The Back Page

101 uses for an ex-PM

JUDITH TIMSON May 27 2002
The Back Page

101 uses for an ex-PM

JUDITH TIMSON May 27 2002

101 uses for an ex-PM

The Back Page

JUDITH TIMSON

Jean Chrétien was once mischievously described by the late Dalton Camp as looking like “the driver of the getaway car.” But clearly, looks can be deceiving. With a recent announcement that the Prime Minister has formed a team to prepare for next fall’s Liberal leadership review, it’s obvious that he’s not about to speed out of our sight anytime soon.

In fact, Canadians may have to accept that we are all starring in a very longrunning movie, the political version of Groundhog Day, which was a comedy about a day that keeps happening over and over again. This one is about a prime ministership that keeps happening over and over again, and it’s not even that funny. It features Jean Chrétien as the Man Who Wouldn’t Leave. And who can blame him? He likes where he lives, he loves what he does, and if occasionally he is having a bad day—one that he can’t fob off on one of his incompetent underlings—well, the little guy from Shawinigan never seems to take it as a sign that he best be moving on. Instead, there is an excuse for everything. Auditors calling for an RCMP investigation of his government awarding contracts to the same agency? Never mind—he did it to save the country! Paul Martin waiting so long in the wings that his smile looks like something out of a Lon Chaney movie? Pfft! That’s his problem. The Liberals on the losing end of two major byelections? C’est la vie!

Much to our discomfort, Chrétien doesn’t seem ready to emulate the late great one, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who went for his famous walk in the snow, existentially sniffed the air, then returned and said, it’s time for me to go. Chrétien would go for a walk in the snow, come back and ask Aline what’s for lunch. In fact, can’t you just hear him, bounding through the doors of Sussex Drive, perfectly pleased with himself, crowing in sheer exuberance: “Oh you know, Aline, I love this job! It keep me young.” Yeah, but what about the rest of us? We grow old we grow old, we will wear the bottom of our relaxed jeans rolled. Collectively, we are sinking into decrepitude while Chrétien, like the picture of Dorian Gray, is strangely beginning to look better and better. He looked older a decade ago, and I don’t think he’s had work done. Oh no, he is in the thrall of something far more rejuvenating than botox. It’s called power and power is not merely, as Henry Kissinger once said, the “ultimate aphrodisiac.” It’s the ultimate Geritol. This is scary, because as long as there is no viable politi-

cal opposition, were not going to vote Chrétien out. And Chrétien isn’t going to relinquish the job. Unless... that’s it! The only way we’re going to unhook Jean Chrétien from political life support is to find him another job.

Remember that tasteless book—101 Uses for a Dead Cad—well, there must be an equal number of uses for a former prime minister. Let me see, he could follow Bill Clinton’s lead and entertain the idea of becoming a talk-show host. Then again, unless they were prepared to have translators in both official languages, no one could understand him. Well, what about work in the financial sector? Hmm. Talk to the auditor general about that.

In fact, it’s so difficult to put a finger on what, if anything, could entice Chrétien away from this, the role of his life, that I think we should consult an executive headhunter. Let’s call him Dr. Search. I have this guy on the line now, but the conversation is not going well. “Your candidate, how old is he?” huffs Dr. Search. “Not young,” I reply miserably. “But not so old either. He’s kind of ageless.” “After 50, most people are washed up,” says Dr. Search flady. “But there are exceptions. Is he good with people?” My heart sinks. “Not exacdy. He either ignores them or roughs them up if they get in his way.” “Hmm,” says Dr. Search. “This guy does not sound like a hot property.” I rally desperately. “Oh, but he is,” I reply. “He’s got a rough-hewn charm, native smarts, he’s dined with presidents, golfed with Tiger Woods, sipped tea with the Queen. He’s navigated through controversy and scandal, and he still somehow seems vigorous.” “But cut to the chase,” says Dr. Search. “Can he bring clients in? Will anyone take his phone calls once he leaves office? More importantly, can he bill, because it’s all about billable hours.”

Ah now, there’s a real problem. This is a man who may not know how to bill, so much as how to be billed. I mean, it takes a special kind of talent to preside over a government which effectively paid more than half a million dollars for a non-existent report. “I can’t help you,” sniffs Dr. Search. “This is not a talent in great demand right now.”

Never mind, I’ve got it. I know exactly the right use for Jean Chrétien, it was staring me in the face all along. He could be ... yes, driver of the getaway car! Because, let’s face it, the robbery has already taken place. EJ

Judith Timson is a Toronto writer.