The Reminder is making its archives back to 2003 available on our website. Please note that, due to technical limitations, archive articles are presented without the usual formatting.
One could only hope that someone near the stature of John Manley could be our next Ambassador to Washington. At the moment, there is a vacuum there, an embarrassment to this small land. The most powerful city in the world of course is inundated with embassies fromÑwhat is it?Ñ114 countries from across the globe. Washington insiders, if the truth be known, care about only one embassyÑthe "hot embassy" of the moment. This scribbler happened to be toiling in Washington for five years in the 1980s, the term that coincided with Allan Gotlieb's rule as our man in D.C. He was quite candid, quite honest, how the Canadian EmbassyÑby happenstanceÑbecame the hot cocktail stop in town. Washington insiders, the White House types, the power journalists, the heavy lobbyists, work very hard (much harder than Canadians do, this scribbler quickly learned.) They want one place, at 5 p.m., they can go to until 7 p.m. to learn over a quick drink who is going up and going down in the pecking order, who is going to be sacked and who is going to be promoted the next day in Congress, who is sleeping with who and all those other important matters. As the wise man once said, the definition of gossip is "organized information." To get all this precious gossip, the Washington insiders pick out one embassyÑit won't be the Indonesian embassy, not the Bolivian one, mark my word. As Gotlieb explained, just as he arrived in the town, Sir Nicky Henderson was leaving. As the charming British ambassador, he had been the keeper of the keysÑwith a wonderful kitchen and bar he had every one of the capital's hot informers at his place every evening at 5:00 sharp. He had just been recalled to LondonÑas Gotlieb arrivedÑand was subjected to the usual Washington Post farewell interview. What, said the eager your reporter, was the most important thing Sir Nicky had learned in his long term in the United States. "The most valuable thing I have learned," said Sir Nicky, "was to always put the curtain inside the bathtub before having a shower." Such a man would be hard to follow but, as Gotlieb explained, there was a vacuum for the gossipers and the GotliebsÑthe Toronto Star's Richard Gwyn helping with his contactsÑinherited by accident the "hot embassy" locale vacated by Sir Nicky. On an evening there, the scribbler would find himself sitting down at dinnerside with Henry Kissinger across the table, Defense Minister Schlesinger beside him, David Brinkley lingering about, along with Meg Greenfield, the Op-Ed editor of the Washington Post and Katherine Graham, the Post's owner and publisher. Gotlieb used to explain, "People think it's so complicated to throw a good party. It's so simple. Just have good food, good drink and invite interesting people." The Washington crowd, who work so hard and get to work at 7 a.m., would come promptly in their limos at 5:00, get two drinks and leave en masse at 7:00, filled with the gossip for the next day. Ambassador Raymond Chretien was a tremendous envoy. Knew how to work the Congress. Although a nephew of the prime minister, he had the legitimate confidence in his long career as a career foreign service man with a great reputation in African posts, he would laugh off any references to patronage. The incumbent, Michael Kergin, is a dud. A career diplomat who was a stupid choice for such a crucial post, he has no presence at all in Washington, no clout, no charm, no nothing. Arthur Erickson's magnificent Canadian Embassy, across from the National GalleryÑthe only embassy on Pennsylvania AvenueÑsits right below Capitol Hill. The ideal spot for the 20-odd Canadian correspondents stationed in Washington to observe the Inauguration Parade as Dubya Bush was sworn into office. Ambassador Kergin banned Canada's press from the embassy steps. At his formal Inaugural luncheon that day at the embassy, he ruled that the scribblerÑwho as a Globe and Mail columnist was accompanying then Globe editor Richard AddisÑcould not be invited to the lunch as only one guest per paper would be allowed. But that Addis, if he wished, could bring a guest. And Addis, gleefully, did bring a guestÑmy wife. He's a twit. No one has ever heard of himÑafter Gotlieb, after Raymond Chretien. Anyone would be an improvement. Manley or whoever.