Canada

A man with fences to mend

Ian Anderson March 3 1980
Canada

A man with fences to mend

Ian Anderson March 3 1980

A man with fences to mend

Canada

Ian Anderson

They drifted back to Ottawa in ones and twos last week, the 103 dejected survivors of Joe Clark’s Conservative government. Recriminations were being kept, on the whole, private. “We’re all trying to keep the sabres from rattling,” said one Maritimer. But the frustration of facing at least four more years in Opposition was not. Congratulated on his victory, a glum Prairie veteran retorted: “Thanks—I think.”

March 3 will be the day defeat weighs heaviest on Clark’s Tories. That Monday, two weeks after winning his third majority government in five attempts, Pierre Trudeau will be sworn in as prime minister and will unveil his cabinet. While Clark was winding down his government last week and preparing for a long vacation,

Trudeau busied himself with reassuming the reins of power. Most critically, he and his staff started conjuring up means to make the western half of the nation feel at home with a central government for which it did not vote.

By week’s end, the party that elected no member west of Winnipeg had yet to decide how the three other western provinces might be represented in the new cabinet.

With western openings in the Senate, Trudeau had not the luxury of inserting some of his brightest defeated members in the upper chamber, as Clark was able to do for his senior economic minister,

Bob de Cotret. One sign of the party’s perplexity was the consideration given to running Gordon Gibson, a highly considered but twice-defeated B.C. candidate, in Frontenac, a rural Quebec seat. The vote in Frontenac has been postponed to March 24 because of the death of the Social Credit candidate.

Oddly, the scheme was news to the Liberal incumbent in Frontenac, Leopold Corriveau. He irately labelled the notion that he might be seduced into

vacating his seat as “completely false.” Added Corriveau: “I can’t imagine an anglophone from the West thinking he could run in a Quebec seat. It’s like me trying to get a seat in Alberta.”

The scheme had been proposed by Senator Ray Perrault, one of three cabinet ministers from B.C. in Trudeau’s last government. It had been Perrault

who had warned Trudeau’s advisers last December that they faced devastation in his province should they bring down the Clark government so soon. It is Perrault who now has to live with such newspaper headlines as the one that graced The Vancouver Sun after the election: B.C. IN POLITICAL ISOLATION.

And it is Perrault who is reminding Trudeau of events such as last week’s

radio survey that showed six out of every 10 callers in favor of separation from the rest of Canada. “But usually it’s just the dissidents who call these shows,” he philosophizes.

In Trudeau’s last cabinet, Perrault sat as government house leader in the Senate. He now favors putting B.C. senators into the new Trudeau cabinet as “the only viable alternative.” He admits, however, that the Liberals have talked themselves into a rather tight box on the issue of Senate appointments. Their hot denunciations of de Cotret’s appointment will not be forgotten. So, for the moment, it seems that the only alternative is to plug the gaps in B.C., Alberta and Manitoba with senators such as Perrault, Jack Austin (a former Trudeau aide), Earl Hastings, David Steuart and Sid Buckwold. “What else do you do?” asks Lloyd Axworthy, the Winnipeg MP who heads a western caucus that could fit comfortably into the two seats of an MG Midget.

But even this scheme does not have the absolute support of the senators who would probably be pressed into service. Senator Bud Olson of Alberta, Trudeau’s first minister of agriculture, believes it is wrong to have “senators making political decisions that affect areas represented by the elected members of Commons.” Accordingly, he leans more toward creating an advisory group to promote western interests in Ottawa.

Senator George Van Roggen of Vancouver believes such an idea unrealistic. “Advice is not difficult to come by,” he argues. “The thing is, can you really have a section of Canada as large as the West out of the cabinet, away from where the real power is?”

Van Roggen, like Leopold Corriveau, dismisses talk of Gibson running in Frontenac. “I think it will be looked on by the people of British Columbia as too clever by half.” Concedes Perrault: “There is sort of an anti-Quebec feeling in B.C.”

There would, however, be ample prec-

edents for such a strategy, points out Eugene Forsey, the retired senator and constituional expert. Mackenzie King got his first Liberal cabinet an Alberta representative in 1921 by getting a Quebec MP to resign his seat in Argenteuil. King then successfully ran Charles Stewart, the premier of Alberta, in the safe seat. King himself, defeated on more than one occasion, quickly opened a spot in which he could run in eastern Ontario after losing the Saskatchewan riding of Prince Albert in 1945. Says Forsey: “It’s not advisable, it’s not particularly helpful, but it can be done.”

Trudeau also has ample precedent for stacking his cabinet with senators. Clark had three. Sir Charles Tupper holds the record—five out of 18 ministers being recruits from the Senate.

Amid the discussions in Ottawa, Lloyd Axworthy set sail out of Winnipeg Friday to ask the defeated Liberal candidates in the West what they think should be done. With him was Robert Bockstael, the low-key Manitoba MP

from St. Boniface. Highly touted as a possible replacement for Trudeau, the urbane Axworthy is not, however, the sort of politician who will become a figurehead for Prairie Liberals that Sas-

katchewan’s Jimmy Gardiner was for Mackenzie King. “The Liberals have been waiting for years for someone to lead them out of the wilderness, some messiah,” says Bud Olson. “I don’t think that person exists. He has to be developed.”

Axworthy is now considering such options for his party as “twinning” seats—having a Liberal member from an eastern riding “adopt” a western riding as well. This was tried briefly before Clark was defeated. Irenée Pelletier, a Quebec MP, attempted to serve as a “second” MP to the constituents of SelkirkInterlake in addition to his duties to the farmers and small businessmen who elected him in Sherbrooke.

“There’s got to be some way for regional points of view to be heard federally, and not just represented by some provincial premier,” Axworthy says. Like Pierre Trudeau, he is giving some thought to the idea of electing at least some MPs by proportional representation. The scheme would allow the Tories some Quebec members for their total vote in that province, and the Liberals some sort of representation for the 700,000 westerners who voted for the party fruitlessly last week.

“It’s just not realistic to think that 74 Quebec Liberals represent the hopes, dreams and aspirations of all Quebeckers,” agrees Perrault. “It’s the same for Alberta [with its 21 Tory seats].”

But while Trudeau has mused publicly that proportional representation “may be the way of the future,” his closest advisers admit this new government is giving any such scheme low priority for the moment. There will be no dramatic gesture from Trudeau early in this new Parliament to give the West as much input into the government as westerners may believe they deserve.