Beyond Politics

I finally watched the six shows I taped that first aired July 1 on CPAC when Catherine Clark interviewed all six living former prime ministers for her show, Beyond Politics. What a concept! What a disappointment! Too much time is spent during each of the 30-minute sessions rummaging around in the younger years of the men. (More about the only woman, Kim Campell, in a moment.) In the case of Catherine’s father, Joe, as well as John Turner, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, and Paul Martin Jr., the questions too often let the PMs talk about familiar ground: Clark as a newspaper reporter and Turner as an athlete. Or the push by parents to ensure Mulroney and Chretien had good educations. Or how much Martin loved his mother. These narratives are all well known to anyone who has read their memoirs or followed their lives, which I daresay describes most of the Canadian Public Affairs Channel (CPAC ) audience.

The best interview by far is with Kim Campbell. The rest were not asked, nor did they offer, anything they’d learned or done Beyond Politics, which seems to me should have been the point of this series. Campbell has not only achieved self-knowledge but also was willing to share her thoughts all salted with some self-deprecating humour. “I had political retirement thrust upon me by Canadian voters,” she says, with tongue firmly planted in her cheek. “Losing was a bit like having gum on your shoe. You can’t get away from it.”

Following Campbell’s defeat she taught a course in gender and power at the Harvard Kennedy School. Her thesis was based on the notion that when someone comes along who is not the usual office-holder in a role such as PM, people need to validate their negative feelings. Chretien, she said, could make a mistake and be forgiven because he’d been in Ottawa for a long time. In her case, as the first female prime minister, there was no such forgiveness factor. She saw herself as a “piñata,” particularly for journalists in the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Campbell has been trying to guide women to better deal with the culture of politics. She quotes the first female U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Allbright, as saying, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Campbell would also like to alter the electoral system so that men and women are elected to office on a 50/50 basis to better reflect society.

In the end, Campbell survived all the slings and arrows of losing. To her, living well is the best revenge, saying, “I’m still capable of accepting love and loving.” No man would talk like that, about his feelings, or overcoming hurt. But her honesty made for the best interview. The men all got away with retelling for umpty-teenth time the petty fabrications of their lives.

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