Canadian News

On Her Majesty’s Service

Robert Lewis,Ian Urquhart December 18 1978
Canadian News

On Her Majesty’s Service

Robert Lewis,Ian Urquhart December 18 1978

On Her Majesty’s Service

Canadian News

The time had come for Deputy Prime Minister Allan MacEachen to let the federal Liberal cabinet in on the deep secret which Pierre Trudeau had gone off to tell the Queen in London: Edward Richard Schreyer was Canada’s 22nd Governor-General. Her Majesty’s ministry fell into stunned silence. Finally, tentatively, one of them broke the hush: “All right, Allan, stop joking. Who is it?”

The same note of wonder sounded throughout the nation last week as citizens contemplated a new first family— and the unlikely Queen’s representative, head of state and commander-inchief. For generations a succession of lords, earls and generals with degrees and the ways of Harrow, Sandhurst and Balliol, reigned in the squat, forbidding Rideau Hall. Even the Canadians who held the office, starting with Vincent Massey, were blue bloods,diplomats or quintessential establishmentarians.

Ed Schreyer is nothing of the sort. He is a farm boy who pitched manure and sawed logs on a sparse Prairie home-

stead. A descendant of German stock, he has solid ethnic ties and a vivacious, down-home wife in the former Lily Schultz. He speaks English and French, some Ukrainian and some German. In an age of conservativism, he has been a most visible social democrat. He collected four university degrees and rose to power, but he preserved the common touch and a closetful of rumpled suits. With his Western roots, a young family and an informal mien, Ed Schreyer’s years at Rideau Hall should be utterly unlike the ones that went before.

In London outside 10 Downing Street, Trudeau explained why Ed Schreyer came to mind. He is, said Trudeau, “young, dynamic, not from Central Canada, not from the establishment.* He is a modest man and he wondered if he could do it—which made me think that he could.”

Schreyer’s name first popped up as a G-G candidate in Trudeau’s inner circle three weeks ago (although Trudeau had tried to woo Schreyer to Ottawa in the past for the Anti-Inflation Board, the

* Veteran diplomat George Ignatieff, who actively lobbied for the post and was on the short list, is decidedly Central Canadian and establishment. Other names considered: Mitchell Sharp, former minister of finance; former Conservative leader Robert Stanfield; and Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Pauline McGibbon.

national unity task force and the National Energy Board). Gordon Robertson, Trudeau’s trusted adviser on senior appointments, sounded Schreyer out, but the conversation was so vague that the two men ended up discussing the weather.

Then last Tuesday, while Schreyer was shaving, Trudeau called to offer the post, and to invite him to Ottawa. Schreyer promptly turned a speaking commitment over to a colleague and flew to Ottawa for dinner at 24 Sussex Drive, across from Rideau Hall, 24 hours before the PM’s flight to London. “It was warm,” the cautious Schreyer allows of the tête-à-tête. “But it did not dwell on pleasantries. We had too many things to talk about.”

What Schreyer and Trudeau will discuss in their regular weekly meetings after the swearing-in on Jan. 22 already is a subject of intense speculation in the capital. In Schreyer, Trudeau clearly has a kindred spirit across the street in a time of trouble (see story overleaf). As longtime advocates of official bilingualism and strong central government, the two will operate on the same philosophical wavelength—they always have.

The Tories have darker thoughts about the Schreyer-Trudeau relationship. Only half-jokingly imagining a Trudeau-Ed Broadbent encounter fol-

lowing a narrow Liberal minority win in the next election, a senior Conservative strategist remarked:“Trudeau comes out of a meeting with an NDP Governor-General and says,* Ed, he says we can form a government.’”

Cynical as it sounds, an admiring former Schreyer adviser voices similar unease about the new GG’s use of office. “Let’s face it,” says the NDPer, “Trudeau never rewards anybody. If he has a minority government coming up, no question he’d rather have Schreyer there than someone with no political moxie.”

The Conservatives were unusually curt in the wake of an appointment that traditionally comes in a nonpartisan atmosphere. Opposition leader Joe Clark, perhaps conjuring up a vision of Schreyer reading the first Tory throne speech next fall, remarked stiffly in the Commons: “I am sure he will do a good job. I want to wish him well.”

For the Schreyers, there was some reluctance at leaving home and friends. In an office where style often counts more than substance, however, the unaffected new first family should humanize the office in the manner of the Jules Légers (see page 20). Schreyer is not only the youngest G-G since the 38year-old Lord Lansdowne in 1833; the couple’s four children should bring a bounce to imposing Rideau Hall not seen since the 1940s. Then official Ottawa buzzed with tales of young Brian, son of Viscount Alexander of Tunis, who was given to firing BB-gun pellets on the spacious grounds and bursts from water pistols at portraits of his dad’s illustrious predecessors. Pass the perogies, Mom.

Robert Lewis/Ian Urquhart