By William Tetley, Q.C.
A few years ago I was surprised and amused to be invited to join the Federal Liberal Party “Laurier Club”, a select group of loyal followers whose major distinction was a willingness to separate themselves from $1000 or more per year and give it to the Liberal Party. (“Tax receipts will follow.”)
I have been a member of the Federal Liberal and Quebec Liberal Parties for 50 years but had only heard whispers of the Laurier Club, a mythical group of upper echelon, loyal wheelers and dealers. Laurier Club members, for their part, are entitled to meet the Party patricians, i.e. the Prime Minister, his “close” advisers and cabinet ministers, if the Party is in power, or the shadow cabinet, if it is in the opposition. (Since Canada`s confederation in 1867, the Party has been in power for roughly 2/3`s of the time and 1/3 of the time in opposition.)
I wrote a cheque for $100 (which I normally do annually) and added that I would not join the Laurier Club but wished, nevertheless, to support the Party.
A few weeks later I received a telephone call inviting me to the first meeting of the Laurier Club that season at Montreal`s elite Mount Royal Club. I replied that I was not a member and had only donated $100, but was invited to attend all the same. I intentionally arrived late, hoping to sit at the back, only to find the room full of happy Liberals enjoying their free drink. Former Prime Minster Trudeau was there in the back and I shook hands with him and friends around the room. The meeting was about to begin and there were no free seats, except one at the front between Marc Lalonde (former Trudeau cabinet minister) and Jean Chrétien, the Liberal Party Leader and Leader of the Opposition. Marc signaled to me to come up to the front. I shook hands with Chrétien and Lalonde and his Co-Chairman Senator Leo Kolber. Kolber then announced that we could now begin.
There was a pause, however, while I was served a scotch and soda and then Chrétien made an enthusiastic and compelling speech, although the Party was far down in the polls. There were the usual questions about the chances of success of winning the next election, but very few present shared Chrétien`s optimism. When it was over, a number of my friends, including Reford MacDougall, George Holland and Jérôme Choquette, believing I was somehow in charge, came up and wanted to know if that was all they got for $1000, I kept my peace, but when going home, I told Jérôme of my $100 donation. At first he was quite upset, but then became very amused.
Six months later I received an invitation for my wife and me to attend a reception of the Laurier Club in Stornoway, the official residence in Ottawa of the Leader of the Opposition. I again telephoned to say that I was not a member of the Club, but the lady at the end of the line insisted all the same.
The reception was fun; we talked to Opposition members, who were standing shoulder to shoulder, while Jean and Aline Chrétien were gracious and even more confident of success in the next election. The inner circle of the Party apparatchik were also there – even the omnipotent and mystical Eddy Goldenberg. All were smiling and friendly.
The next year, the Liberals were elected and I was invited again to join the Laurier Club. I sent off the usual $100 but received only a receipt and no more invitations.
A few weeks later it was rumoured that the Laurier Club was to meet at the Prime Minister`s official residence at 24 Sussex Drive and the meeting was said in the press to be a chance for big party donors to ask for and receive their just reward. The media established themselves outside the gates of the residence and as the guests entered, they covered up their faces and even heads as though it was a meeting of the Mafia at the back of a speakeasy in New York in the 1950`s.
I continue on as a loyal Liberal, and the Laurier Club is apparently stronger than ever, but I have never again been invited to join.
(William Tetley, Q.C., was a Liberal Member of the Quebec National Assembly and Minister in the Bourassa government from 1970 - 1976. He is presently a professor, McGill Law Faculty and Counsel to Langlois Kronström Desjardins.)
E-mail: william [dot] tetley [at] mcgill [dot] ca (William Tetley)
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