Friday, 2 September 2016

Trudeaumaniac


In the winter of 1984, Pierre Trudeau took a walk in the snow, and we all know what happened to the country.
Liberals wandered in the desert, like Moses looking for a sheep, for what seemed like forever. Some people got rich, some people got appointed, some people killed themselves with booze. Me, I took the coward's way out, got married and moved to Regina where I had babies and smelled like corn on the cob.
Nobody was really shocked when Pierre called it quits. Not even the true believers who toiled for him in the Langevin Block or on Parliament Hill. Some of them were sad but a lot of people had already made their plans to move on.
There was much salivating and gleeful hand-rubbing at the thought that opportunity was finally knocking. People who had been loyal spear carriers for nearly two decades were getting ready to cash in, and sell their stock to Bay Street. Spokesthingies became bankers. Policy wonks became association vice-presidents. The less fortunate skulked into the middle ranks of the public service and began wearing double knit pants and running shoes.
Influence had suddenly become an attractive commodity for which private sector companies were willing to pay handsomely.
A lot of millionaires were made in the 1980s as Liberals were more than willing to join forces with their Conservative rivals to set up consulting firms and do deals over scallops at the Sheraton. A lot of $500 bottles of wine were bought at the Rideau Club as papers were not so discretely slipped across the tables. Sucking and blowing actually became a thing, as everybody checked their ideology with the matrons at the front door.
The Pierre-leaving gave the Liberal faithful the opportunity to attach themselves to the coat tails of rising stars, the likes of Jean Chretien, John Turner, or Don Johnston. Fart catching continued to be a national sport; it was just different smelling farts they were catching.
For those who still believed, it was a difficult time as the zebras began to show their true stripes.  The distinct smell of jack off was in the air as people lined up for their gold-plated embassy and senate appointments. Government boards filled up quickly.
The Bryce was Right and as a result, he was rewarded handsomely. Lloyd Francis traded his French tutor and began to brush up on his espagnol. Colin Kenny, a boy just out of shortpants, got the golden ticket and was appointed a Senator. (Three decades later, he's still there.)
The largesse kept on getting larger and larger.
People were not just prepared to "dance with the one who brung them" as Mulroney famously said. They were prepared for a God damned orgy of entitlement.
It was time not just for change but for very large bills.
Hard to blame people.
There was a lot of fatigue in the Trudeau camp; we had slumbered for years under his efforts to bring home Canada's constitution. (Was it patriation or repatriation? Would the Gordian knot finally be severed?)
The idea pool became as dry as an Arizona desert as Trudeau eyed his destiny as an ambassador for peace (which was politico speak for a man with a million travel miles).
Being a Liberal had become embarassing for even the truly committed. There was a disastrous budget handed down by Allan J. MacEachen which so infuriated Liberals that they started marking their Liberal magazine "return to sender" with expletives painted all over the cover.
There was the National Energy Program which, to this day, remains a spoke in the side of good Western Liberals. (If you are too young to remember this ask a Western Tory who will surely enlighten you.)
Minions like me, the little people who toiled on IBM Selectric typewriters responding to Prime Ministerial mail didn't need tea leaves to know a lot of people hated Trudeau for such comments as "Why should I buy your wheat?" Or "fuddle duddle."
Instead of trying to win over voters, the Prime Minister had taken to saluting them with his middle finger, providing the creators of Trivial Pursuit with the answer "Salmon Arm salute."
If you worked in correspondence, you didn't need to see the polls to know Liberals were knee deep in caca.
I was in charge of opening the mail from concerned voters who took great pains to put pen to paper. One enterprising fellow, when asked to contribute to the Liberal coffers, fashioned a pop-up middle finger. Another lad sent us a photo of himself ejaculating with a handwritten note, "Here is my contribution."
We all knew that the Party was beginning to smell bad, as all parties do after being in power longer than two terms. Once I suggested to the Prime Minister's principal secretary that it would have been nice for Canada to adopt the two term rule, as our friends south of the border had done. He proceeded to lecture me on the differences between our two systems.
My eyes glazed over. It is the God given right of any person to be Prime Minister of Canada for life, said no one ever.
With Trudeau stepping down, we were gone baby gone, and we knew it. And so it was, during the next few weeks, the ranks of the PMO emptied their desks, and stole enough stationery and framed copies of the Constitution to start a museum.
I watched all this from my vantage point at the corner of Metcalfe and Wellington, which would soon be known as the office of Mila Mulroney. I had a good view of the Changing of the Guard, and I wanted to wait til summer to see it all over again.
Besides, I'd already burned my journalism bridges. I had no cred, nor qualifications for any other job. I had left my job as a rock music writer two years earlier, looking for new adventures and all I got was this stickin' Trudeau t shirt.
I decided to stay and watch it all play out. 
It all turned out well for me. Trudeau's correspondence director fired everybody so I got hired on as a letter writer over the summer under the new leader, John Turner, a man who left politics as a hottie and returned in old man pants.
I stayed on as a writer for hire with the same job just a different office in another building. The view sucked.
Let me say that I was never a Liberal "militant".  I hadn't joined the Young Liberals whilst at Carleton University, nor was I even a real sympathizer. I had simply lived my life since I was twelve under a Trudeau government. I didn't know anything else. It was like I had tried out the journalism thing, then got a job in Dad's shoe store.
It was a natural fit for me as I had basic liberal values. I was the daughter of a war widow raised on welfare, who got her university paid for by the paternalistic governments of Bill Davis in Ontario, who wasn't, let's face it, a real Conservative. The Liberal topped up my university stipend with a mess of grants. Going to work for the Liberal Party was like paying back the debt so that's what I did.
Unfortunately, seguing from journalism to politics meant that I was never really trusted. At the time, I was also married to a top journalist on Parliament Hill, further cementing my position as an outsider.
Love her, just don't trust her. She really isn't one of us.
When the time came for the Liberal Party to bid their fond farewell to the leader, I wasn't even invited to the party at the Ottawa Civic Centre.  After two years of faithful service, no one thought to give me a ticket.
After much complaining, somebody offered to find me a ticket but I no longer wanted to go. My heart wasn't in it.
On the night of the farewell, I decided to toast Pierre in style, so I walked from the Langevin Block to the Press Club and asked the bartender Denny Tang to fill up a bag full of beer, which I took back to my office which was located across the hallway from the RCMP.
It would be just me, the officer who was watching a baseball game, and the commissionaire.
I turned on the old black and white, snapped a cap and filled my gullet with Labatt 50.
I felt like a really dirty girl, drinking illicitly in the halls of power, but in retrospect, I now know that that RCMP guy could not have given a shit if I had been doing lines of coke instead.
It was surreal watching all of my colleagues tearing up on queue for the pool feed. Me, I didn't feel much of anything except a slight buzz from the warm beer.
After the show ended, I went back to the club for a couple more. The club was like a deserted bowling alley. Everybody, journos, politicos, were at the Civic Centre. It was just me and Denny. It reminds me now of that Jackson Brown song, Rosie.
Rosie, you're alright, you wear my ring/
When you hold me tight, Rosie that's my thing/
When they turn out the lights, I gotta hand it to me.
I always thought Jackson Brown was singing about Rosie, a girl like me, a loyal groupie but he was only describing a hand job. The Liberals didn't care about me. Like the man who sent in the photo of himself, I was merely giving my contribution.
I must say, I loved my time in politics, but I really paid for it. The stench of Liberal followed me around for years. It would keep me out of boardrooms and hallways forever.
To the Trudeau Liberals, I had been the stinky kid from the ink stained hallways of reporterland, an untrustworthy scallywag.  To my former colleagues in journalism, I was a turncoat, a sell out who had wasted my gold plated journalism credentials for personal profit. And to the other Liberals, who had been lying in wait for the end of the Trudeau era, I was a has been.
And I was only twenty-five.

No comments:

Post a Comment