COLUMN

It will not be easy, but forget Meech

'Enough,' they said. 'It's Sunday. We’re tired. Summer is here. Stop talking, already’

CHARLES GORDON July 9 1990
COLUMN

It will not be easy, but forget Meech

'Enough,' they said. 'It's Sunday. We’re tired. Summer is here. Stop talking, already’

CHARLES GORDON July 9 1990

It will not be easy, but forget Meech

COLUMN

'Enough,' they said. 'It's Sunday. We’re tired. Summer is here. Stop talking, already’

CHARLES GORDON

Only summer can save us now. Only a summer away from Meech and Mulroney and Bourassa and Wells, a summer away from inquiring microphones and anger-seeking pollsters and, yes, a summer away from Chrétien and Mansbridge, Frum and McLaughlin. Only a summer off will enable Canadian common sense to return. Once the fall comes, we will return, with a bit of a tan, having caught a few fish and seen a bit of the country; we will return and be able to talk reasonably with each other.

It can’t be done now. We are burned out. Our ears and brains hurt. The morning after the Liberal convention, the morning after the anthem was booed at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, two mornings after Meech was declared dead, the radio announced that we would, in our next hour, be hearing a panel of delegates in Calgary. We had just finished hearing a panel of Montrealers. We turned off the radio.

It is easy to picture Canadians across the country doing that, their saturation with current events suddenly overpowering them. “Enough,” they said to themselves. “It’s Sunday. We’re tired. Summer is here. Stop talking.”

That was the only reasonable response, the only response that will save the country. For if we don’t tum off our radios, take care to turn our TVS only to the ball game and mindless entertainment (with perhaps the odd British mystery on PBS), we will be swept up in it again. People with microphones and note pads are hungrily roaming the nation, trying to get to us. They have one question: “How angry are you?” And there is only one answer they will accept The media represent the national tongue, probing the national mouth for the hole in the national tooth. Only by thinking about something else can we keep from being conscious of how miserable we are.

And how miserable are we anyway? Canada

Charles Gordon is a columnist with The Ottawa Citizen.

Day has come and gone. Thousands of ordinary Canadians have tried in some modest way to demonstrate love of country. They have organized their little demonstrations and parades, hung out flags. The more thoughtful of them have shown that they recognize how fortunate we are to live in a place where we can rant publicly to our hearts’ content about amending formulas, Senate reform, distinct societies—with nobody confiscating our newspapers, throwing us in jail or, for that matter, forcing us to line up for the food we would like to cook before our next debate.

The people are way ahead of the politicians in this, a thought worth taking with us for the summer. The people are smarter than the media. A lot of what the politicians are arguing about has nothing to do with real life; it has to do with positions politicians have taken in the past, alliances they have forged and broken. They tell us it is about the future of the country because it makes them feel important to do so. The media tell us it is about the future of the country because it makes the media feel important. The danger is that we will believe them. If we believe that it is about the future of the country, then it will be about the future of the country, and that is why it is a good thing that summer is here.

When you think about it, the debate is not about people getting along. It is about politicians getting along. It is not about economics. It is about jurisdictions. Some of the debate is even—spare the thought—about federalprovincial conferences.

The politicians allowed themselves to become obsessed by it all, as if what mattered was what was in the Constitution, rather than what was in the hearts and minds of Canadians. The politicians allowed their selfesteem to ride on it And yet, when you stop to think about it, we are talking about amending the Constitution, which we hardly even want to do. We are talking about the Senate, which nobody in his right mind gives two hoots about. The people are smart enough to recognize that, after they have had a summer off. Only the politicians and the media are allowing it to mess with their minds. They need the summer off, too. Otherwise, they will spoil it for the rest of us.

To propose a holiday from Meech Lake may seem callous, and some people thought it so, when it was suggested by Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien. But it is true. We are tired, we are losing perspective and we can’t think about it anymore. If we push on, it is in a mood of desperation, a mood quite similar to that of the three weeks preceding the death of Meech Lake.

We have to stop listening to each other bitching. A lot of what we are bitching about has nothing to do with Meech Lake or the future of the country. It’s just that a lot of things have annoyed Canadians in the past three years—the Quebec sign law, Brian Mulroney, free trade, the GST—and have made us irritable. We take out our irritability on Meech Lake, which is not even a symbol, but more a lightning rod. If Meech Lake didn’t exist, we would have been grouchy about something else. The fact is, however, that the more we listen to each other bitch, the grouchier we get

There are natural divisions in the country, but they may not be as deep and bitter as we fear. Don’t forget how much of our present unpleasantness can be traced back to dislike of Brian Mulroney and dislike of Robert Bourassa. Don’t forget that we will not have them forever. Don’t forget also the role of hotheads in all this, particularly the rise of Englishonly bigots, who, in turn, were overcovered by the media, provoking an excessive fear in French Canada. And at each tum, a pollster, a reporter, asking: “How angry are you?”

Left to their own devices, ordinary people will be able to stay calm. Of course, we are never, in this electronic age, left to our own devices. We are bombarded with information, scrummed to death. We are hit over the head with crisis, then asked how we feel.

Now we are tired of it The politicians must be tired of it and the media would like some new questions to ask. One way of looking at it is to say that as a result of the failure of Meech Lake, we are forced to endure a summer without an amending formula, a summer without Senate reform.

It will be difficult, but it will be all right, if we try not to think about it.