and gets ready to be smuggled out of the building. Rumor has it that he will spend the next four years hiding in a Rockcliffe Park attic writing his diaries. The money supply to his beloved corporation will be slashed by $200 million; there’s nothing to spend, there’s nothing to live for.
Cut to final shot and fade, CBC employees, like lemmings, walk out onto the Rideau, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence and are never heard from again. Soon CTV’S The Canadian Bowling Ball Heard Round the World, a satellite bowling series originating from Peter Gzowski’s Polish Cultural Centre in Smetana, Man., becomes the only Canadian TV program still beaming to the nation.
Sounds goofy, eh? Yet in our daily press, Pierre Juneau has been purged more often than Dreyfus and Soviet Marshal Tukhachevsky put together. But the supposed arch-fiend in all this, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, has no intention of doing any of these wicked things. The Baie Comeau boy grew up on the North Shore, where CTV and private radio cared not to go. CBC programs were as normal a culture staple to the Mulroneys as the Lone Ranger was to Joe Clark and the last days of Hitler to The Boys from Brazil. Mulroney is not a CBC hater and does not blame his teenage acne, his childhood poverty and the loss of his chastity to the Baie Comeau biker girls on the CBC or public broadcasting. A more persistent myth about Mul-
roney is the crippling one that he is the prisoner of an all-powerful Tory right wing. How silly. The arch right-winger, Peter Worthington, whose solution to the abortion crisis, the small-1 liberals insist, is to apply the military draft to the fetus, somehow could not get elected in this supposed year of the Neanderthal; likewise John Gamble, a Toronto MP so right-wing that he thinks Peoples Jewellers is a Communist plot.
The right wing of the Tory party under Mulroney is so weak that it gets intravenous injections from the Hospital for Sick Children just to live. The right wing of the Tory party is so stupid that it thinks Bob Coates (he of the Night of the Long Knives fame) and David Kilgour (John Turner’s ritzy Tory brother-in-law) are Bolsheviks. The right wing of the Conservative party is so frustrated at being shut out of Mulroney’s inner councils that it is getting even—and calling for the abolition of
Shortly we will hear of Mulroney nationalizing the Iron Ore Co. of Canada and welcoming its laid-off employees1
Brian’s favorite town hall meeting place, the Senate. Barbara Amiel could not save the right wing of the Tory party, even if she gave every one of them mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Liberals in search of right-wingers who wish to search out and destroy Mulroney should remember that the Prime Minister has already mastered right-wing Tory politics and used the right wing to beat Joe Clark. It is not the right that Mulroney fears; it is the left, and he intends to outflank and contain it. Shortly, we will hear of Mulroney nationalizing the Iron Ore Co. of Canada and welcoming its laid-off employees back to their old jobs. Mulroney will outmanoeuvre Ontario’s William Davis by removing medicare premiums from everyone—even the dead. To the NDP Mulroney will offer fusion; to the Liberals a guaranteed annual income.
What about the myth that 211 seats is 200 too many? That Tory back-benchers will have nothing to do and will rebel by leaking Brian’s secrets or by mooing, cooing and drooling outside Mila’s Sussex Drive bedroom window? Nonsense.
This analysis is steeped in a wrong
reading of Diefenbaker’s sweep. After 1958, Tory MPs not in Diefenbaker’s cabinet had nothing to do and were poorly paid for not doing it. What else could they do but explore rebellion or Gerda Munsinger or both? That mischief is impossible today. MPs are paid enormous sums and have plenty of committees to service and constituency work to handle. Today rebellion against Brian is out of the question; exploring Pat Carney, Barbara McDougall and Flora MacDonald is hardly an easy thing for your average right-wing Tory to do. The busy Tory back-bencher is the perfect Mulroney lapdog—no bite, no bark, no fleas, no nothing.
Finally, what about the old hoary myth that Allan Fotheringham gets to know all the heavies first? Not true. In the early 1970s I marriage-brokered the stunning alliance of Graham Scott, rumored to be Mulroney’s principal secretary, and Gail Scott, the CBC-CTV newswoman par excellence. (These days, to remain strictly nonpartisan, I am marriage-brokering for former Trudeau principal secretary James Coutts and Iona Campagnolo.) At the wedding I met Old Irish, the Baie Comeau Comet himself. I told him my repertoire of IrishJewish jokes (both ethnic groups must get into the same story), and he laughed so hard he fell on Mila’s shoes. I did not know then that I was in the presence of future greatness; frankly, neither did he. It was I who introduced him to Foth, and together we launched Mulroney to Tory stardom in 1976.
If truth be known, Foth is a shy man and rarely meets people. Often he travels under aliases. Right now he’s pretending he’s Larry Zolf. I don’t mind.
What I do mind is all the myths and rumors about My Man Mulroney being spread by the small-1 liberals and the radical chi-chi. These birds should stick to assassinating Broadbent and Turner. They are not fit to give the swan to Brian’s song. Let them cease casting Mulroney before the people in billowing fog and opaque veils.
Like any good CBC he-man (a rare breed), I want Brian Mulroney politically raw and in the political buff, so to speak. Foth wants him that way too. Don’t you?
Larry Zolf is a producer with CBC TV and the author of the recently published Just Watch Me: Remembering Trudeau. His next book will be called Survival of the Fattest: an Irreverent Look at the Canadian Senate. Allan Fotheringham is on vacation.
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.