Sunday, December 4, 2011 | Categories: Michael's Essays
John Carnell Crosbie is argumentative, funny, irascible, irritating, sarcastic, arrogant---and did I mention funny?
He is also compassionate, creative, blazingly intelligent and of course funny.
He is 80 years old and currently Her Majesty's Representative and Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador.
He is a former politician of considerable political accomplishment and one of the last Red Tories standing.
Because he is a dyed-in-the-wool pre-Confederation Newfoundlander, he has this tendency to say exactly what is on his mind at any given moment.
He carries around in that great head a little man who murmurs from time to time;" Go ahead, Johnny, say it. What the hell."
With the inevitable result that the things he says often get him into trouble.
Yes, he outraged everybody including Sheila Copps herself when he called her "baby" in the House of Commons. But she asked him to write the introduction to her second memoir.
I first encountered the John Crosbie Show in 1969, covering his run for the leadership of the provincial Liberal Party. He lost to Joe Smallwood and went right out and became a Tory.
Over the years, we have exchanged barbs in a purely professional capacity on and off the radio.
Sharing the stage with Mr. Crosbie at a Halifax hospital fund raiser some years ago, I stood there with a goofy grin on my face as he tore into the CBC and me.
Acquiring the mode of conventional wisdom that is supposed to come with great age has somehow managed to slip Mr. Crosbie's grasp. Once again he is in trouble, this time with Pakistan.
Because of a joke he told at a public swearing-in ceremony.
It's about a guy so despondent about life that he contemplates suicide. He calls the suicide help line and the call is diverted to Islamabad. When he says he wants to commit suicide, the help line guy asks; "Can you drive a truck."
Well all hell broke loose.
The Premier of Newfoundland dumped on him. The head of the Muslim Students Association criticized him. The Pakistan High Commissioner to Canada was shocked - shocked and appalled.
On the other hand some Muslim leaders in Newfoundland thought the joke was pretty funny.
It of course raises all kind of questions about what is funny, what is not; what is appropriate and what is not.
Yes the joke is definitely funny. Is it in bad taste? Possibly. Is it inappropriate? Depends.
All humor contains within its DNA elements of ridicule, insult, a whiff of malevolence and yes occasionally bad taste. Is a fat man slipping on a banana peel funnier than a skinny guy slipping on a banana peel. Yes. In bad taste. Probably.
Sooner or later somebody somewhere is going to be offended by some kind of joke.
His Honour says he was trying to be friendly in an otherwise pretty formal, read dull, ceremony. He said he wanted to "keep people from falling asleep."
What was fascinating about the whole affair was the reaction of the flack at the Pakistan High Commission.
Mr. Crosbie dropped his brick a few days after the Atlantic Magazine appeared with its excoriating cover story about Pakistan called The Ally From Hell.
In it, the writers Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder document the outrageous behavior of a country and government that hosted Osama bin Laden and whose secret service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, regularly sponsors terrorists who attack US forces.
Pakistan complaining about a Pakistan joke is like Al Capone complaining about a pizza joke.
Crosbie has apologized in a John Crosbie kind of way to anyone who was offended by his remarks.
I doubt it will stop him from continuing to say what's on his mind.
Which is refreshing.
In a landscape of the pale, the programmed and the predictable, he stands out as a flesh and blood human being.