Brian Mulroney and His Loud Circus Barkers on the Right
Date: Monday, October 31 2005
Brian Mulroney and His Loud Circus Barkers on the Right
History is full of small – almost unseen – corners where the sun occasionally shines. In the bleak overall of politics where the wolf struggles with the pig for dominance, occasionally there are brief, good moments. Occasionally, too, good people enter for the long term.
They remind us the political process can be noble and, at its best, is undertaken for higher ends: the creation of a society which prizes its least and insists the gatherable wealth of the country belongs to all.
In Canada, when we think of good people, we think of John A. Macdonald, Conservative; Walter Gordon, Liberal; J.S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas, CCF/NDP; and Rene Levesque perhaps, Parti quebecois.
There aren’t many.
Brian Mulroney is not among them. Not near them. Not within hailing distance.
But the Circus Barkers on the Right go on comparing him to John A, to Lester Pearson, and others significantly more luminous than himself. One of the latest puffs is from Hugh Segal, now a Senator, who is also a former chief of staff for Brian Mulroney when Prime Minister.
Like that other former chief of staff for Mulroney, journalist Norman Spector, Hugh Segal is so far “inside the box” he can’t even peek over the edge.
At the time of the B.C. teachers strike (Oct. 2005), Spector told us “we live in a democracy; we live under the rule of law”. That, of course, wasn’t intended to provoke a loud laugh. Don’t strike illegally, said Spector. “Go to court”, he told the teachers. Go before judges who don’t know what the words “justice” and “equity” mean. Tie up the teachers union for five years of Supreme Court manipulation while Gordon Campbell’s dirty legislation destroys the B.C. Teachers Federation. Pretend the B.C. Supreme Court is not a branch of the Gordon Campbell cabinet.
Norman Spector is so far inside the box he can’t see the snakes coiling round him in the darkness, though, occasionally, one suspects he feels their damp skin up against his own.
Perhaps the question shouldn’t be one that asks how Norman Spector and Hugh Segal can be as blind as they are to reality (or so willing not to see it), but why anyone listens to them at all.
How can we take anyone seriously who could devote himself to the maintenance of Brian Mulroney in office? We, the readers, don’t. The owners of Canada’s reactionary, monopoly press and media – people with the democratic values of newts and toads – do. And they present us over and over with Loud Circus Barkers on the Right to sing Mulroney’s praises.
I wrote above that history provides small corners where the sun occasionally shines. It shone one day in Ottawa about 35 years ago when Hugh Segal (whom I like) and I joined a number of others to protest the federal Liberal government ramming through (undemocratically, we believed) a piece of legislation. We protested together on Parliament Hill. And then, to keep the flame of protest going, we decided to hold an all-night vigil on the Hill.
Charlotte McEwen was there – Ottawa’s protester extraordinaire and a woman who deserves her own little monument somewhere in Ottawa. No matter what their politics or degree of sleaze, people in political life in Ottawa respected Charlotte McEwen, respected her example of integrity to which they had to defer.
Hughie Segal was there that day and night, was fun, was brimming with wit and energy. For a brief moment he even gleamed with a sense of principle and ideal. That was a small corner of history where the sun, for a good moment, shone.
How far Senator Hugh Segal has moved since that day (and night) is reflected in his Circus Barking for Brian Mulroney (Globe and Mail, Sept 30 05 A17). Segal is responding to Peter C. Newman’s book on the Brian Mulroney tapes, a book which I won’t read since Newman is a sensationalist who couldn’t be dragged by eighteen wheelers to the really important questions.
His way of being in the box is to line up Big People and to tell everything about them that doesn’t matter. If he interviewed Fidel Castro, Newman would tell us Castro swore, wore a tie that clashed with his shirt, asked for Scotch when offered wine, and didn’t clean his finger nails.
The effectiveness of Socialism in Cuba? Castro’s influence on reform movements in South America? Castro’s critique of Capitalism? Who cares about those things. Get real.
Senator Hugh Segal lines up Mulroney with great Canadian politicians of the past and imagines the ugly things those earlier Canadians might have said. Not very convincing.
Segal then tells us of Brian Mulroney’s “passionate belief in a stronger North American trading community….” Pardon? Mulroney (in campaign) rejected Free Trade. Only in power did he commit to Continentalist Capitalism. With all the other reactionaries, Segal assumes the FTA and NAFTA have done wonders for Canada.
Everything we trade fairly with the U.S. now we could trade without NAFTA. Everything they don’t want to trade fairly, they don’t. Almost incredibly, Mulroney didn’t gain an international set of trade rules binding both countries. Instead, he agreed Canada would be ruled by U.S. trade law. Banana Republics sometimes do things that badly. But not often.
In addition, Brian Mulroney gave the U.S. such devastating de facto “break and entry” access to Canadian constitutional powers he can never be forgiven.
Despite all the blarney, the bluster, and the blow-hard blandishments of the Hugh Segal reactionaries, Canadians know in their bones and morrow that Brian Mulroney betrayed them massively. They don’t, and they won’t, forgive him. Segal also tells us of the monumental, heroic attempt by Mulroney “to bring Quebec back into the family of constitutional signatories” – by which he means the negotiating of the Meech and Charlotteown Accords.
A point scored? Not at all.
Segal doesn’t tell us that by then Mulroney was commonly known as “Lyin Brian”, someone Canadians wouldn’t trust to take out the garbage. Mulroney was supported in his constitutional activity by Alberta’s premier, Don Getty, Segal reminds us. But he doesn’t remind us Getty couldn’t count all the holes on an 18 hole golf course. He also, in fairness, tells us Liberal Michael Pitfield who was never elected to a village charity also backed Mulroney. Grasping at straws, perhaps.
Segal doesn’t tell us what Pierre Trudeau (no friend of mine) told us, correctly – that Quebec asked for five things to increase its provincial power and weaken the federal power. Mulroney gave Quebec six things instead, and then gave them to all the other provinces as well.
The new constitution for Iraq, giving all real power to the regions, would have looked solidly centralist compared to the licorice-all-sorts Canada Mulroney brokered. Canadians – despite facing massive propaganda, blarney and bluster – rejected the Mulroney vision.
That isn’t to say finding a constitutional solution to Quebec’s demands is or will be easy. It won’t be. But the balance that must be struck was blown to smithereens by Mulroney – just as an improved trade relation with the U.S. was blasted off the face of the earth by Mulroney to make Canada a NAFTA slop-carrier for the U.S. That last is what the Hugh Segalists call “a stronger North American trading community”.
Then there are those tiny points Peter Newman won’t touch, nor will Hugh Segal. Why did Canadians come to distrust Mulroney so massively his approval rating dropped below 15 percent? Why did former Ontario premier, David Peterson [see Newman] say Mulroney is an unregenerate liar? Why did William Kaplan write a second book about Mulroney asking why (only weeks after leaving as PM) Mulroney was in hotel rooms, three times, receiving white envelopes containing one hundred thousand dollars each time? And how come he was receiving them from a man Germany wants extradited from Canada to face several charges of wrong-doing? Why does William Kaplan, a conservative lawyer of integrity, spend some time musing about and defining perjury and wondering where it is applicable?
When “an unlikely Conservative from a small town outside the self-anointed heartland hits the top rung, the only question is what profanities or excesses against public sensibilities have been committed in the quest”, writes Hugh Segal of Brian Mulroney.
No. That isn’t the only question. There are many, many very deep questions to ask about Brian Mulroney, but the Loud Circus Barkers on the Right aren’t going to ask them. Segal dismisses Peter Newman, but doesn’t ask any of the real questions himself. If he dared to do so, Canada’s reactionary, monopoly press and media would very soon find they had no time or space for intellectual ruminations by Senator Hugh Segal.
Senator Hugh Segal’s op ed piece in the Globe and Mail: “PMs are proud, passionate and PO’d – just like Brian” would be better called, “Who Dares Ask the Real Questions About Brian Mulroney? Not Peter Newman. Not Me.”