Malice in Blunderland
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 25 Nov 1999, p. 172-179
Fotheringham, Allan, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Some personal and political history of the speaker and Western Canada. Witty and edgy comments about Canadian politics and politicians.
Date of Original
25 Nov 1999
Language of Item
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text

Allan Fotheringham Author and Columnist MALICE IN BLUNDERLAND Chairman: Robert J. Dechert President, The Empire Club of Canada

Head Table Guests

Anne Libby, Private Art Dealer and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Reverend Dr. Robert Pierson, St. Philips Anglican Church; Anne Sage, OAC Student, Northern Secondary School; Jack Rabinovitch, Businessman and Founder, The Gillar Prize; Larry Stevenson, CEO, Chapters Inc. and CEO, Chapters Online; David L. Lindsay, President and CEO, Ontario Jobs and Investment Board and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Anna Porter, Publisher, Key Porter Books; Mordecai Richler, Celebrated Author and Journalist; and Robert Lewis, Editor-in-Chief, Maclean's Magazine.

Introduction by Robert J. Dechert

Millions of Canadians quote Allan Fotheringham (or "Dr. Foth" as he is affectionately known) every day. He is to Canadian political culture what Yogi Berra is to baseball.

I am a case in point. When Allan Fotheringham last addressed the Empire Club 13 years ago I was living in Ottawa. I was a Toronto expat and I remember frequently telling my Ottawa-bound friends that Allan Fotheringham referred to the nation's capital as "the-city-thatfun-forgot" and "boredom-on-the-Rideau."

His wit has not spared our city. He has called Toronto: "Not a New York-but a failed Boston."

Of our nation, he has said: "Canada is 10 independent personalities, united only by a common suspicion of Ottawa."

He was, and is, biting, sarcastic and very insightful.

Dr. Foth's views on the monarchy, the Commonwealth and all things British are well known and always relevant to us here at the "Empire Club."

Allan Fotheringham began life in Hearne, Saskatchewan, where the citizens are known, he says, as "hearnias.'

At the age of nine, he moved to Sardis, British Columbia and later to Vancouver where he earned an undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia.

He had begun his journalism career as a reporter for both his high-school paper and for the town newspaper-The Chilliwack Progress. In university he became the editor of the student newspaper, the "Ubyssey" which lead to the recognition of his sardonic wit by the publisher of the Vancouver Sun-a man he had described as "crummy." That was in 1954.

Allan Fotheringham is now completing his 45th year in journalism. He has written a column for 31 of those 45 years with The Vancouver Sun, Southam News, The Financial Post and Sun Media. He has travelled in some 65 countries and has examined all aspects of Canada from near and far.

He has also apparently consumed significant quantities of sherry.,

He has been a correspondent in London, Washington and Hong Kong and has written one of the most influential columns in Canada on the last page of Macleans magazine for the last 25 years.

He has won numerous awards including the National Magazine Award for Humour, the National Newspaper Award for ColumnWriting and the Southam Fellowship in Journalism. Earlier this year he was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame. He has published five best-selling books including his latest entitled "Last Page First."

Recently, Allan Fotheringham has shown great courage and public service in raising awareness among Canadians of the dangers of prostate cancer.

And in April of 1998, he achieved a very prestigious award indeed, when he married our very own Empire Club Director, Anne Libby.

Ladies and gentleman, please welcome Mr. Allan Fotheringham to the podium of The Empire Club of Canada.

Allan Fotheringham

I must confess to you at the outset that I'm here somewhat under false pretenses because I am not a speaker. I'm a writer as you know. In circumstances like this I feel somewhat like Zsa Zsa Gabor's eighth husband. I know what to do but I'm not sure I can make it interesting.

I am from British California, also known as Bennett Columbia, and the home of the Socreds. British Columbia is unique in politics in Canada and almost anywhere because it had a premier, Whacky Bennett, who ran the province for 20 years, and then after a short interim under the Socialists, his son Mini Whack became Premier. I used to know Bill Bennett very well. I used to play tennis with him. I used to drink with him and people would ask me whether Bill Bennett was simply a chip off the old block. I would tell them it wasn't so. Bill Bennett was very much his own man. I would tell them that whenever he went to the Legislature in Victoria, he took the ferry. His father used to walk. He was then succeeded by another typical B.C. loon-Bill Vander Zam. Do you know why Bill Vander Zam wears wooden shoes? It's to keep the woodpeckers away from his head. Actually I shouldn't make fun of him anymore after all his bad luck. There was a big fire at his house and it burnt down his entire librarydestroyed both books and one he hadn't finished colouring yet. I'm actually kidding because I understand Vander Zam is quite an intelligent guy and he reads in bed every night 'til his lips get tired.

A hundred and thirty-two years ago when this country was born, foreign observers looked at us and said: "Now here's the perfect chance for a new young country. It's being built on the stability of the British parliamentary system with the advantage of French culture and with an injection of American efficiency." Every single one of you in this room today know where we are in 1999. We have a country that's built on the stability of the French political system, with American culture and British efficiency.

I'm from western Canada and as my friend said I was born in Saskatchewan but raised in BC. I've never understood Alberta because of its massive majorities. Albertans go for Aberhart and the elder Manning and for decades they gave massive majorities to Loughheed and the Conservatives. This has resulted in the only jurisdiction in history that's gone from poverty to decadence without passing through civilisation. I was born in this little town called Hearne. The town was so small we couldn't afford a village idiot; everyone had to take turns. Manitoba is the dullest province of all. It just got rid of the dullest premier of all-Gary Filmon. Gary Filmon's idea of fun was to go down to Eaton's on Saturday night and try on gloves.

This brings us to Ottawa, the former home of "The Jaw That Walked Like A Man"-Myren Baloney. He was a legend in his own mind as you know; the only man I ever met that struts sitting down. His aides used to tell me his alarm clock didn't ring; it applauded. But Brian had a tremendous career and it's said that his only remaining ambition is to be a contortionist so he can die in his own arms. I was drinking one night with one of his cabinet ministers just before his career ended and I -said: "Come on, 'fess up. If a bus ran over Brian tomorrow, who would you guys elect as leader?" He said: "Well that's easy... the bus driver!"

We now come to the incumbent-the only man in Canada who can't speak either of the two official languages. Or as Dalton says: "He always looks like the driver of the getaway car. The thing about politics is that hard work is very good and brains help a lot. But the greatest thing in politics is luck. And Chretien is the luckiest politician in the history of Canadian politics. Across the floor he has this "Pizza Parliament" chopped up with no real opposition. Parson Manning always gives me the impression that his underwear is on too tight. Reform can't get past the Manitoba border, the Bloqheads can't get out of Quebec, the NDP is in the dumpster with Alexa and the Tories actually think they are going to come back with Jurassic Clark! It's a sad scene when Chretien is going to 'slam-dunk' for a third term and it's not helpful for the country or for democracy when you don't have a chance for a real opposition party coming to power. It will take two elections for voters to figure out that both Parson and Jurassic have to be succeeded by someone and one party to unite the right.

As for the Quebec situation, people are puzzled why for 30 out of the last 31 years the Prime Minister has come from Quebec. The retiring Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was from Quebec. Three of the nine Chief Justices of the Supreme Court are from Quebec and the Quebec population is now down to 24 per cent of the Canadian population. The Chief of the Armed Forces is from Quebec. The Canadian Ambassador to Washington is from Quebec; he is Chretien's nephew as you know. The Deputy Secretary General of the U.N. is from Quebec. The retired Governor General was from Quebec. The Head of the Privy Counsel is from Quebec. The Finance Minister is from Quebec. So why is it that Quebec so dominates the Ottawa scene?

The reason is that Quebec voters are very shrewd and they vote in a tribal sense. They vote for the party that is run by someone from Quebec. And there is no other block in the Canadian voting system where three to four million people vote in a tribal sense.

It all goes back to 1759 on the Plains of Abraham. In major battles in history, the Battle of Trafalgar, the Battle of Waterloo and the American Civil War, there is always a clear winner and a clear loser. On that famous morning on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 when Wolfe beat Montcalm, the French thought it was a tie. Henry Steele Commager, a distinguished American historian has written that never in the history of colonial wars has the victor treated the vanquished so generously. The English left the French with protection for their language, for their religion and for the civil code in law.

We're now in a situation (and Mordecai tells me this) where the current joke going around Montreal is that a guy walks into a drug store and he says: "I'd like some condoms." The pharmacist says: "Certainly. They come in sixes, nineses and twelveses." The guy says: "What do you mean?" The pharmacist says: "Well, the sixes are for my newspaper columnist customers... you know, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. "And the guy says: "Well, what are the nineses for?" The pharmacist says: "Well, they are for my Francophone customers... you know, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday Thursday, Friday, Friday, Saturday, Saturday, Sunday." The guy says: "Well, what are the twelveses for?" The pharmacist says: "Well, they're for my Anglophone customers... you know, January, February, March."

Lucien Bouchard has confessed in his biography that he belonged as an adult to four different political parties; he has the attention span of a hummingbird. He is a man so isolated that he could not speak English until he was 46. He was plucked out of a small law firm in an isolated Saguenay section of Quebec by Mulroney and sent off as our Ambassador to Paris, where his only real duty was having a rendezvous with his chauffeur for lunch. He came back a Minister of the Environment in the Mulroney cabinet, and then of course changed to his own party. He's never really had any position of responsibility. Every time you make a choice in politics you make an enemy and you make a friend. He has now decided to face off against the nurses in Quebec against the unions deciding which hospitals to close and for the first time in his life he's had to make choices. The PQ is not going anywhere. You've seen in the recent polls that 75 per cent of Quebec voters don't want a referendum during his term. The hardcore separatists are desperate because they know they're a shrinking core. Quebec now has the second-lowest birthrate in the world next to Spain. They know that the immigrants who are coming in of course are the ones with the big families, the ones who want to learn English, the federalists, so the core of separatism is shrinking. Bouchard, who is about to become 61, has a beautiful young American wife who is thirty-nine who wants her children to grow up in California. She keeps dual citizenship and there's heavy pressure on him there. There will never again be a Quebec Referendum because the winning conditions will not present themselves. I would suggest that Bouchard will resign as of next June, which is the end of the school year when his children get out of school, and they will move to California.

And the only other thing that I'm here to flog is my book, as Anna Porter says. This is a collector's item because in it is the worst typographical error in the history of Canadian publishing and it involves our present prime minister. Years ago, when he was a junior cabinet minister, he ran into me in an Ottawa hotel on a lonely Sunday. He very kindly invited me home to dinner. I hardly knew him then. I think he was Indian Affairs Minister or something. It was a typical nice Sunday evening Canadian dinner-roast beef, mashed potatoes, wine, lies and gossip and all that stuff. I then went back to my typewriter/computer, and I wrote about him for the next few years, as I do about all the cabinet ministers. One night he came into the Parliamentary Press Gallery banquet in Ottawa and I was seated in the front row. And he looked down, and he said to me: "Oh, here's Mister Fuckingham." As I wrote in the book, I didn't think that was a very bright thing for him to say to a national columnist when he was trying to become Prime Minister. He was Opposition Leader at the time.

I picked up the book and turned to page 130, as Anna knows, and it says: "Oh here's Mister Fotheringham" which doesn't make sense because that's my name. Some dim-bulb in the computer industry punching the thing through the computer pushed spell check and couldn't find fuckingham so she changed it to Fotheringham. So I have to go all across Canada, from Halifax to Victoria, and change the wrong name to the right name on the top of page 130. Thank you.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by David L. Lindsay, President and CEO, Ontario Jobs and Investment Board and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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Malice in Blunderland

Some personal and political history of the speaker and Western Canada. Witty and edgy comments about Canadian politics and politicians.