MEDIA WATCH

The non-candidacy of a nonsmoker

‘I was offered pot on occasion. I preferred corned beef’, said Hugh Segal before bowing out of the race for the federal Tory leadership.

GEORGE BAIN April 26 1993
MEDIA WATCH

The non-candidacy of a nonsmoker

‘I was offered pot on occasion. I preferred corned beef’, said Hugh Segal before bowing out of the race for the federal Tory leadership.

GEORGE BAIN April 26 1993

The non-candidacy of a nonsmoker

MEDIA WATCH

GEORGE BAIN

‘I was offered pot on occasion. I preferred corned beef’, said Hugh Segal before bowing out of the race for the federal Tory leadership.

It’s a good thing Hugh Segal got out of the Conservative leadership race—or, rather, did not get into it, if he actually was thinking about it. There was briefly an awful, and I do mean awful, lot about it on television, on radio and in the papers. But whether a lot of anything on television, on radio and in the newspapers means anything, I am not nearly as sure as I once would have been. Maybe he was just having a little fun and the media people on Parliament Hill, who take everything seriously and most particularly themselves, just missed it.

I have been hearing about and very occasionally seeing Segal for years and I have always understood him to be a guy who likes a little fun in his politics and is a great hand with a quip. When Hughie announced his non-candidacy, Jeffrey Simpson in The Globe and Mail, usually a quiet voice of reason on the Hill, reported that some nit, my term, not Simpson’s, had asked Hughie if he had ever experimented with marijuana. And Hughie replied: “I was offered pot on occasion. I preferred corned beef.”

Simpson wrote that with lines like that, “Segal would have made the Conservative leadership race bearably human instead of unbearably stuffy.” Yessir. Since it looks as though helicopters and child care are going to be matters hanging over the convention, and perhaps the election to follow, I can imagine Hughie being asked some day: “How is your party going to get down from those helicopters?” and his replying, “You don’t get down from a helicopter; you get down from a duck.” At which everyone will fall about, helpless with laughter.

What is the parliamentary press corps coming to? One egregious ass there, always wringing his hands about all the right things, recently recorded as the sort of thing women suffer in the military, that male persons yell at them that they are incompetent or lazy. Ye gods, women no more than get a foot in the door of the military than they’re trying to upset tradi-

tions going back to the days of Julius Caesar when the only women near the army were camp followers. Those male persons in uniform who tell other people that they are lazy and incompetent are called noncommissioned officers. Their authoritarian ways have nothing to do with gender; it’s just what they do.

But before leaving these digressions from a theme I haven’t got anywhere near yet, what is all this business about asking candidates if they’ve experimented with marijuana? What, in fact, is to be made of the term “experimented with?” An experiment is a test, a trial, a tentative procedure. As the media people who ask those questions know, because most of them are of roughly the same generation as the persons asked, smoking dope wasn’t “a tentative procedure”; it was a lifestyle. That and giving their all to the advancement of the sexual revolution. In that period I was occasionally at gatherings where, without smoking anything, just entering the room precluded anyone from using Bill Clinton’s plea that he never inhaled. But all this has nothing to do with Hugh Segal. The only smokinghe was into was smoked meat (no doubt with mustard and a pickle on the side).

What justifies saying it’s a good thing he

got out is the sort of babble I heard from a panel on radio last week. It was about how a handful of “right-wing” Tories, including the former finance minister and present trade minister, Michael Wilson, supposedly were manoeuvring to outflank Kim Campbell because they weren’t sure she was the real right right. It was also about how it was incongruous that they should be urging Segal into the race because he is, or has been, known as a Red Tory, the label for those on the left of mainstream Conservatism, which some other Tories think Kim Campbell also is, although whether more so or less so than Segal nobody said.

If, perhaps to his surprise, Segal saw his belated entry as likely to encourage more of this sort of lunatic labelling exercise, even among delegates, he did his party a great favor by backing off. Who is more left or right than whom, even assuming anyone could define the terms, makes a fruitless and distracting question for any leadership campaign to become mired in. The Tories already are having a distracting enough phoney issue pressed on them by some elements in the media without having it turned into a left-right fight. That is the Helicopters-versus-Day Care proposition, which poses the question: “OK, which is it to be, 50 big unnecessary military helicopters for $5.8 billion or child care for the kiddies and tots of ever-so-many overburdened two-earner families for just $5 billion?”

There was a guy in the United States once who devised a scheme of Tested Selling Sentences. Fundamental to it was the idea that the customer should always be offered a choice between something and something, never between something and nothing. Clerks in soda fountains were told that if the customer asked for a milk shake, the clerk should hold up two eggs and say, “One egg or two?” OK, so a raw egg in a milk shake is faintly repugnant but tests showed that most often the dope at the counter would say one, if not actually two. Now, a couple of lines from a tediously long piece in a paper that knows better: “In the months ahead, Canadians will be asked repeatedly whether they’d rather spend billions on helicopters or on their children.”

Same thing, eh? But less honest. Eggs are eggs, but 50 helicopters at $5.8 billion over 13 years are not the same as a whole new program at $5 billion every year, rising at a rate greater than inflation into infinity. The choice there is between the inadvisable, in that we probably don’t need all 50 helicopters, and the impossible, in that maintaining present social programs at their present levels is going to be the task of the near future, without adding another $5 billion a year to expenditure.

What’s left and what’s right between the inadvisable and the impossible? Don’t ask me. I’m still digesting the fact that in Russia, since 1917 the world’s left-marker of the political spectrum, the remnants of the old Communist regime are now described in the nightly news as rightists and even conservatives. Whither are we drifting?