Rapid Robyn drives a point home

Allan Fotheringham February 15 1993

Rapid Robyn drives a point home

Allan Fotheringham February 15 1993

Rapid Robyn drives a point home



There is something about the air in Lotusland. It affects the head. People do strange things, like leaving hotline radio shows to go into politics, or leaving politics to become hotline radio hosts. Thousands of people swim in the ocean on New Year’s Day and some even vote Social Credit.

It is, however, the NDP’s time for goofiness and they have proven equal to the task. Take Robyn Allan. She’s a 37-year-old economist who since last May has been the interim president and chief executive officer of the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, the government-run auto insurance plan.

She gets $135,000 a year and, it has only been discovered, has seven speeding tickets, twice has failed to produce her insurance or driver’s licence, has two seat-belt infractions and has been in five accidents.

Wonderful! Just the role model we want to inspire lead-footed drivers. Ms. Allan, who says she thinks she’s a “very good driver,” is rumored to be entering the next tractor pull at B.C. Place, a proper test for her skills.

Rapid Robyn has an even better innovation, however. At a news conference she produced a “black box”—a computer gizmo that will record everything she does from behind the wheel of her snazzy BMW, from acceleration to braking to steering. Is there something about the NDP that brings on soft heads? This is the most hilarious caper since the lady cabinet minister in Ontario last year who took a lie detector to prove she had been telling a lie about a well-paid doctor. It’s very hard to be a professional humorist in this country when all these amateurs are horning in on the trade.

The ICBC chief with the itchy foot comes from a proud tradition in Victoria. She follows in the gas pedal of the renowned Phlying Phil Gaglardi, the Socred highways minister in the W. A. C. Bennett era. Wacky called him “the greatest road builder since Caesar.” Only problem was that Phlying Phil, a diminutive chap who drove a huge gas-guzzler, had trouble keeping his buggy on the road.

He had speeding tickets by the bucket, had his licence suspended for dangerous driving

and was once chased and collared by an irate motorist after running over a dog and speeding off in Shaughnessy Heights, the most posh portion of Vancouver.

Progress is progress, and Robyn has her black box, something denied to Phil, and we think she has stumbled upon a mother lode. A computer to monitor the conduct of a high government official? I think we may be on to something good.

Backroom strategists around the country are rushing to Victoria to learn the secret. Handlers, flacks and lobbyists can see a dream sequence unfolding before them. Imagine bolting the black box inside Michael Wilson’s bulky double-breasted suit. You could program the thing, like Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, and you might actually be able to produce a personality.

Even now the Tory spin doctors are perfecting their own black box for the Prime Minister.

Buckled to his chest, instead of the bulletproof vest, it would be programmed to automatically cut out of his orations all the blarney, the guff, the bafflegab, the exaggerations and the portentous adjectives.

Computers are marvels, as we know, and the Mulroney black box would be tuned to automatically emit a beep whenever his sonorous baritone drops into the let-me-be-candid-withyou mode.

The Liberals, as we speak, are fitting Jean Chrétien with a black box that is guaranteed to turn his speech into understandable English— and even French. The Kim Campbell black box, even now, is having its r.p.m. turned down low, extracting adrenaline from her system and putting the ambition button on hold. Could a black box make Bob Rae find a suit that fits? Do something about Audrey’s eyebrows?

Just as Josef Göbbels invented propaganda and Richard Nixon devised a system of taping himself that led to his downfall, unknown Robyn Allan in Lotusland has opened up vast possibilities in the whole field. Would Gary Hart in fact be president today if a black box attached to his underwear had turned down his libido index? Who knows?

Executive assistants and aides to all top politicians always complain that if only the boss would compliantly obey instructions, would stick to the script, they wouldn’t get in trouble. Could a black box, properly programmed, have controlled Pierre Trudeau’s middle finger? Lyndon Johnson could have been warned by his black box not to show his gallbladder scar to reporters or pick up his beagles by the ears.

A black box, discreetly stuffed into the suit or the hairdo of every politician in the land, would keep us all out of trouble. When Mulroney was about to tear up those papers on TV, a handler sitting in the back room would still his hands. A tactician, sitting over the controls, would freeze the words “roll the dice” before they got past his gums.

Robyn Allan, we salute you. You are about to become more celebrated than even Phlying Phil. His fame was provincial, yours will be national and even international once the idea catches on. Like Peter Sellers’s Chauncey Gardiner in Being There, it won’t really matter who we put in high office. With a black box taped to the sternum, all the actions can be controlled.

Top civil servants have always complained that they only follow orders, and have no initiatives of their own. Rapid Robyn and her magic black box have now found a way to make sure this is true. We owe her a debt.