Well, this is great news, really great: just what the country needs. A recently-appointed senior advisor to Justin Trudeau’s second-term government who was, when she was Minister of Natural Resources in the Chretien government half a generation ago, totally in the pocket of the oil industry. Oh, yes, sure, just what we need when the government is confronted with the imperative need, in the interests of humanity and all other life, to scale back, and eventually to close down entirely, the huge industry that has grown up around the use of fossil fuels. (I can just hear it: “Justin, my dear, for heaven’s sake go easy on them., won’t you.!”)
I am talking about Anne McLellan, PC, OC, AOE, etc, etc, of whom, in the earlier years of my blog I frequently delighted in slipping in a note to the effect that she was unfit to be a minister of the Crown by reason of taking her orders from the oil industry. I coupled her in that designation with John Manley PC, OC --- the AOC, whatever it means, having escaped him so far.
They were just two politicians apparently held in high regard by their political masters, whose virtues utterly escaped me, except, of course, that one could tell they were valued because they always did what they were told.
Of course, both have gone on to their distinguished rewards for whatever service they offered to the oil industry (McLellan), and to corporate interests (Manley, who was at various times minister in charge of industry, foreign affairs and finance, and who bowed out to live the good life as the CEO of the Business Council of Canada, an organization that serves as the lobbying firm on behalf of all corporations in Canada.)
Of course, these are only a couple of my betes noires. I have always been perhaps overly impressed, as a long-time observer of political life, by how many mediocrities inhabit the political jungle, and the wide range of jobs that are handed down to them by grateful governments, who, by and large, comfort themselves with the certain knowledge that the mediocrity, whatever job he or she is called to, will never put a foot wrong, so far as the government is concerned, and can always be depended upon to bring in some utterly worthless recommendations for actions that, mercifully, are seldom followed by any action.
Young Trudeau, as I call him because of the need to differentiate him from his father, has shown a tendency to depend on unelected advisers, his use of the previous Conservative Prime Minister Mulroney as an envoy to Washington during the re-negotiation of NAFTA being an especially egregious example. (Mind you, I am not exactly a dispassionate observer in relation to this subject: during the negotiation of the original NAFTA one Sunday in Ottawa I was walking in the park with one of my sons, who ran across a schoolmate of his, walking with his father Derek Burney who was negotiating the treaty on Mulroney’s behalf: ordinary courtesy demanded that I shake hands with the man on introduction, and I remember I did so with a sinking heart and a plunging self-esteem at my shambolic weakness in being willing to touch the flesh of a man whose life was devoted to supporting Brian Mulroney. I sincerely regretted that I did not have the courage of a film-making friend of mine who had followed Mulroney through his campaign for re-election, and on one occasion found himself in a crowd that was greeting the great man. He waited for the leader to shove out his hand towards him, then grabbed him and pulling him in suddenly whispered, “You fucking traitor!”)
Mulroney, another Canadian politician who has retired to a life of splendour provided by the (mostly) American corporations whose interests he unhesitatingly served while he was supposed to be responding to the needs of Canadians, has in recent months given a number of interviews --- maybe there was just one and it ground on me to such a point that I keep multiplying it in imagination --- in which he said the overwhelming advice he offered any Canadian Prime Minister was that his first --- and it seemed from the emphasis he gave he meant the only indispensible job of a Canadian Prime Minister was to keep good relations with the President of the United States. One bears painful memories of how far Mulroney would go to achieve that --- his singing of When Irish Eyes are Smiling, in a duet with Ronald Reagan was a really cringe-worthy occasion on a stage in Quebec City during the ill-named Shamrock Summit.
I had better not keep on with this: I have such a list of political bêtes noires gathered over my log and undistinguished career in journalism that I fear I would test the patience of my audience too far.
The sort of political humour I prefer was exemplified by the great British (rather, Welsh) minister Aneurin Bevan, founder of Britain’s National Health Service who, while I was working in the car-making centre of Coventry, visited the city to speak to a huge meeting in a crowded theatre of striking workers from the car factories, who were all members of an Engineering Workers Union.
Bevan was introduced, and to a rustle of anticipatory approval he slumped forward to the microphone set up at centre stage, hunched over it, and said, in his melodious Welsh accent: “They tell me the Engineers have been naughty again!”
I never heard a response like it, not even to the great actors I later saw on the London stage, actors who could manipulate a crowd and draw from them every emotion known to humanity. This crowd leaped to their feet, and roared their approval, their defiance of the powers of authority, for five minutes or more.
An event of wit, grace and passion of an unforgettable quality. A real Wot the hell moment!