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Joe Oliver and the uncool tyranny of the Old Boy Elite

Old Boys still wield power. But as proven by the Finance Minister’s kiboshed Q&A at the Cambridge Club, it’s easy to lampoon.


 

TORONTO, ON, August 28th, 2014 - Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver.

Like many people before and after him, the late hockey legend Conn Smythe—the former owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs and builder of Maple Leaf Gardens—hated high school. Smythe enrolled at Upper Canada College in the early 20th century, one of the oldest, most venerable boys’ private schools in the country. According to his biography he detested UCC so much he left after only a year and a half and enrolled in a downtown public school.

But unlike most people who hate their high schools, Smythe insisted that his sons Hugh and Stafford attend his loathed alma mater because he believed, “once a boy had gone to Upper Canada, he would never again be in awe of great family names, money, power or social standing. He would know that although a good private school can produce the best, it can also produce the worst.”

In other words, for Smythe, the image of his sons attending an elite, Old Boy institution—and possibly enjoying themselves—was more tolerable than the image of his sons admiring and revering such a place from a distance. If Smythe had become a father in this day and age, however, it’s unlikely he’d have to worry about his sons’ being unduly impressed with an institution like UCC.

Old Boy Elitism—boys’ private schools, college fraternities and private men’s clubs—may produce CEOs and politicians like clockwork. But their lustre, thanks to an increasingly egalitarian culture (one that values diversity and dislikes douchebaggery), has begun to fade. The stereotypical old boys, i.e. the white, male, snooty upper-cruster, isn’t merely the bane of his favourite punching bag: the feminist, the hippie, or the queer. He is the bane of all kinds of people, real and imagined: Ponyboy in The Outsiders, Ryan Atwood on The O.C., Frank “The Tank” Ricard (a.k.a Will Farrell) in Old School, and most recently, the Jewish staff of Camp Firewood, on Netflix’s revival of Wet Hot American Summer, who are terrorized routinely by a group of sneering sweater set clad guys across the lake. Popular culture, not to mention life (ahem, Donald Trump), is littered with deeply unlikeable Old Boys.

It is hardly surprising, then, that Finance Minister Joe Oliver cancelled a sold-out talk on Wednesday at The Cambridge Club, a private Toronto men’s club he has belonged to for 42 years. The Cambridge Club, for those not yet acquainted with “the downtown playground for Toronto’s most successful executives,” is as Old Boy as they come. It is home to leather armchairs, Scotch tastings, and according a story in the Financial Post this year, “bound volumes of Playboy.” Oliver was scheduled to speak about economics at the club on Wednesday but pulled out last minute when Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland took umbrage with the event’s setting. Her beef: Why should Canada’s finance minister speak at a private men’s club where women aren’t welcome beyond the co-ed dining room? Twitter took the bait and soon Oliver’s name was trending. He had become, in a matter of minutes, one of the most well-known and reviled Old Boys in the country.

Freeland’s impassioned performance at the Cambridge Club on Wednesday wasn’t exactly moving. Having attended Justin Trudeau’s ill-conceived “Ladies Night” event last year, at which no actual food was served (just candy) and the all-female guests were forced to submit questions to Trudeau anonymously into a box a la gym class, it is hard to take the Liberal Party’s feminist protestations seriously. (It is also telling that no such furor erupted in the wake of Olivia Chow’s speaking engagement at the Cambridge Club during last year’s Toronto mayoral campaign.)

But it is interesting how quickly Oliver backed down—almost as though the second his people got a whiff of disapproval from the mostly younger crowd deriding the minister on Twitter and Facebook, they told him to throw in the towel—or in this case, the monogrammed bathrobe. This is a man, remember, whose photograph is hanging on the club’s wall.

Old boys may rule the world, but judging by today’s snarky online theatrics—post after post of dorky photographs lifted directly from the Cambridge Club’s website—it’s clear they are regarded by almost everyone outside their stuffy walls as painfully uncool. (I don’t know about you, but I’d rather my pornography not be bound in leather). Their influence remains enormous, of course. White male privilege—as the kids these days like to call it—is far from dead.

But Oliver’s swift rejection of the Old Boy podium may indicate that it is no longer fashionable for an elected official to formally address an insular group of rich, white, men who subsist on Lagavulin and d–k jokes; rich white men who are so threatened by the supposed scourge of political correctness (in reality, easier to avoid outside a college campus than Rob Ford at a gay pride parade) that they are willing to pay thousands of dollars a year for likeminded friends with whom they can lounge around in expensive towels and make snide remarks about Caitlyn Jenner. Good riddance.


 

Joe Oliver and the uncool tyranny of the Old Boy Elite

  1. Indeed, what a waste of money belonging to a club like that when you could belong to myriad other clubs, motorsports, sailing, etc. which are open to all, but generally populated exclusively by well-off males of the pigment-challenged variety. You are far likely to have a better time while being dressed in your most comfortable clothes, pay much less for drinks, meet many of the same people and make the same connections. ‘Cool people’ are almost completely absent, and nobody gives a damn about Caitlin Jenner one way or another!

  2. No problem that little Joe has belonged to this boys’ club since it opened in 1973, but to choose to deliver a Canadian economic policy speech there is just plain stupid. Doesn’t the wrinkled boy realize that over 1/2 of Canadians are female? Time for little Joe to evolve or step aside.

    • So you’ll take offense at any candidate that speaks to a private club? Justin Trudeau can’t address his ritzy private golf club then, I suppose?

  3. Lordy, lordy……I can’t believe Cons, and especially Joe….were dumb enough to publicize their connection to the plastic people of Bay St. A generation off the farm and they think they’re lords of the land!

    Playboy in leather binding…..as opposed to being hidden under a pile of straw out behind the barn.

    Aaaahh gawd, and now it’s headline news all over the country. LOL

    Think about how much Harp and the Huns really care about the ‘average hard-working Canadian!

    Well, women are 52% of the country boys….time’s up!

  4. The funny thing about the “old boy elite” is that they don’t give a crap how some feminist journalist judges them on a 1-10 scale of Political Correctness. While Chrystia Freeland was holding court at this “old boys club” and doing as much media as possible there, her campaign was also attacking the NDP candidate for the great sin of not having yet given birth to a child.

    The Liberals are just hypocrites in worst way. I’m amazed the media’s actually still spinning their tripe.

  5. If this story wasn’t strange enough, —- Majority of 400+ comments on CBC covering of this story, smack of boys club mentality SUPPORTING bruised Cambridge Club, and employing “double standard” argument of Freeland’s supposed harassment toward men’s rights.

    ????? White male privilege is reacting like the victim here ?????

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/chrystia-freeland-men-club-bathrobe-guy-twitter-1.3204922

    read some of these comments and try to not laugh (or weep).

    • The guy in the bathrobe is the uptown version of Earl Cowan.

      • The great Liberals screwed up and it is really hard for you to accept. Many of the CBC comments laughing at the stupid stunt by the Liberals were from females.We can and do think for our selves.

        • No one said the Liberals were great. I have nothing invested in the Liberals. I was focused on the Cambridge Club. Joe Oliver made the mistake trying to pander to his buddies, instead of the greater public, quickly cancelled his own show out of embarrassment.
          (on cbc site) I don’t doubt many women commented, but the unrestrained misogyny toward Freeland and even some islamophobia toward Trudeau for some reason was glibly put forth by many men. If those comments were from you DEMERS10, then i stand (or rather sit/whilst typing) corrected.

      • The Conservatives will no doubt have action figures for their go-to brethren. Earl, BathrobeGuy, Collect them all !

  6. Lagavulin is the most vile drink on the planet, surpassed only by kaoliang.

    I was surprised to see there are still men-only clubs. I really had no idea. I would have thought they were illegal. Though as someone at the Cambridge Club mentioned there are women-only clubs, I would argue the motivation is completely different.

    • Men only clubs? Why would that be a surprise? There are all kinds of women only events and clubs. In fact there are institutionalized men only/women only practices of a all kinds in Canada. Why should this be an issue in itself? Does everything HAVE to be co-ed? Is it suddenly not OK to have separate men’s and women’s washrooms? Come on!

      • Don’t know what a gentlemens club is eh?

    • You’re right, I much prefer Bruichladdich or Caol Ila

  7. How easy it is for every bleating bleeding heart feminist to complain about domination by white male elites. What low hanging fruit for a feminist! Easy pickings. I happen to be a white male, but certainly not elite. But in the face of Ms. Teitel’s writings, I take offence. “White male privilege is alive and well.” Maybe within some very narrow realms. Within my job sphere, it is next to impossible to move ahead because I’m a white male. “Sorry, we’re looking for people with more ethnic background.” And while I’m supposed to be willing to step aside in the face of ethnic diversity, my ancestors who shook hands with Champlain as he arrived in New France, would wonder.

  8. Why does Emma Teitel single out UCC in this article? Joe Oliver does not appear to have anything to do with Upper Canada College. He grew up in Montreal and did not attend the school.

    To Teitel, UCC epitomize the elitist, Old Boy culture that is present in Canadian politics (and politics in general– look across the pond or down south). Her characterization of UCC, a remarkable institution, is unfair. She writes about Conn Smythe’s negative experience at UCC 100+ years ago. Neither Smythe’s experience at the school, nor his children’s, is relevant to this article about Joe Oliver’s membership at the Cambridge Club and white male privilege in this city today. The school and the city of Toronto have changed dramatically over the last century.

  9. Values diversity?

    As long as all diverse members share the same outlook of the world.

    Religious? Not acceptable.
    Traditional values? Not acceptable.
    Living within our means? Not acceptable.

    Progressive, neo-fascist bullies.

    Why would Freeland go to ‘protest’ an event that had been cancelled?

    Olivia Chow had an even there. Did Freeland protest the event that actually took place?

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