Inside Gomery

by Francois Perreault. Translated by Carl Angers
206 pages,
ISBN: 1553652142

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Political Show Biz
by James Roots

The federal sponsorship scandal is consistently compared to the Pacific Scandal that undid Sir John A. Macdonald some 130 years earlier. The parallel fits well: in both cases the ruling government party's hubris developed into the conviction that the country's best interests were inextricably linked to the party's own interests, particularly where campaign funding was concerned.
In its effects, however, the sponsorship scandal much more closely resembles the disintegration of the Progressive Conservatives under Kim Campbell. The Liberals may not have been as completely wiped off the map of Canadian politics as Campbell's Conservatives, but the devastation to their private psyche and public image was equivalent. Can anyone doubt the Liberals face a trek in the wilderness at least half as long as the Tories' twelve-year exile?
A scandal that ruins "the natural governing party" and earns a ranking as one of the two biggest outrages in Canadian political history ought to be a juicy subject for a book by a well-regarded professional journalist, but Francois Perreault's Inside Gomery is not that book.
We are fairly put on our guard by the fact that Justice John Gomery himself wrote the foreword, always a bad sign for a book that purports to tell "the inside story" of the man himself. Gomery makes sure we know this is going to be a puff job by telling us with characteristic forthrightness, "I became biased in favour of Francois Perreault. I like him, I value his friendship, I admire his skills, and I know how fundamentally fair he is, and how sharp are his perceptions." Not to be outdone, Perreault adoringly boasts that he and Gomery "became an inseparable team." So much for objectivity.
Perreault is convinced, without citing evidence, that all Canadians adore and "trust" Gomery and consider him a hero:

"People admired him immediately, although he was not aware of it. The spontaneity and openness he showed throughout the proceedings transformed that admiration into a profound trust."

He was not aware of it? Perhaps we should grant him the benefit of the doubt, but this is a man of colossal egotism and self-admiration, one who boasted that the inquiry he headed was " . . . my chance to leave my tracks of passage on this planet," to quote from his recent CPAC-TV interview. He certainly believed he had stomped hard enough to stop the world in its tracks, and he couldn't congratulate himself profusely enough. "Too much humility can be detrimental to a judge," he grandly advises Perreault, and indeed humility was never Gomery's shortcoming.
Perreault is right there in case Gomery's narcissism comes up a bit short:

"I was the spokesperson for a judge beyond suspicion, whose candour and openness rapidly won the trust of all involved¨swindled taxpayers and betrayed politicians alike." (p 7)

"What so impressed Canadians [read: Perreault] were his quick reactions, his sharpness and his ability . . . " (p 42)
" . . . Gomery . . . [steered] his vessel through one course open to him¨the narrow, treacherous channel at the end of which integrity lies." (p 146)

Sycophancy aside, this book makes one wonder how on earth Perreault has managed to carve for himself a 36-year journalistic career that the cover blurb assures us is "distinguished". The writing is atrocious.
Twice he attempts to create an illusion of liveliness and tension by resorting to risibly amateurish "drama". The first¨indeed, the opening of the story¨affects a film noir atmosphere around Morris Rosenberg's phone-call to Gomery; Perreault undermines his own efforts at pulse-pounding excitement through absolutely leaden dialogue like this:

"Let me go back to the Javelin case, a seemingly endless affair with years and years of accumulated evidence, motions of all sorts¨we need a judge who can take in and process an enormous amount of information within a limited time frame. We see you as the right man for the job!"

Even more inept is the second attempt, which opens chapter six. He informs us breathlessly that Isabelle Rodrigue is trudging to the old Ottawa City Hall "like a Sherpa," but neglects to explain who she is, why she is doing this, and why this is worth recounting. He lets the scene just die out while he speculates about the questions he might have to deal with in a press conference.
This is a persistent problem with Perreault; he assumes every reader already knows who all the players are and what action took place, so he hardly bothers introducing the people or the events he's writing about. The chapter provocatively entitled "Who Is This Judge, Anyway?" turns the star's seventy years into less than two pages of Cole's Notes, devoid of insight. The one and only unforgettable part of the inquiry¨Jean Chretien's golf ball skit, a slapstick masterpiece by the hardest working ham in political show biz¨is skimmed over in favour of Gomery's huffy reaction (a diva who knows he was totally upstaged), followed by Perreault's downright silly comment, "Perhaps Chretien was enjoying the memory of being out on the links with an American president, trying for a birdie." Perreault was obviously the only person in Canada who didn't realise Chretien was having the time of his life sticking it to Da Judge.
Too much of the writing is just plain bad. Gomery's wife "rested on his shoulder"¨isn't that quite a load? Some chiefs of staff "are parachuted from the upper echelons of power into the hands of ministers who don't know them"¨it's very difficult to catch parachutists with one's bare hands. "If only past and present events were woven into our memory cells in a checkerboard pattern, news features would be much less surprising to us." Why would a checkerboard memory pattern protect us against surprise?
Some of this rotten writing may be the fault of the translator. Carl Angers has translated like someone who acquired English as a second language very late in life. But ultimately it's not all Angers's fault. He cannot be held responsible for tripe such as, "With each passing day, no matter how intensely we experience the news, it eventually dies away, much like the rest of us." He is not responsible for Perreault asserting that "This anecdote illustrates the extent to which these lawyers would have to use all their cunning when pleading before this commissioner" when in fact the anecdote did nothing of the sort. Nor is Angers responsible for baffling assertions such as this: "Thus, while a new political chapter was being written in Ottawa, the commissioner was turning the first pages of The Arctic Grail by Pierre Berton. At issue in both cases was a question of integrity."
Even by the standards of instant books written to cash in on ephemeral events, Inside Gomery is incompetent and uninformative. What's worse is that the sponsorship scandal is not an ephemeral event and should not have been subjected to such treatment. A major eruption in Canadian politics and society deserves far better. ˛

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