In the never-ending mission to save the nation, a 125-year-old babe perpetually on the edge of self-immolation, one should ignore the obvious signs of disintegration. Disdain the paperwork. The predictable blatherings of the bureaucrats. Cast not an eye on the Meech Lake documents, the Allaire report, the Spicer papers, the incomprehensible Doobie-Beaudoin tablets handed down from on high.
Watch the players instead. Real human beings, those who make the decisions. Documents mean nothing. The quarterbacks make the decisions.
The most telling body language in our current angst, coming in the ornate trappings of the National Assembly in Quebec City, is the Liberal government, in a rare moment of assent, preparing to vote with the Parti Québécois denunciations (what else!) of the incomprehensible findings of the portly senator called Beaudoin and the harassed and confused rookie MP called Doobie.
Just before the vote is called, Robert Bourassa rose from his front-bench seat and vacated the premises, as if a sudden call of nature had activated him. There was, naturally, the later explanation that he had a pressing engagement elsewhere—a politician’s “pressing engagement elsewhere” the equivalent of why kids used to have their mouths washed out with soap—and that as premier he didn’t ordinarily vote on such theoretical concerns.
Oh yeah? We will forgive him his absence. In fact we will applaud his absence. It signifies for any reader of the arcane constitutional fandango that he is ready to play, that he is ready to cut a new deck.
A shrewd observer of the constitutional marathon—surely the most boring spectacle since the six-day bicycle races in Madison Square Garden in the 1930s—has divined that Bou-Bou (as the Quebec press derisively calls him over beer) is the most adroit Canadian politician since Mackenzie King (the kinky little cutie who is equally derided by Anglo scribes).
Bou-Bou has himself in a bit of a bind, a box in fact. Bound by law—his own law, unless he
wants to change his own law—to call a referendum on separation by Halloween, he now must finesse around what Joe Mulroney calls the best entreatment to Quebec since Confederation and what Brian Clark says is the final offer, final, and nothing else.
That is why Bourassa, who has made the greatest comeback from political disgrace since Richard Nixon started lecturing George Bush on world statesmanship, gets up and walks before the vote—so he can throw a small wink to Don Getty, who is moldering out there on the prairie, face white with fright at the thought of Presto! Manning.
He knows that there is flux in the land, Ennui-on-the-Rideau, as well as in the city that Eric Lindros’s mother can never love. (What’s the difference between Mrs. Lindros and a pit bull? Lipstick. Current Quebec joke. I digress.) He knows that Joe Mulroney’s Quebec chief, Benoît Bouchard, had to be hauled back from
the Florida sands to help Brian Clark erect a united front.
He knows that the Mulroney crowd has no idea how to deal with the wild-card minister Marcel Masse, who stands up on his hind legs and says flatly that the D-B encyclical—not coming from Moses as the PM suggests—is a thin crock that needs more gruel.
Bou-Bou, who can read, observes the delighted Toronto press response to the rumpled Mordecai Richler, who ventures to the Big Lemon to publicize his book-length version of his celebrated New Yorker article that so enraged francophones in Mordecai’s home town.
And here is the St-Urbain boy, with truth a little too close to the bone, telling interviewers that the Québécois desperation is not about language at all, but about a declining birthrate. And that the only way the province can renew a base of French-speaking residence is to import immigrants—those from Provence not likely to rush to Chicoutimi—from Algeria, Morocco and elsewhere.
“God help us,” Mordecai tells every microphone and notebook, “when the first Moslem prayer resounds across Trois-Rivières.” This is derision hard to accommodate—especially when it’s true.
As everyone in Moose Jaw knows (as Bou-Bou knows), this turkey trot will go on and on, there being no need to call out the militia just yet. There are further Meech Lakes to come, as painful as this is to predict and record, yet-unknown and ignored lakes to be made famous in history for the fact they were the sites where 11 men in suits spent yet another all-night session—fuelled by coffee. cancer sticks and Confederationspeak—wrestled with
Robert Bourassa, Mackenzie King’s natural heir on the other side of the cultural wall, is famous for his private views that if Quebec indeed is to slip out of Canada, he is going to be the premier who does it (with Jacques Parizeau as his finance minister).
He is a Liberal, supposedly. Joe Mulroney is a Conservative, supposedly. There is a suspicion that Ma Bell still has operating wires between 24 Sussex and the National Assembly. These guys have more hands than three-stud poker.
Between Marcel Masse, who J. Mulroney dares not sack, Bou-Bou Bourassa, who values the clever exit, and Mordecai, who will be burned in effigy (though not in the Ritz-Carlton bar) when his book is published, we shall prevail.
ationspeak—wrestled the equation, punched the pillow, tried to nail jelly to the wall.
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