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BOB WAKEHAM: The conversation might have gone like this…

Telephone operators controlled party lines in the 1940s.
Telephone operators from days of yore, like political leaders, also controlled the party line. — Contributed photo

It took my trusted, long-time source Harbour Deep Throat mere minutes to set up a clandestine recording operation upon reading on the front page of The Telegram that Andrew Furey’s first phone call after beating John Abbott in that very predictable, boring Liberal leadership/premier’s contest would be to his father, George Furey, the Speaker of the Canadian Senate.

Deep Throat shivered with excitement when he passed me the tape in the darkened parking lot of St. John’s City Hall late one night last week, making sure the aging security guard on duty was taking a pee break when our secretive handover took place.

As usual, he declined any sort of remuneration, saying that the printing of the call’s transcription in Saturday’s Telegram was payment enough. And he hinted that there was a bonus, something about several interruptions that took place by other callers.

Here’s what I heard:

NEWFOUNDLAND TELEPHONE OPERATOR: I have a collect call for Senator George Furey from Andrew Furey.

PARLIAMENTARY OPERATOR: You’ll have to hold, I’m afraid; it’s the middle of the afternoon here in Ottawa, Senate Snooze Time, and I’ll have to wake The Speaker.

SENATOR FUREY (sounding a bit dozy): Just a sec, operator, I have to wipe the drool off my chin. OK, I guess I’ll accept the collect call, operator; after all, my son Andrew is going to be begging for every copper he can get from the crowd on The Hill if he manages to stay in charge of that sinking ship for the next few years. May as well start now.

ANDREW FUREY: OH—MY—GOD, Dad. What have I done? I’m the %*(^$#* premier. We’re two billion in the hole, we’ve got Muskrat Sally singin’ the white elephant bankruptcy blues, and I haven’t the first clue about how to govern. Bones are all I know. DADDDDDDDDY!!!!!!!!!

SENATOR FUREY: Calm down, b’y. You won’t be the first premier of Newfoundland to feel as useless as you know what on a bull. It’s not as if we haven’t had our share of flops. You can’t do any worse. Think Dunderdale. Think Davis. Oh, for gawd’s sakes. Think all of ’em. It’s not as if the bar’s been set that high.

ANDREW FUREY: But, Dad, I had her scald. Highly respected, making tons of money, everyone loved me, a regular Dr. Schweitzer, no enemies to speak of, except those neighbours pissed off with my tree line, and now I’m gonna be called down to the dogs every single day by Ches Crosbie and Alison Coffin and saucy journalists. What in the name of the Hippocratic Oath have I done to my life?

SENATE FUREY: Now, look, son, I’ll try and put in a good word with Justin. He hates the Senate, but then again, he’s in deep doo-doo himself these days, and he needs every friend he can get — even the measly few seats we’ve got in Newfoundland. But just be prepared to grovel a bit, Andrew. Read up on the Commission of Government, circa 1933.

ANDREW FUREY: I’m there, Dad. I hear ya. No “us and them” is the way I’ve been puttin’ it. But fact is, I’ve already got my cap in hand.

OPERATOR: It’s Dwight Ball on the line, Premier Furey. Says he can give you survival lessons, how to play it safe, operate with caution, without boldness, and leave with not a hair out of place.

SENATOR FUREY: And, look, if things start to go down the toilet — and you already need a good plunger by the sounds of things — just blame every past premier you can remember for putting the province in this poop storm. Repeat after me, Andrew: “I inherited a mess.”

ANDREW FUREY: “I inherited a mess.”

SENATOR FUREY: Good, good, my son. Now repeat this: “Economic diversity.”

ANDREW FUREY: “Economic diversity.”

SENATOR FUREY: Just keep those generalizations going, son. You’ll be OK. It’s worked for every premier since Smallwood.

OPERATOR: I have an incoming call, Dr. Furey, or is it Premier Furey?

ANDREW FUREY: Premier Furey when hopping up the steps of Confederation Building, Dr. Furey when I’m keeping my licence alive and performing the odd operation during cabinet coffee breaks. I’m only operating on Liberals from now on, though.

OPERATOR: It’s Dwight Ball on the line, Premier Furey. Says he can give you survival lessons, how to play it safe, operate with caution, without boldness, and leave with not a hair out of place.

ANDREW FUREY: Dwight who? Haven’t got time, operator.

OPERATOR: It’s Danny Williams on Line 2, Premier.

DANNY WILLIAMS: Don’t let those naysayers get you down, Andrew. To hell with all of ’em. Brand every critic as a traitor. God guard thee Newfoundland. You’re the king of the castle now. Do whatever you damn well feel like doin’.

ANDREW FUREY: Ah, shaddup, Muskrat Man. (A click can be heard). Wow, that felt good. Telling Danny Williams off. A guy could get used to this.

OPERATOR: It’s Eddie Joyce on the line, Premier. Says he gave up his seat for Clyde Wells back in ‘89, and will do the same for you.

ANDREW FUREY: That’s all I need, to be beholden to Eddie Joyce. Tell him thanks but no thanks.

OPERATOR: John Abbott is waiting to speak to you, Premier, a matter of voting lists.

ANDREW FUREY: Mr. Sour Grapes himself, eh? Tell him if he runs and gets elected there’s a seat in the caucus so far in the back he’ll need binoculars to spot me. Oh my, I’m startin’ to enjoy this power trip. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all. Operator, put my father back on.

GEORGE FUREY: (Snoring can be heard):

ANDREW FUREY: Wake up, Dad, wake up!

SENATOR FUREY: OK, now where was I? Oh, yeah, economic diversity, platitudes, blame all past governments, we’ve got to work together, collaboration. Got that straight, Andrew? Andrew? Andrew?

OPERATOR: The premier is in the operating room, Senator. He says he has to stop the bleeding.

SENATOR FUREY: Good luck with that.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com


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