It is always the little things in politics that count. The niggling, overlooked, minuscule, trivial things that somehow turn into something bigger.
Richard Nixon, at the time, dismissed the Watergate break-in as “a third-rate burglary” and thought he could get on with life.
Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government was brought down by the mere fact that a junior minister named John Profumo first lied to the House of Commons about having an affair with a tart whose name was Christine Keeler.
The supremely arrogant Liberal gang typified by C. D. Howe thought there would be nothing wrong with ramming through a bill on a pipeline that most Canadians had never heard of. Such tactics, of course, were duck soup to generations of Liberal cabinets, the Grits being the Natural Governing Party, and the Commons their playfield where they could do what they wanted to do, whenever they wanted to do it.
A prairie lawyer rose to fame in that pipeline debate and the Maginot Line of the Liberal front bench cracked and then fell and John Diefenbaker became prime minister. Bill Clinton, a Rhodes Scholar who had it all—brains, great charm, the title of the most powerful man on earth, a strong wife who supported him—threw it all away for the sake of sleazy, quickie sexual pleasure with a dizzy intern not much older than his daughter.
They all find their own way to ruin. But mostly it is because of the immutable, secure belief that they can do no wrong because, well, because they have it all. Jean Chrétien is in that mode at the moment, cocky beyond belief, seemingly shocked that he can be criticized, belittling all who dare challenge him.
Defence Minister Art Eggleton—another weakling in Chrétien’s collection of them on his front bench—announced last week that Ottawa will spend $15 million to build an armory in Shawinigan, which by wild and great coincidence happens to be the home town of the Prime Minister.
It’s a nothing thing, a piffling $15 million, which by Ottawa accounts is small change. “What’s a million!” C. D. Howe, the Minister of Everything in the Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent
governments, once cried in irritation during a Commons debate.
A million is nothing, of course, in the great scheme of things, just as $15 million more going into Mr. Chrétien’s riding is a mere bagatelle. It is simply the latest in the boondoggle string of federally financed projects that have gone into the riding of Saint-Maurice, where resides a prime minister who is not popular in his own province because of his lack of proficiency in either French or English and his oafish ways.
Camp Chilliwack, the one major army base left in British Columbia, operated for 50 years an hour east of Vancouver in the Fraser Valley. The Liberal brains in Ottawa, for some unfathomable reason,
dismantled it and transferred the base to Edmonton.
When a rare Arctic storm left Victoria and Vancouver helpless two years ago, it was suddenly discovered the tanks and trucks needed were all sitting in faroff Edmonton, rather useless in the emergency. Meanwhile, enough nickels and dimes were found to build a $15million armory in Chrétien’s riding.
It is the little things that niggle. An arrogant Prime Minister who thought a year ago that pepper spray was “a joke” when he first heard about it at a press conference in Vancouver, now finds it on the front pages nationally. Stripped naked by Ottawa documents, the Prime Minister is revealed as a sycophantic host who would do anything to persuade the Indonesian thug Suharto to attend the APEC photo opportunities in Vancouver.
Anything to please. Including special provisions to allow the thug’s bodyguards to carry weapons previously banned by RCMP regulations. The Prime Minister who still thinks “pepper” is a joke—as witness his “pepper steak” gaffe at a recent Winnipeg fund-raising banquet—arrogantly won’t concede that the biggest joke in the land, the MP from Amnesia called Andy Scott, has lost all credibility for now and forever in his cabinet post.
Now there is a new Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation conference coming up. In Malaysia, from Nov. 14 to 18. In the country where the eccentric prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has thrown in jail heir-apparent Anwar Ibrahim. Whose battered face, Mohamad claims, must have come from self-inflicted wounds. While government troops beat and arrest dissidents in the streets.
The Philippines is expressing hesitation about attending. Even Indonesia, the thug Suharto having been deposed, is hesitating as the controversy over human rights in the host nation grows.
Our Prime Minister? No hesitation at all. Anyone who could put up with Suharto obviously has no trouble putting up with Mohamad. In another great coincidence, the bogus trial of Ibrahim, which will begin on Nov. 2, will be “suspended” from Nov. 14 to 23, when Chrétien and his fellow summiteers will be in town.
Ottawa is silent about Mohamad in Malaysia. Just as it was silent about Suharto in Vancouver. It’s the little things that count. They all add up.
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