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Backroom boys

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 09:10 -- Dan McCaffery

Remember the good old days when the ‘back room boys’ picked party leaders?

People railed against that system, saying it was undemocratic, that the rank and file had little or no say in who was going to represent them.

But the back room boys knew what they were doing. First and foremost, they wanted to win. They knew the only way they could get their hands on power – and with it government perks for themselves and their friends – was to get their leader elected. So they tended to pick strong candidates who would make good leaders. Or at least not terrible ones.

In Canada the party bosses selected people who had decades of experience as Members of Parliament, including many years serving as cabinet ministers. South of the border, presidents had often learned the ropes as congressmen and senators. A few even did time as vice-president before moving into the Oval Office.

Needless to say, they knew how the system worked and how to get things done. Governments were by no means perfect but they were not the organized train wrecks we see today.

Things started to change in 1981, when the Americans elected a popular former movie actor named Ronald Reagan as president.

Historians will have to decide whether he was a good or bad president. But there’s little doubt he got elected in the first place because he was a celebrity.

From that point on parties on both sides of the border began looking for candidates who were, if not experienced in politics, at least popular. And so it was that in 1999 the good folks of Minnesota made Jesse “The Body” Ventura their governor. Ventura, whose real name is James Janos, is a former professional wrestler. Voters must have figured if he could defeat such formidable opponents as ‘Dutch’ Savage and ‘Mad Dog’ Vachon in the ring, he could certainly handle anything a governor would have to face.

Things went further downhill from there. In Canada we elected Justin Trudeau prime minister mainly because he has a famous name. In the United States voters chose a reality show television star as president.

Now there’s some speculation that Donald Trump may not get a second term because he might be challenged in 2020 by beloved TV talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.

And on and on it goes.

Just last month, Caroline Mulroney announced she is seeking the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. Mulroney’s main claim to fame, so far as I can tell, is that she is the daughter of a former prime minister. She has never been elected to Queen’s Park and has zero experience in politics.

Anyone who votes for her must think the premier’s job can be handled by a rank amateur. Either that or they believe voters will be lured by her ‘glamour.’

And who could blame the Tories for thinking that after seeing celebrities win one election after another on both sides of the border?

It makes you pine after the days when the back room boys decided who got the top jobs.

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