Canadian News

Over the Rockies and up the creek

Robert Stall March 26 1979
Canadian News

Over the Rockies and up the creek

Robert Stall March 26 1979

Over the Rockies and up the creek

Vancouver

While Canadian voters waited to be told when they are going to the polls, the Liberals’ non-election campaign wound its way west to British Columbia where the party holds only eight of 23 federal seats—and seven of those are in peril. The trip got mixed notices for the wobbly Grits as a cranky, aggressive Pierre Trudeau

made his way around Vancouver. Anticipating Trudeauphobia where there wasn’t any, the prime minister jammed a chip onto his shoulder, traded insults with a startled crowd of University of British Columbia students, charmed a dinner of committed Liberals, but groused through the greater part of his most public day in the West this year.

Trudeau’s B.C. bedevilments were not all of his own making. He was shafted as much by poor planning, careless remarks and the silly bumbles of others as by his own demeanor. Organizers of the much-vaunted Liberal machine, amazingly, scheduled him to address

students, Italian Canadians and $125-aplate contributors in Vancouver just three weeks after he addressed students, Italian Canadians and $125-aplate contributors in Toronto. The first night’s fumble was not Trudeau’s. Vancouver Kingsway MP Simma Holt, introducing Trudeau at the Italian Cultural Centre, said she was happy to be among dear friends, “many of them new Canadians . . . some of them just off the boat.” There was a strained silence. Holt, whose seat is regarded as the only absolutely safe Liberal holding in B.C., was distressed later because, she said, she had meant to coin an apt phrase of welcome to the Vietnamese “boat people” refugees in her constituency. Trudeau spoke cheerfully on national unity and the need for citizens to work hard for it. He received a warm ovation and mingled with the 1,500 people in the hall, signing autographs while, outside, Vancouver police ticketed guests’ cars.

The next morning, Trudeau was a TV guest of growling broadcaster Jack Webster. Trudeau arrived looking tired and drawn, and was ushered into the makeup room. A video camera appeared near the door of the room and a primeministerial aide shouted furiously that they would all leave if the camera was not withdrawn. It was. Webster welcomed Trudeau and asked him how he felt. “I didn’t want to see you,” Trudeau replied, but the joke didn’t workx The prime minister said he would not offer tax cuts in an election campaign, would not abide by the results of a PQ referendum (“I’ll say they can go chase themselves” ) and would not refuse to sit

in opposition should he be defeated in the election. During a commercial break, Trudeau departed without saying goodbye to the TV audience, unthanked by Webster. “He’s not very good in the morning,” said press attaché Arnie Patterson.

A few hours later, Trudeau mounted the stage in the jammed auditorium of UBC’s student-union building. The crowd was good-natured, but boisterous. Trudeau announced he was not giving a speech and invited questions, “if you’ve got any intelligent ones.” He stood impatiently, then snapped: “Who’s organizing the questions? Where are the microphones?” Two questions later, his own microphone conked out. “What the hell! You can’t even make the mikes work here. What do you want me to do—shout?” Power was restored in seconds and he answered several questions, a few of them in detail. A questioner who had asked him about voter apathy interrupted the PM during his response. Snarled Trudeau: “Don’t ask me questions if you don’t want the answers, you creep.”

A student stood at a microphone and noted that, while he and others were there to determine whether Trudeau merited their votes, “we seem to have been met by an extremely hostile prime minister.” Trudeau apologized and agreed he had been “a bit impatient.” When he wound up the session, he apologized again: “Sorry, I did sound aggressive. I guess it’s the lunch I had.” (At the Bayshore Inn, his lunch had consisted of Camembert cheese, melon and grapes.) Said a Liberal party worker: “I hope the election campaign doesn’t get to him like that.” As the PM’s motorcade zoomed away from the student building, one of the doors of his aides’ limousine was open. It struck a reporter’s hand, sending his bail-point pen flying.

Addressing 1,200 Liberals at the gala fund-raiser that evening and reading from a staff-written text, Trudeau sparkled. Among demonstratively committed Liberals, he charmed and joked and spoke with flair. He got a laugh when he described the UBC students as “that great bunch of sophomores we met.” But midway through a savage, witty attack on Clark, he caused some eyebrows to be raised, much as Simma Holt had done the night before: after quoting an endlessly wandering economic statement of Clark’s, Trudeau said: “That kind of thinking might not frighten the Japanese or the Jordanians, but it sure frightens me.”

The prime minister flew back to Ottawa Friday, his last stop before the airport no doubt striking the same nerve as his other Vancouver appearances. He had an extensive session with his dentist.

Robert Stall