Guest Commentary

Don Blenkarn, In Memoriam

They Hanged Me In Effigy

(Editor’s note: Don Blenkarn, outspoken former chair of the Commons finance committee, passed away in 2012 at 81. The Conservative MP was renowned for his candour. Following is a transcript of Blenkarn’s last interview, to Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan, on June 2, 2011).

I served sixteen years in Parliament and in the end they hanged me in effigy.

I’d had a good majority at one point; in the 1988 campaign I won by more than 8,000 votes. But that last election in ’93 was a tough one. We were in deep trouble. I lost by 10,000 votes. All of a sudden you’re not the MP for Mississauga anymore. It’s worse than losing your job; it’s losing your whole career.

For three of my five terms in Parliament I was chair of the finance committee. I was never a yes-man. If they wanted a team member who’d ask how high they wanted me to jump, I was the wrong man.

I never changed; the people knew me. Politicians like to promise things. They all want to pass bills to deliver gifts to their supporters – and it all costs money. Yet everyone says they want to cut the deficit! It’s hard to cut the deficit and spend more at the same time. There was not an election I saw where somebody did not come out offering something.

1993, we were in deep trouble. It was really impossible to win as a Progressive Conservative in that campaign. We’d been in office too long; the party was blamed for everything: “Oh, Mulroney is favouring the French Canadians all the time”; “Oh, Mulroney is spending money hand over fist”; “Oh, Mulroney, you can’t trust him.”

I suspect the French people didn’t feel they were getting their full share of attention, so they created the Bloc Quebecois – and that was the beginning of the breakdown of the big majorities. And then Conservatives in vast numbers joined the Reform Party, you see.

We reached a point where the voters grew tired of the nonsense. Half my support went Reform. It was really impossible to win, people were so upset.

Unfortunately Kim Campbell didn’t help. I burned some bridges trying to get Campbell elected leader in ’93. I felt, you see, we had to have a different face on the party – and Campbell was a different face, a good-looking face! Unfortunately that’s all she was.

We organized one luncheon event in Mississauga and Campbell arrived, went up to her suite and didn’t come down till 1 o’clock. She left a roomful of people waiting; a lot of these were working people, so half the crowd left when lunch hour was over. Finally, Campbell comes down, makes a poor speech – that was it. She guffed it up. I don’t know what she was doing up in that suite, but she wasn’t paying attention to business.

Unfortunately, the Conservative Party broke up.  We were blamed for all these troubles, and it was just impossible to get supporters back on board. As you know, just about every Conservative in Canada went down the sewer in that campaign.

They hanged me in effigy. That’s what happened.

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