Canada

The Case of the Missing Minister

Roy MacGregor August 13 1979
Canada

The Case of the Missing Minister

Roy MacGregor August 13 1979

The Case of the Missing Minister

Canada

Roy MacGregor

It annual was so sidewalk nicely in sale keeping on Ottawa’s with the Sparks Street Mall, where last week slow-moving merchandise was dragged out of storage and stamped with a brand-new sales pitch. Ray Hnatyshyn was out of hiding, emerging just as the new government polished off—some were saying smudged—its second month in office. And for those with long memories who could remember back to June 4, when Prime Minister Joe Clark handed Hnatyshyn the controversial energy portfolio, it meant The Case of the Missing Minister had finally been solved. The ending even had Cyril Symes, the New Democratic Party’s energy critic, rubbing his hands in delight: “We flushed him out —finally]”

Actually Hnatyshyn was forced out of hiding by his own office, by the very people who were supposed to be covering for him while he crammed on energy for upcoming question periods when the House—finally—resumes sitting Oct. 9. But on Wednesday The Canadian Press quoted an unnamed source in Hnatyshyn’s office as saying PetroCanada, the Liberal-created government oil company, was now persona non grata as far as the Tories were concerned in future energy deals. Hnatyshyn was forced to make a personal denial the same day, pointing out that Petrocan was very much involved with the government’s current negotiations to buy 100,000 barrels of oil a day from Mexico. “There is no diminuation of Petro-Canada’s role and activities at this point,” the minister claimed.

But the long silence had already hurt Hnatyshyn. “This is no time for a very reticent and elusive minister,” argued Cyril Symes. “We’re losing precious time.” With only two firm commitments

on his summer agenda, Hnatyshyn had bowed out of both, one being a television interview and the other a speaking engagement at a $300-a-ticket resources development conference in Saskatoon which happened to overlap a cabinet meeting. To say nothing over those two months just past was, says Symes, “quite irresponsible.” Since the Tories came to power the base price of OPEC oil has risen by 25 per cent, the price of domestic oil is up a dollar a barrel to $13.75, more and faster rises in price have been threatened by the finance minister and the Americans have declared war on the energy crisis.

Part of the silent mystery was that Hnatyshyn’s reputation had previously been one of courage and outspokenness. The theory that he was deliberately put under wraps was unavoidable. A top Tory strategist has admitted to Maclean's that Petrocan was “the one election issue we were afraid of being on the wrong side of” and that, coupled with a Gallup poll released Friday showing that fully 48 per cent of Canadians favor keeping Petrocan (as opposed to only two per cent wanting to dismantle it), may mean that the Conservatives are stalling deliberately and re-evaluating yet another election promise.

The earliest anything will be known is Aug. 26 to 29 when the inner cabinet gathers at Jasper, Alberta, and Hnatyshyn is scheduled to present his energy policy. Then, finally, it will be the minister in charge, not the finance minis-

ter, speaking out on energy matters. “Hopefully,” says one Hnatyshyn aide, obviously displeased with John Crosbie’s dominance, “he will provide a little more depth.” The test will be whether he can go deep enough to recover his political fortunes.'v'