Mike was great company. Amusing, affable, a life-of-the-party charmer. He was also needy and driven by a desire to be somebody.
Ever since the mid-’60s, when he was a teen disc jockey at CFCY-TV in Charlottetown, Mike dreamed of a career in broadcasting. Critics told him he’d never make it. Your voice is too high. Lose some weight. Duffy ignored them. “I was going to get somewhere, despite what everyone thought,” he later told the Globe and Mail.
Determined to make his name as a political reporter, Duffy moved to Ottawa in 1971 to work on Parliament Hill. After two years with CFRA Radio, he jumped to CBC Radio, then, in
1977, to CBC-TV’s national news. The jolly DJ from P.E.I. had confounded his critics and made it to the show.
Once he got to the top, Duffy worked even harder, earning a reputation for edgy reporting. He covered the fall of Saigon, won an ACTRA award for his coverage of a terrorist attack on the Turkish embassy in Ottawa, and provoked Brian Mulroney into suing him and the CBC over a story about how Mulroney’s goons backstabbed Joe Clark.
But by 1988, after 10 years as Peter Mansbridge’s sidekick, Duffy yearned to see his name in lights. When Baton Broadcasting offered him a small fortune to host his own politics show, he seized the opportunity.
Now he had a pulpit to sell the “Duff” brand and transform himself into a million-dollar enterprise — the Don Cherry of Canadian politics. He worked the Ottawa cocktail circuit and boasted about partying at “Joe and Maureen’s,” made after-dinner speeches at the Rideau Club, and bragged that he was doing “charity things with Mila.” Friends took to calling him Senator Duffy.
“Mike developed ‘host’s disease,’” says Linden MacIntyre, a Duffy drinking buddy from the Maritimes, now with CBC’s the fifth estate. “That’s where you start to believe all the flattery, believe you’re bigger than the story. The affliction gets worse, the head swells up and anything that threatens your celebrity becomes a problem.”
So what’s the long term impact?
These days, the ruckus over his residency has the embattled senator scurrying out back doors and hiding in hotel kitchens to avoid inconvenient questions from the media.
I remember a time when the old Mike Duffy, award-winning CBC reporter, would barge through those kitchen doors and demand that Senator Duffy explain himself.
But that was long ago.
This gaffe rivals John Turner in 1984
Pierre Trudeau took office at a moment when commodity prices were rising worldwide. Good policymakers recognize that commodity prices fall as well as rise. Yet between 1969 and 1979 – through two majority governments and one minority – Trudeau tripled federal spending.
In 1981-82, Canada plunged into recession, the worst since World War II. Trudeau’s already big deficits exploded to a point that Canada’s lenders worried about default.
Trudeau’s Conservative successor Brian Mulroney balanced Canada’s operating budget after 1984. But to squeeze out Trudeau-era inflation, the Bank of Canada had raised real interest rates very high. Mulroney could not keep up with the debt payments. The debt compounded, the deficits grew, the Bank hiked rates again – and Canada toppled into an even worse recession in 1992. Trudeau’s next successors, Liberals this time, squeezed even tighter, raising taxes, and leaving Canadians through the 1990s working harder and harder with no real increase in their standard of living.
Do Canadians understand how many of their difficulties of the 1990s originated in the 1970s? They should.
To repay Trudeau’s debt, federal governments reduced transfers to provinces. Provinces restrained spending. And these restraints had real consequences for real people: more months in pain for heart patients, more months of immobility for patients awaiting hip replacements.
If Canada’s health system delivers better results today than 15 years ago, it’s not because it operates more efficiently. Canada’s health system delivers better results because the reduction of Trudeau’s debt burden has freed more funds for healthcare spending.
Pierre Trudeau was a spending fool. He believed in a state-led economy, and the longer he lasted in office, the more statist he became. The Foreign Investment Review Agency was succeeded by Petro-Canada. Petro-Canada was succeeded by wage and price controls. Wage and price controls were succeeded by the single worst economic decision of Canada’s 20th century: the National Energy Program.
The NEP tried to fix two different prices of oil, one inside Canada, one outside. The NEP expropriated foreign oil interests without compensation. The NEP sought to shoulder aside the historic role of the provinces as the owner and manager of natural resources.
Most other Western countries redirected themselves toward more fiscal restraint after 1979. Counting on abundant revenues from oil, the Trudeau government kept spending. Other Western governments began to worry more about attracting international investment. Canada repelled investors with arbitrary confiscations. Other Western governments recovered from the stagflation of the 1970s by turning toward freer markets. Under the National Energy Policy, Canada was up-regulating as the US, Britain, and West Germany deregulated. All of these mistakes together contributed to the extreme severity of the 1982 recession. Every one of them was Pierre Trudeau’s fault.
While I disagree with Frum that Trudeau was one of the worst prime ministers of our time, I will agree that his economic legacy has impacted the country for over a decade. Frum’s is an interesting take.