A few years back, in Vancouver, an American comedian whose name has disappeared in the mists of time was playing a local club. After a few days in town he told his audience, “I was raised to believe Canadians were dull. Here I find you have a premier called Wacky Bennett, with a cabinet minister named Phlying Phil Gaglardi and the town is run by a mayor called Tom Terrific Campbell. We’d die for such material.”
Welcome to British California, where politics is not so much politics as it is entertainment. Throw in a little chicanery, some financial hanky-panky and a little greed and you’ve got something that can compete with the sports scores for the reader’s attention. In case you haven’t been keeping up,
Premier MiniWac Bennett, Son of Wacky, has been having his troubles, despite spending gazillion dollars on Expo 86 in an attempt to get re-elected.
All around him, otherwise sane ministers are stumbling into bedrooms or their stockbroker’s office—neither a place where a minister loyal to Her Majesty should spend much time. If you could set it to music (as someone inevitably will), it would make a good Broadway farce.
The recent troubles started with Bob McClelland, a sombre and ambitious minister who used to work for a country-and-western radio station. Depressed at being slighted in a minor cabinet shuffle, he consoled himself with the services (whatever they might be) of one of those ubiquitous “escort services” that exist, yea, even in Victoria, composed of comely young ladies who feel sorry for lonely rug salesmen sitting in hotel rooms looking at the wallpaper, and come up and do Bible readings, or something. This particular minister of the Crown was bright enough to pay for his Bible readings with his Visa card, which just happened to have the Parliament buildings as his address. The cops just happened to be chasing this particular escort ser-
Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.
vice. Whoops! Headline number one.
We move now to two other bright cabinet ministers. Tom Waterland has been British Columbia’s forestry minister for years and years. The chief controversy in the province at the moment is the insistence of a logging concern to chop down trees felt sacred by the historic Haida Indians in the Queen Charlotte Islands. It is discovered that the bright Mr. Waterland, through a tax shelter, is a shareholder in the Western Pulp Limited Partnership logging concern. Whoops! One cabinet resignation.
Even brighter is the energy minister, Steve Rogers, who just happens to want to succeed MiniWac. He is, among other things, heir to a Rogers Sugar fortune that is estimated at something between $20 million and $50 million. Where does he put his loose change? Right. He puts it into the same tax shelter, the proprietors of which want a break on electricity rates for the logging concern. Bright? Right.
Still with us? We then have Finance Minister Hugh Curtis, yet another former radio announcer, who decided the solution to the problems of the provincially owned B.C. Rail was to turn it public and put its shares on the market. Swell. Only problem being that he then, it turned out, bought some shares himself because he thought they would be “a good investment.” Who should know better? Bright? Indubitably.
Moving swiftly along, we have the trusted health minister, Jim Nielsen, former radio hotliner (if radio were
ever abolished, B.C. politics would have to be cancelled), eight children in his household. He is detected in recent days with a large black eye and an ugly cut on his forehead. They were acquired, it turns out, when a mildmannered civil servant who works in Mr. Nielsen’s government returned to his hearth and home to find his minister with his wife. He promptly rearranged his face. Her Majesty’s minister, the employee solemnly told the TV cameras, then arose, extended his arm and suggested they become friends. And so? And so the servant bopped the minister again.
Now, lest any smug residents elsewhere of our great domain would think these doings somewhat unseemly, they must be reminded that this is all in the great tradition of B.C. politics. Its second premier was an itinerant worker from the California goldfields by name of Bill Smith. He changed it to Amor de Cosmos, ran the province, once made a seven-hour speech and founded the Victoria Colonist, the oldest newspaper on the North American Pacific coast.
One of Wacky’s ministers, now a piano-tuner, became the first cabinet minister in Commonwealth history sent to the slammer for accepting bribes. One of Premier Dave Barrett’s ministers was sacked after being caught making love in a car not 100 m from the premier’s office window. One of MiniWac’s government whips—at 74—was cited as co-respondent in a divorce case involving adultery in the back seat of a white Cadillac convertible.
One of Bill Bennett’s consumer affairs ministers was sacked for running up a $374.57 bill for dinner for six. The aforementioned McClelland was detected with a $1,298 New York expense account, including $325 for tickets to Sugar Babies. The aforementioned Curtis was caught once with $1,200 for Broadway tickets to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
Please, do not judge Bennett Columbia by its current spate of prurience and forgetful bank accounts. Judge it by its past. It has a proud tradition it must maintain.
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