Canada

The grounding of Mackasey

Robert Lewis October 1 1979
Canada

The grounding of Mackasey

Robert Lewis October 1 1979

The grounding of Mackasey

Ottawa

Robert Lewis

Bryce Mackasey seemed almost cheerful, although he had just been dumped by the Conservatives from his $90,000-a-year job as chairman of Air Canada. The former Liberal cabinet minister was once again at centre stage—and on every newscast—dominating even the harrowing accounts of the fatality-free emergency landing in Boston of an Air Canada DC-9, which blew a tail cone, and the subsequent grounding of eight other planes because of cracks in their rear bulkheads. Mackasey allowed that he was “relaxed” and “never better,” with a recent clean bill of health for old heart problems which allowed him to throw “every pill out of the medicine cabinet.”

All of that suggested that the 58year-old perpetual campaigner was gearing up for a re-entry to the political arena, amid hints that he is interested in Pierre Trudeau’s job if the Liberal leader steps down. Mackasey even indirectly addressed reported references last week to his drinking habits, volunteering that under large doses of heart medicine, “one snort and you’re in trouble.”

But the clearest sign of all that the old antennae were still at work was Mackasey’s refusal to jump when he was shoved. The heavy was Transport Minister Don Mazankowski who, over a private dinner with Mackasey, informed him of the intention to instruct the airline’s board to ask for Mackasey’s resignation. The next day, Mackasey refused to quit, so the government approved an order that named Mackasey’s predecessor, Pierre Taschereau, to the part-time post. The hitch is that it now may cost taxpayers upward of

$200,000 to buy off Mackasey’s special management contract to satisfy the Tory urge for red Liberal blood.* Mackasey was the first person to recognize why, after years of loyalty to Pierre Trudeau, he got his Air Canada reward last December in the dying days of the regime after a byelection defeat in Ottawa—a blatant piece of patronage which even angered many Liberals. “I would never deny,” he allowed, “that I was appointed because I was a political figure.” He just wants the Conservatives to say publicly that’s why he got the boot—preferably in a court of law. With tongue in cheek, Mackasey gives the Tories “credit for setting new standards: you must not be tainted by affiliation with any political party.”

*In an unrelated departure last week, Tommy Shoyama, a U-year veteran of the top levels of the federal bureaucracy, including stints as deputy minister of energy and finance, resigned because of policy disagreements with the government and his sense that the Canadian tradition of bureaucratic careerists is being threatened by the Conservatives.