COLUMN

Why friends fall from high places

Allan Fotheringham February 19 1990
COLUMN

Why friends fall from high places

Allan Fotheringham February 19 1990

Why friends fall from high places

COLUMN

ALLAN FOTHERINGHAM

There is a rolling of the eyes in the body politic when yet another of Brian Mulroney’s close friends takes the gas pipe. Here we go again. That’s the popular opinion. That was the feeling when the latest bosom pal, one Brian Gallery, had to vacate quickly as vice-chairman of CN when bothersome reporters revealed he couldn’t quite discern the difference between public duty and private interests. It is rather a pattern among the Prime Minister’s pals, but there is a reason—not that anyone wants to listen.

Unless you have spent years in the wilderness, you do not know what the wilderness is like. Those chaps consigned to the French Foreign Legion in the Sahara—banished for whatever sins—know what it is like. So do— see the Prime Minister’s pals—those wretched figures who stubbornly persisted at being Conservatives in Quebec through the Long March.

To be a Conservative in Quebec when the Liberals invented the word patronage was to be a lonely heathen in the land of Christians. While slush funds and paving contracts and lawyers’ fees and real estate allotments went to faithful Grits who delivered the province en masse to Mackenzie King and St. Laurent and Pearson and then Trudeau, the bitter Brian Mulroney and his pals sat and watched.

To keep from being completely bitter, since that way lies death, they had a better plan. They would have fun while relegated to the wilderness. They would party and delight in the visions of the vengeance they would wreak upon their tormentors once they—in the sweet by-and-by—eventually came to power.

Mulroney and Gallery and their pals were the best party people in Montreal. Partially because their cause was hopeless. Partially because they believed that Tory fortunes couldn’t possibly become worse and therefore blue skies—somewhere, somehow—must be in the future.

Mulroney, the boy wonder who went out to Saskatchewan as an aide to Diefenbaker guru Alvin Hamilton, tried to cajole Dief as to how he

could cosset his astonishing 1958 sweep of Quebec, but to no avail. He returned to the wilderness as Dief’s charisma expired, boy Brian healing his wounds eventually in the Maritime Bar of the Ritz-Carlton.

Those decades when the bloodless, efficient Liberals ruled Canada mainly through their effortless rule of Quebec laid the basis of Mulroney’s present troubles. Because there were so few Tories in Quebec—impossible to elect—they formed a coterie, devoted in their isolation, sworn to revenge when their time eventually came.

It did, of course, in 1984, and Mulroney set forth rapidly to do what his Liberal friends had been doing for most of all this century: fixing up friends. His best-received line, throughout his triumphant 1984 election campaign, was a proud boast to gleeful Conservative audiences that certainly he would appoint some Liberals to patronage posts—“after there is not a single

living, breathing Conservative left in the land.”

The euphoric Tories, eager for succor after so long in the desert, whooped and hollered at that line. They loved it. Especially since their bitterness over the obsessively fair Joe Clark, never forgiven for the fact that, on the night of his suicidal and goofy Commons nonconfidence vote that ended his career after only nine months, there were some 100 patronage appointments sitting on his desk unsigned.

Brian Mulroney, coming from backroom Quebec, was not to make the same mistake. Gallery, a large Irishman with an expensive wardrobe, was to be given the acting chairmanship of CN and then—when a permanent chairman was chosen—eased into a newly created job as vice-chairman, while retaining CN duties in France. Buddy Michel Cogger went to the Senate. Friend Yves Fortier went to the United Nations. Pal Jean Bazin went to the Senate—and mysteriously resigned recently, pleading that he didn’t have the time to devote to the job, an oxymoron of our age.

Mulroney is held up against a hard standard. Pierre Trudeau has never been detected as having real friends. Those he has are not exactly eligible for government posts. Barbra Streisand as transport minister or Margot Kidder as external affairs minister were never in the running. John Turner’s close friends are aging jocks, never in need of cushy jobs, and his mind never works that way.

But the Montreal gang, their coat collars turned up against the world, regarded 24 Sussex Drive once they g got there as Valhalla. Of course, Gallery, with his CN largesse, complained in ^ writing to CN advertising people who, ordered to cut costs, were cancelling ads in his own little shipping magazines. Of course, Gallery, a major Tory fund raiser, couldn’t see anything wrong with throwing parties on his private CN car for Tory biggies. Chief fund raiser David Angus made such open boasts about his imminent Senate appointment that a nervous Mulroney never did make it.

The Québécois vote is a tribal vote each election, and in our time decides the election. The Mulroney friends—mainly stalwart anglophones who braved the francophone majority at Laval’s law school—have their own tribal protective blanket. They resented the Liberal establishment that reigned over this country for too many decades.

They were shut out for too long and now, once in, have been so unused to the nuances of nudging rather than crassly pushing that they continually get into deep trouble in the headlines.