We are indebted to the most ponderous province of all to illustrate a little-remembered lesson about this country. It is that it really is a collection of regions in search of a nationality. Canada is 10 independent personalities, united only by a common suspicion of Ottawa. The choosing of a millionaire former car dealer as the new premier of Ontario simply reinforces the theorem. Who else could Ontario pick but Frank Miller, who likes plaid jackets, was trained as an engineer but made his money in cars and tourist resorts? Who tried work in the United States but retreated, who tried Quebec but was appalled, who was quitting politics but changed his mind? Is this not an essentially Ontario figure? Is Frank Miller not the true inheritor of the charisma of Bill Davis, the man who defined in his entire persona the origin of the word phlegm?
The Ontario Tory party, which has been in power longer than any Communist government in Eastern Europe (you can look it up), could have chosen Roy McMurtry, the class act of the field, a lawyer who is sensitive enough to paint as a hobby, a man who would have been a senior minister in the Mulroney government if a smart lady called Barbara McDougall had not outmanoeuvred him. They could have chosen the very ambitious and very intelligent Larry Grossman, except the rural Ontario base of the party that sustains its movie-censorship ethic, true to its Orange lodge background, would not choose a man who is a Jew, Ontario being Ontario. Instead, the Tories picked a man who once appeared beside his premier on a platform at a convention of optometrists, where the backdrop as the convention theme was an eight-foot-high eyeball. Mr. Miller, Ontario’s future premier, opened by saying he was glad that he was not speaking to a convention of obstetricians. That’s class, man, that’s class.
So our richest and most populous province is going to be run, ad infinitum,
Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.
by an engineer who likes to sell cars. It fits. As do the other leaders, when you think of it, of the other provinces. We are the captives of regional personalities. Nervous René Lévesque, the world’s greatest walking advertisement for lung cancer, epitomizes Quebec, which smokes more than any jurisdiction on earth with the exception of China. Once you cross the border into Quebec, you had best check with Blue Cross. The cloud of nicotine doesn’t lift until you manage to get into New Brunswick, ahem.
Take Manitoba, a province that can’t
really decide whether it is connected to dolorous Ontario or is a card-carrying member of Western Canada. People used to think Ed Schreyer was excessively dignified and formal until they inherited Premier Howard Pawley, whose idea of fun, as they say, is to go down to Eaton’s on Friday night and try on gloves. Neighbor Saskatchewan, born-again since the Depression, home of all the great ones, has the most stable economy of any province now and is epitomized by its very serious premier, Grant Devine, a chap with graduate degrees who currently roams the world in search of new markets, brandishing the brand new pride of his beloved homeland.
Alberta is still in some dire straits after the Oil Patch Euphoria, but Peter Lougheed has hung around for that very reason: a somewhat chippy bantam who will never forgive Central Canada banks for what they did to his father, a capitalist who would warm Ronnie Reagan’s
heart, as much a product of Alberta as Frank Miller is of Muskoka. British Columbia, suffering an unaccustomed fit of ill-confidence, is represented perfectly by MiniWac, Bill Bennett, who like his celebrated father is inarticulate, passionate, deeply suspicious of anything beyond Kenora. (A previous premier, Dave Barrett, achieved office without ever having touched Montreal.)
One could take Newfoundland. One would think it improbable to find a more perfect extension of The Rock than Joey, all barbed wire and rusty nails. But now we have the disputatious little puppy, Brian Peckford, who is all flashing eyes and indignation, the teenage reincarnation of the sardonic Smallwood. We wouldn’t have it any other way. The best example of provinces as extensions of personality was when Joey and Wacky were worthy bookends of the nation, two wily manipulators who would never steal a boxcar but could heist a hot stove from under the eyes of the Rockcliffe mandarins who were more interested in quiche.
Whoever is premier of ° Prince Edward Island is £ perfect: no one knows and g no one cares. The only one ^ who doesn’t fit is the chap in Nova Scotia, a province forever etched in our minds as the domain of our own Abe Lincoln, Bob Standstill, who Dalton Camp failed to establish as a sex object. The incumbent serves to prove only that Halifax contains one hair stylist.
The point is that, contrary to myth, Canadian politics—and Canadian politicians—are not dull. What? With Colin Thatcher and Dick Hatfield? Don’t be daft. With Frank Miller and his plaid jackets now returning Ontario safely into the arms of the bowling league and bingo and all that is sacred in Owen Sound, the fabric of the country is secure. The evil clutches of Toronto men on the Tory ethic have been repulsed. Buttermilk Billy Davis in Brampton is smiling. He has been regenerated. The only imponderable remaining, the only genuinely mysterious man left in Canadian politics is the guy sleeping at 24 Sussex Drive. No one as yet really knows who he is.
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.