Monday, 15 April 2013

Pierre Trudeau and the Invention of Lobbying

On a warm summer's night in June 1984, I sat my office at the corner of Wellington and Metcalfe watching Pierre Trudeau's last address to the Liberal Party of Canada.

All of my colleagues were gathered to hear him in person at the Ottawa Civic Centre. As a consultant, nobody had bothered to think of me when the tickets were handed out, and I was too proud to beg. So
I walked down to the Press Club and bought a six pack from Denny, then took it back to the Langevin Block. It was just me, a few commissionaires and a lone RCMP officer rattling around the stately old caramel building.

There weren't many of us left in Trudeau's office after he took his long walk on a cold night. There had been a lot of excitement among the Liberal faithful who were eagerly jostling for new digs with a new leader. Perhaps it was a career killer, but I chose to stay with Trudeau until the very end. It just seemed like such an outstanding moment in history and I wanted to drink it in. A prime minister who had been so since I was 12 years old was taking his leave. I could hardly believe it.

That night spelled the beginning of the end of a unified Liberal Party of Canada. It wasn't Brian Mulroney's doing; the Party was bent on self-destruction. People had become cynical, angry even, at Trudeau for taking so long to go. They seemed to have forgotten that when the Joe Clark Tories fell, Trudeau had bailed the Party out.

What did begin with Mulroney was a new era in Canadian politics. After John Turner's massive defeat, Liberals went their separate ways looking to cash in on their contacts. Many of them became very rich during the Mulroney years, trading in their values and beliefs for high paycheques as lobbyists. Others sashayed into cushy jobs in banking and advertising.

A career in politics became a meal ticket, a Cash for Life lottery earning that was hard to resist. Strangely, many of these Party operatives seemed to believe they were entitled to it.

By the time Chretien clawed his way into power, everything had changed. Even Chretien, the little guy from Shawinigan had changed. He was no longer a likeable cheerleader; Chretien became obsessed with power.

Politics in Canada resembled the type fought in the gutters of Quebec. Mulroney set the tone, but Chretien raised the game. These were the heady days of Chuck Guite and his merry band. There was money in them there Gatineau Hills and the lobbyists began to act like bandits.

During the new Liberal days, bid after government bid was directed towards the large lobbying firms that were set up with Liberal and Tories sitting side-by-side in posh offices with breathtaking views of the Parliament Buildings.

Party politics were never the same after Trudeau left. I got out after Trudeau. I just didn't have the stomach for this kind of politics. That was nearly thirty years ago.

Justin Trudeau stood on the podium yesterday vowing to change the culture of Liberal politics. No more in-fighting, Spy vs Spy. No more "hyphenated" Liberals.

I sincerely hope, if elected, Justin tries to bring the Party back to one that is based on a belief system. I hope he makes his Dad proud.

Let's hope Trudeau the younger can pull it off.

If he can, I might drag out my old red sweater and put it on.


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