The Canadian Revolution: From Deference to Defiance 1985-1995

Article excerpt

What is a Canadian Revolution? It sounds like an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp or Ottawa nightlife, but it's not. Because when you really study revolutions, the stereotype of revolutions - which is tanks in the city square or a guillotine, or whichever revolution you're talking about (French revolution, Russian revolution, American revolution, Hungarian revolution) - they're always acts of violence. But they don't authenticate a revolution. They're just events in a revolution. What authenticates a revolution - what gives it meaning, what gives it permanence - is a shift in values of the society that has undergone a revolution, or at the end of a revolution. And it is my contention in my book that there has been a shift in values among Canadians, and that shift is from deference to authority to defiance of authority. And that's what I'd like to talk about. Most of that has been due the loss of faith in institutions, and the chief of these institutions, of course, has been the political system.

I know it's hard to remember, but it's not that long ago that we actually believed in politicians. I have a phrase in my book about the Mulroney cabinet that when cabinet ministers admitted they'd lied, still nobody would believe them. I quote Bob - who lives in Gabriola - saying that it was the first time in history that a government overthrew a country. I think Brian Mulroney's main problem was that he so badly wanted to be loved. He didn't want to make enemies, he always tried to ingratiate himself with the electors and didn't understand the nature of his office, because Prime Ministers don't have to be loved, they do have to be respected. It was that respect that he never earned. Trudeau, who was certainly hated, did have that kind of respect, so it's a big difference. This business of wanting to be loved and never making enemies reminds me of Voltaire, the French essayist. When he was dying, people surrounded his deathbed and one of them said, "Monsieur Voltaire, would you like to renounce the devil?" And Voltaire looked very surprised and said, "No, no. This is no time to make new enemies."

I should explain that I don't really have very high expectations of politicians, I think a good government is when things get worse a little more slowly. Malcolm Muggeridge, the British essayist, was once asked, "What is the ideal form of government?" He thought a minute and said, "Well, the ideal form of government is an oligarchy tempered by assassination" - which I don't advocate.

I was in the House of Commons for 12 years, not as a member of the House, but as a member of the press gallery, and that meant that everyday I had to sit through Question Period - a task that tries the soul and numbs the brain. So to keep myself alive and awake, I started to make some notes on what Canadian politicians say, and I'm just going to share some of them with you - and they're all in Hansard.

One example - this was a Tory from New Brunswick - I don't know what he meant, but this is what he said, "To shoot off your face is one thing, but to put your shoulder to the wheel, that's a horse of a different colour." And another - this was a Liberal - he got himself all wound up in own rhetoric and he said, "I see before me the footsteps of the hand of destiny." And attacking cabinet ministers, another opposition member said, "These cabinet ministers, if they were on a deserted island, would not be there more than 10 minutes, before they had their hands in the pockets of the naked savages." "Let's get our heads together to see if we can come up with something concrete." "My conscience is clear - I never use it." But my favourite is - an NDPer who was urging the government to action - and he actually said, "It's time to grab the bull by the tail and look the situation straight in the face." I sometimes think that even crime wouldn't pay if the government ran it. We keep voting for change and change is all we have left in our jeans. …


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