Capitol Offences: Dr. Foth Meets Uncle Sam
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 16 Oct 1986, p. 51-59
Fotheringham, Allan, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
An amusing, somewhat tonge-in-cheek examination of Canada and Canadians. A look at "a skipping-stone approach to Canada and dip below the border." A cross-country appraisal of Canada. Characteristics of a Canadian. An American appraisal of Canada. A lack of understanding by both countries, of the other. The good things about America's lack of interest in Canada.
Date of Original
16 Oct 1986
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Full Text
Allan Fotheringham Journalist
Chairman: Nona Macdonald President


Allan Fotheringham has become famous since we were both cub reporters in Vancouver. Both of us too, are Depression babies from Saskatchewan, but I like to see a hometown boy make good. So much so in fact that f framed one of his columns from Maclean s about our Motherland of Wheat and Sky. It describes a celebration to honour famous progeny from the dust bowl province. Among many, Allan discovered that the Globe and Mail society columnist, Zena Cherry was, as he phrased it, a daughter of the soil. Now Zena Cherry may be Saskatchewan born, but she is every inch Bishop Strachan bred. But, Allan went on to cheerfully chortle: Zena, who delineates the Canadian Establishment has become the ultimate arbiter in Toronto's social climbing scene, and that says Allan, "is true Saskatchewan revenge."

Today the Foth has put his faith in a female for the future: the first woman Prime Minister of Canada. This week's back page of Maclean's is aglow with several hundred words about his choice, Adrienne Clarkson, who was also one of our star speakers at this club last year. Dr. Foth, I hope, if you are right, that she creates a cabinet post for you!

But where did Fotheringham's journalistic odyssey begin? After he left Gopher Snaring, he went to the University of British Columbia from whence he graduated, despite editing the campus newspaper. A Vancouver daily, the Sun hired him and he won a Southam Fellowship that sent him to the University of Toronto, where he claims to have consumed great quantities of sherry. That's something else we have in common; I too, have partaken of U. of T.'s academic sherry supply. Worldly wisdom was acquired in London's Fleet Street, Hong Kong's Chinatown and the Soviet's border crossings, but for all his attempts to avoid work, Maclean's and Southam News pay him for his prescience. CBC-TV's Front Page Challenge made him a resident panelist, and there are editorial landmarks. In 1980, he won the National Magazine Award for Humour, in 1982 and 83, Key Porter Books published two compendia titled respectively: Malice in Blunderland and Look Ma! No hands. And now, after two years as Southam's Washington pundit on the Potomac, he has produced "Capitol Offences-Dr. Foth meets Uncle Sam." No one at Key Porter books knew the exact title of his speech today, but I was assured it would be an insightful and witty look at Canadian-American relations.

Allan Fotheringham

I must confess at the outset I am here somewhat under false pretences because I am not a speaker. I am a writer and in circumstances like this I feel rather like Zsa Zsa Gabor's sixth husband-I know what to do, but I am not sure I can make it interesting. But I am, as you know from British California, also known as Bennett Columbia, the home of Socreds and Sasquatches, they are the ones with the big feet. We had a unique political situation in British Columbia for years as you know; it's unique almost anywhere and certainly unique in our country where we had a premier for twenty years, Wacky Bennett, and then under a short time span with a few democrats he was succeeded by his son, Miniwac, and I know Bill Bennett quite well, I drink with him and I play tennis with him and people ask the obvious question, whether Bill Bennett is just a chip off the old block, just a clone, and, in fact, he wasn't; Bill Bennett was his own man and he fought a lot with his father and is much different from his father. As an example, I always tell them that, when Bill Bennett went over to the Legislature in Victoria, he took the ferry, his father always walked. We now have a new premier in British Columbia, Bill Van der Zalm, the only reason he wears wooden shoes is to keep the woodpeckers away from his head. Things aren't too great in the economy in British Columbia, they haven't recovered from the recession as you people have. I was out there last week at the closing of Expo and I was in a bar and a guy was moaning to the bartender and he said: "Look, I am in the furniture business, I am going to lose my ass." There was a girl sitting at the bar and she said "Look, Buster, l am in the ass business and I am going to lose my furniture."

But what I thought I would do today in the hour and a half alotted to me, is sort of looking at a skipping-stone approach to Canada and dip below the border. Canada, as you know, is the second-largest land mass on earth filled entirely with jealousy and, when this country was stillborn a hundred and nineteen years ago, foreign observers looked and they said: "Now here is the perfect chance. We've got a new country and it can be built with the stability of the British parliamentary system with the advantage of French culture and the injection of American efficiency." You know what we have in 1986. We have a country with the stability of the French parliamentary system, American culture and British efficiency. Starting from the west in British Columbia, until Willy Wooden Shoes came along, Bill Bennett had been in some trouble, he was down for awhile to a majority of only three seats in the Legislature, the speaker was on a pacemaker, another senior minister had a bypass and the government whip, who was seventy-four, was involved as a correspondent in a divorce case, involving adultery in the back seat of a white Cadillac, and I know you think I am making this up, but it is British Columbia and so the fate of the Bennett Government depended not so much on the political profession as the medical profession. And considering their dispute with the doctors over fees, I'would hate to have been the first Socred minister to go into the hospital for a vasectomy. He would come out with a tonsilectomy.

Alberta next, l don't understand and I don't pretend to. They have these tremendous majorities, 30 years for Social Credit and then for Longheed. I get the impression, Alberta voters don't so much vote as anoint. When they go to the ballot box, they don't cross an X, they sprinkle water. It is the only jurisdiction in history that has gone from poverty to decadence without passing two civilizations.

Saskatchewan next. I have a soft spot, as Nona said, in my heart for Saskatchewan because I was born there. I was born in a little town called Hearne; people from Hearne are called Hernias. In fact, the town was so small we could not afford a village idiot, everyone had to take turns. I eventually moved to British Columbia and improved the I.Q.'s of both provinces.

Manitoba is next. It used to be run by Sterling Lyon who had the misfortune to be born an only twin. The premier now is the charismatic Howard Pawley whose idea of fun is to go down to Eaton's on Saturday night and try on gloves.

And then there is Disneyland on the Rideau. Dear Ottawa, the city that fun forgot.

Pierre Trudeau. I am very intrigued to find all this talk about Trudeau coming back; the guy that has quit twice, you know, went for a walk in the snow, and he is going to come back and save the nation. He is the only man I've ever known who can strut sitting down. His alarm clock doesn't ring, it applauds. He is a brilliant man, as we know, and it is said that his only remaining ambition is to be a contortionist so he can die in his own arms.

I don't want to say anything about my competitors on the book tour, but Keith Davey. Keith Davey makes Judas Iscariot look like a team player. I knew that the Trudeau government was headed for defeat when I was in Ottawa and I was sitting in the Press Gallery looking down at the front rows and I had not realized before, the seating in the front rows, as Barney and Mr. MacLaren know, it's seniority and, as ministers die or retire or are fired, those remaining scrunch up closer to Himself. I had not realized this and I was sitting there and I looked down and saw, four seats away from the Prime Minister, Eugene Whelan. I shouldn't make fun of Whelan actually because he's had a piece of bad luck. You probably saw it in the paper the other day; there was a big fire at his house that destroyed his entire library including both books and one of them he hadn't finished colouring yet. Actually I am kidding about Whelan; I am told he is quite an intelligent chap. In fact, I'm told he reads in bed every night till his lips get tired. But we are here for a serious speech. About the longest undefended boring border in the world and it is my contention that the United States and Canada are friends because of mutual ignorance. Canadians are very smug people, in fact they hold the Guinness Book of Records for smugness. Canadians think they know all about the United States when, in fact, all they know is the latest Johnny Carson joke and Teddy Kennedy's last nine girlfirends. As an example, there are more than two dozen universities in the United States, and serious universities like Duke and Michigan and U.C.LA. with big programs in Canadian studies in their curriculum, there are less than maybe five Canadian universities that pay any attention to anything like equal studies on Americans. The ignorance goes both ways and even when the facts intrude, you cannot change the impression of the Americans which they get mainly every night from Dan Rather and Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw that Canada is where the cold weather comes from and Americans have the impression that Canada is like a large refrigerator with the door left open.

As an example, Andrew Malcolm is an intelligent, curious journalist with the New York Times, he was stationed here in Toronto for four years as bureau chief. In fact, he had Canadian parents and he spent a lot of his time as a kid in Canada. In 1985 he wrote a book called "The Canadians," his impressions of his experiences. It was full of all the evocative examples of Americans' love when they think of Canada; and he described a country, our country that spans one quarter of the world's time zones and quote: "scattered across this area like a few specks of pepper on a huge freezer room floor are the people." He writes of "city suburbs where bands of coyotes threaten household pets," (seen any coyotes lately?), of lakes that are larger than entire U.S. states and have a forest six times the size of France; all true. He talks of Canada's North-one and a quarter times larger than India with fewer people than attend a New York Yankees baseball game; good stuff. He tells of a country so big and empty that it has less population density than Saudi Arabia; or how it takes 36 hours of solid driving to get from Toronto to the next large city to the West, Winnipeg. He only missed by twelve hours but that's O.K.

The smallest province, Prince Edward Island, is still almost twice as large as the smallest American state, Rhode Island. Texas, the largest state would fit inside Quebec with enough room left over for Connecticut and Delaware. They have room for four Britains in British Columbia and almost three Frances in Quebec, close to three Japans would fit into Ontario, which has fewer people than Tokyo. Our two Northern Territories are by themselves larger than West Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Egypt, Austria, Spain, Portugal and all the New England and Mid-Atlantic states put together.

There are 60 people per square mile in the U.S. as opposed to only six in Canada, and so on and so on. All this is true technically, but it is false in picture. The truth is that the people scattered like specks of pepper on the freezer-room floor are a more urban population than the United States. It's a nice myth to think of igloos and traplines, but the fact is that Canadians, as a whole, live in cities. Americans, as a whole, don't.

Some 29% of Canadians, more than one in four, live in metropolitan areas with a population of at least one million people, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal. Only 8% of Americans, one in twelve, live in the same setting. More than half of all Canadians, 56%, live in cities of at least 100,000 population. Only 25% of Americans live in cities of the same size.

It is the mutual ignorance that flows across the border, that keeps us going. They think of us as a large empty country. It's empty, but a different formation than the Americans.

It is the myth of the easy friendship that I would like to try and demolish. We talk of the excited States of America. They got one description of Canada in the States, as they say, Canada is a decaffeinated United States. And they have a reason to be leary of Canada. President Warren Harding came to

Vancouver, had a golf game on a hot day and died before he ever got back to Washington. Franklin Roosevelt contacted polio in New Brunswick on his island of Campobello. JFK, who didn't like Dief and vice versa when he was forced into planting a ceremonial tree at Rideau Hall, aggravated his famous PT-boat injury in his back and spent a lot of the rest of his career in a rocking chair whenever in the White House and hated Dief ever after.

American Presidents can never remember the names of Canadian Prime Ministers. Lester Pearson was, we thought, a world figure; he had won a Nobel Prize and he had been Prime Minister for three or four years and he was invited down to the LBJ ranch in Texas. LBJ greeted him effusively as he got off the plane in front of all the TV cameras and said how glad he was to see his close friend, Prime Minister Wilson. They went in to dinner and after dinner LBJ demanded they go into the study to watch themselves on TV, put on all three TV sets and to his astonishment he saw himself introducing his close friend Prime Minister Wilson and he apologized profusely and Pearson said: "That's OK, don't think of it, Senator Goldwater" They appointed acid-rain ambassador Drew Lewis from the United States and Bill Davis, Jeff Stevens' close friend, from Ontario. They worked for over a year and Drew Lewis went into the White House with his report, came out and he stood in front of us on the White House lawn and said how much he enjoyed working with Bill Wilson.

Mulroney, early this spring was at the acid-rain summit in Washington and Senator Pell who is from Vermont, a border state, referred to him throughout the session as Prime Minister Muldoon. They don't understand and they don't care. But I think the Mulroney Government and the population as a whole has no understanding of what is going on in the United States, when the Mulroneyrites are running towards free trade and the whole move or action in the United States is the opposite. It is a protectionist move. At the moment there are 192 protectionist bills sitting in the congressional hopper. A lot of them are nonsense, attention-getting bills, but it shows the mood of the nation.

Lee I. lococa was running around trying to be elected President on an arranged draft on an anti-Japan kick trying to stop foreign imports and they worried about Korea, and some of this now has slopped over to Canada. In the November 4 midterm elections, one senator who is a cinch is Bob Peckwood of Oregon, and he was the guy behind the shingles and shakes deal and he is the guy behind the softwood-lumber counter tariff that will probably be brought down today and is going to destroy whatever is left of the economy of B.C. He has a ten-million-dollar slush fund; he has the largest campaign fund of any candidate running in the November 4 election.

There doesn't seem to be an understanding on this side of the border of the mood of the United States. It's protectionist, it's isolationist and they want to go back to Fortress America. They have presidents who can do no wrong, Ronnie Rambo, who looks as if he will be the first president in a quarter of a century to last two full terms. Kennedy was murdered, L.B.J. was driven out by the kids over Vietnam, Nixon was impeached, Ford wasn't elected to anything, Carter only lasted one term and Reagan is the only guy since Eisenhower who has a chance of lasting two full terms and it is the most open presidential race since anyone can remember.

Literally twelve men have a chance of being president in 1988. On the Republican side I would suggest George Bush is fading, going down, it is being said that he suffers from terminal preppiness. Art Buchwald says that George Bush reminds every American woman of her first husband; now, how can you come back from that? Jack Kemp from Buffalo across the lake from here, it is suspected that his I.Q. equals the number on his football jersey. Someone said that he is like the River Platte, six inches deep and four miles wide. Paul Laxalt who is Reagan's closest friend from Nevada, is making a quiet run and has a problem with a libel suit with a Sacramento paper involving alleged Mafia dealings in a hotel in Nevada. I can't see how he can have a hotel in Nevada without Mafia links, but he has to get rid of that. And my man is

Bob Dole, the Senator who is a very tough guy and if he can curb his wicked wit, I think he is the guy on the way up. On the Democratic side, the best guy, smartest guy is Mario Cuomo from New York, which should probably insure that he won't get it. He has the Adlai Stevenson disease, also the fact that the last time the Democrats, who now have lost four of the five last presidential elections because they keep running wimps like Mondale, McGovern and Humphrey. The last time, they ran a liberal from Minnesota and a liberal from New York and they were creamed and the South went republican and I think Cuomo is too ethnic and too New York to get the nomination.

Gary Hart is there, the man with no beef, a guy really on the rise and Charles Robb who has just retired as the Governor of Virginia, he is an L.B.J. son-in-law; he married one of those women whose name is Bird, l can't remember what else, he is highly thought of and they think will be a vice-presidential nominee if not the presidential and Ted Kennedy lurks in the wings; but every time he comes out of the wings yet another secretary, yet another mistress, writes yet another book and he goes down.

I just want to finish off by saying that I am not one of these Canadians who moans and wails about the American ignorance of Canada. I think that is a good thing. I don't think anything, your standard of living or quality of life (it's even more important), is affected by the fact that the Americans are not interested in us and don't know anything about us. When I would get worried is when the Americans do become interested in us. And I think of the countries they have become interested in, I think of Chile, I think of Iran, I think of Vietnam, I think of Grenada, I think of Nicaragua and I think of Libya, so I say, Let's keep that ignorance flying.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by the Hon. Barnett J. Danson, P.C., a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Capitol Offences: Dr. Foth Meets Uncle Sam

An amusing, somewhat tonge-in-cheek examination of Canada and Canadians. A look at "a skipping-stone approach to Canada and dip below the border." A cross-country appraisal of Canada. Characteristics of a Canadian. An American appraisal of Canada. A lack of understanding by both countries, of the other. The good things about America's lack of interest in Canada.