Ask any university historian (except the one living in my house; she’s busy with other things) and they’ll tell you that Canada was created in the mid-1800s as an institutionalized kleptocracy, with the aim of enabling a handful of privileged property owners, known as the Family Compact, to steal openly without having to fret about competition from the speedier, more clever, more ambitious upper-crust thieves who plied their trade in the United States. The Brits and some Irish were regularly allowed to come and run their small scams in parts of Canada, because they had such nice manners and lovely accents, and, besides, they could be related to cousin Wilfrid from Cirencester. On the other hand, the Americans, self-made banking and utilities robber barons from Troy, N.Y., and cellulose shirt-collar oligarchs from Schaumberg, Ill., were unacceptably flashy and vulgar, as well as being far more adept gonifs, to boot. The Family Compact saw to it that the sharp-eyed Americans were slowed down, and preferably turned back at the border. After all, that’s why there is a border.
That’s our homeland, and the name of the place is we like it like that. Many nations have been born of grander visions than the pursuit of untrammeled thievery, but have amounted to far less. Canada, except for a few brilliant hours during some 20th century wars, and an artist or two I could mention, has been entirely about a vague form of social tolerance, a toque-wearing egalitarianism for the rest of us, and shared dedication to the high purpose of letting the corporations and the governing classes get on with what they are compelled to do; i.e., steal.
Here is how the system is structured: Politicians appoint their law school chums, and some compliant newcomers, to the judiciary. When, as will happen, the politician’s manicure is discovered deep in the cash-register till, or photographed massaging the backside of the babysitter, who happens to be the industrialist’s underage daughter, it’s expected that the magistrate will deliver a stern rebuke to the offender, for letting down the side, and the miscreant’s punishment is that he has been admonished by Mister Justice Schoolpal. No further purpose would be served by meting out additional disgrace upon someone of the politician’s probity and high public regard; having his reputation questioned is already excessive recompense.
In Canada, there are precise criteria that serve as sentencing guidelines, when a member of the governing class, or one of their retainers, should somehow be found guilty of having committed a crime. If the wife should be zotzed by a hired hit-man, she has to die at the scene before it is considered a jailable offense. If the wife is simply maimed, or confined to a wheelchair, or if she expires in an ambulance, the husband gets off. That is the legal precedent.
Lesser infractions are routinely ignored. These include matters involving narcotics on a small scale, or misunderstandings over land dealings, or the petty theft of a few million from the treasury, or six-figure bribes secretly made to and accepted by public officials.
This leads us, not necessarily directly, to the Rt. Hon. Martin Brian Mulroney, the 18th Prime Minister of Canada, known popularly during his term of office as Lyin’ Brian, and henceforth, following his tearful appearance before an investigation yesterday, known as Cryin’ Brian. (Even the Toronto Sun, which buried the news of the Mulroney testimony on page 26 of today’s edition, picked up the rhyming sobriquet. Mr. Mulroney currently serves as chairman of Quebecor World, a company affiliated with the Sun‘s parent organization.)
Mr. Mulroney seems to have been caught up in an unseemly business involving an ex-friend representing some offshore business interests, who, in friendly fashion, apparently handed over to the Prime Minister an envelope stuffed with a large sum of money. Mr. Mulroney has been scrutinized regarding this matter previously, and those who previously accused him of wrongdoing failed to make their case. His defence at the time was, “What envelope? What money?” He was later presented by the government of the day with an apology and a packet of travelers’ cheques amounting to $2.1 million, as a token of compensation for having endured some discomfort.
Now he’s back before another panel, the Oliphant Commission, and his version of events has been revised. Blow me down, but it now appears there was some cash that changed hands — $225,000 — reportedly received right around the time he was leaving the Prime Minister’s office. He placed it in a safe, and didn’t report it to the taxman for six years. That looks pretty bad, as Mr. M. admits. He told the commission: “What transpired represented a significant error of judgment — on that I deeply regret and one for which I have paid dearly.”
Except that he hasn’t paid at all; in fact, he was the one who got paid, two-point-one million smackers, and by taxpayers, no less.
And now the blubbering, which he explained was caused by seeing several of his tormentors from the media sitting in the gallery at the hearing, allegedly enjoying the spectacle of B.M. twisting slowly, slowly in the wind. I’m sympathetic to the plight of the bluff, big-hearted Irishman, quick to tears and laughter. Drop the needle on Van Morrison and Paddy Moloney singing “Marie’s Wedding,” and I’ll bellow right along. I quite enjoyed Mr. Mulroney’s salty, saucy observations, as quoted in Peter C. Newman’s “Secret Mulroney Tapes.” He was an average Prime Minister, at best, but he remains a colorful scamp, and an amusing memento of bygone days, like the retired professional hockey players who still hang around the Chick-n-Deli in Toronto, still trying to score with secretaries, except the secretaries are actually marketing vice-presidents earning far more than the old guys ever did in their prime.
Regardless, this damp-eyed Brian crying in the chapel is much too much. As he famously once told a political opponent, he had a choice. Handed a windfall of mazuma by his wacky successor, he might have taken the dough and endowed an institution of some sort, to benefit the public. He might have been the benefactor of the hypothetical Ben Mulroney Foundation, named to honor his father, and aimed, let’s say, at discovering efficient ways to provide healthcare to the blue-collar populations of outlying communities, such as his native Baie Comeau, Que. That would have honored the ”good name his father gave him,” which B.M. yipped and yapped was sullied during the prior investigations. That tactic might have gained him some sympathy, and some admiration from the little people, whose opinions about him may possibly matter, as well they might, in that strange and needy Irish heart.
But he didn’t do that. He kept the money: locked it away in a safety deposit box, he now says. In Canada, that’s what they do. That’s what they’ve always done.
We understand that. What we don’t understand is the waterworks. It’s not as if he’s bound for the lockup, like a common t’ief or tinker. It’s Canada. There’s no crusading district attorney such as Peter Fitzpatrick to stir up a Cook County jury, and Mrs. Mulroney, Mila, is neither dead, nor even maimed. Sure and it isn’t possible that Himself is sobbing because he thinks someone’s going to feel sorry for him and give him some more money, the way they did last time around. Tell me it couldn’t be that the man’s hopin’ for, could it?