For more than a month, Liberal strategists have argued that the prime minister’s planned junket through the Far East was political suicide and begged him to stay home.
paign to pump new momentum into the flagging Six-and-Five restraint drive.
The battle to keep Trudeau on the home front was lengthy and nerveracking for party loyalists. Throughout the first week of August, senatorial strategist Keith Davey, party President Norman MacLeod and Principal Secretary Tom Axworthy repeatedly warned that the public would view a trade tour to Japan and the five ASEAN nations— Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines—as a prodigal holiday. Trudeau argued that he had already postponed visits to the Philippines and Indonesia last fall and he insisted, “There is never a ‘good’ time for these trips.” Then he and his three children took their controversial holiday in the West aboard the viceregal railway cars. Shocked by the depth of public rage—and the volume of rocks and tomatoes—Trudeau admitted that bad publicity from his Asian tour could further damage the government’s restraint campaign. He also told aides that he regretted his “instinctive” onefinger gesture at peaceful demonstrators. Encouraged by these rare admissions, the strategists repeated their pleas. Then, Privy Council Clerk Michael Pitfield cornered Trudeau at his Harrington Lake retreat and insisted that he was needed at home to oversee cabinet discussion on the upcoming speech from the throne in November.
But Pierre Trudeau would not listen, countering that he had miles to go and promises to keep. Therefore, when his office issued a curt cancellation of the threeweek, six-nation tour last week, it meant that Trudeau had finally submitted to an orchestrated scheme aimed at rescuing the economy and party fortunes. The spectacle of the disgruntled prime minister renouncing exotic lands for the sake of restraint is, in fact, only the first step in an autumn-long cam-
Trudeau asked for two days to think. After talks with the trade and external affairs departments he cancelled the trip, and his office advised the various ambassadors and high commissioners. Sighed a senior strategist: “The
destinations were just so exotic. If people were sure that he wasn’t going to
enjoy himself, then it would have been okay. But one dance, just one
The abrupt cancellations rankled some host countries, especially twice-scorned Indonesia, but they apparently understood Trudeau’s tale of political woe. The five ASEAN nations had hoped that the prime minister’s visit would focus more attention on their regional bloc—and thus trigger visits from other major Western heads of state. The Japanese were the most sympathetic because Canada’s economic woes ^ have been publicized in a ^series of press reports 2 that show the Maple ä Leaf blighted by inflation and lack of investor - confidence. Canadian in Tokyo had, however,
businessmen counted on exploiting Trudeau’s image as a statesman by showing him off and thus enhancing their standing. “The cancellation has been a blow to us,” lamented Ivan Bumstead of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
Trudeau’s new stay-at-home image means that he can now be deployed in the restraint war. According to plans, the prime minister will shun most public speaking invitations since irate demonstrators could grab the headlines. Instead, while Trudeau feted South Korean President Chun Doohwan during a three-day state visit last week, aides coyly scrounged for “prestige” interview requests. Trudeau will also campaign in three Ontario byelections slated for Oct. 12. And it is likely that he will shuffle his cabinet before the Commons reconvenes on Oct. 27.
The prime minister’s agenda is, in turn, part of a calculated political calendar that is designed to create the impression of hard work and renewed popularity. Such attempts at autumnal renewal have become almost a seasonal rite for embattled Liberals. The latest version is scheduled to start on Sept. 13 and 14, when the priorities and planning cabinet committee will meet at Meach Lake to explore new legislative initiatives. On Sept. 16 the full cabinet begins a series of meetings to script a session-opening throne speech fea-
turing job creation, economic development and pension reform. After a November party policy meeting, the autumn drama will culminate in a new parliamentary session and some new economic vows.
While these serious political discussions unfold, the irrepressible Senator Davey will be flogging the Six-and-Five Solution with logos, stickers, posters and a peppy newsletter. Last month Ottawa spent $25,000 on Six-and-Five hoopla for three major exhibitions. But the senator has apparently rejected a major two-month advertising campaign to peddle the plan. One suggested radio ad—it would have been paid for by the taxpayers—had Trudeau asking all Canadians to reduce their demands so that senior citizens would not suffer because of the six-per-cent ceiling on pension cheques.
Instead, Davey has apparently decided that there must be more emphasis on the Liberal battle to curtail prices in the wake of several dramatic hikes. Last week the cabinet reluctantly allowed TransCanada PipeLines Ltd. to boost transportation charges for natural gas by 16 per cent. At the same time, oil product prices increased because of a $2.25 hike in the price of a barrel of oil. Gasoline shot up by about two cents a litre. To combat the bad publicity, Davey has been asking firms that adopted wage restraints to tack the government logo—“6/5 Working Together”—onto their letterhead and product labels. He reckons that these companies will then be too embarrassed to raise prices. The senator is also begging cabinet to proclaim more regulated price rollbacks.
The new federal emphasis on prices may at least address some pressing political concerns. Northern Ontario Liberal MP Keith Penner, for example, notes that unemployment is as high as 40 per cent in some small towns in his riding. Most constituents, he adds, feel lucky to have a job—so wage restraint does not disturb them. But the local telephone company has applied for a 19per-cent rate increase. The oil price hike comes when constituents are “deeply nervous” about the cost of operating their vehicles and heating their homes. “Living in Northern Ontario is costly— there are few breaks—and when the economy is down, life gets pretty close to desperate,” says Penner. “So there’s no concern about wages here. And there’s a lot of worry about prices. That means that every time there’s a failure—every time the gas prices shoot up—it really hurts the government’s policy.” But that kind of damage, as Trudeau now acknowledges, pales when he soars away on his plane.
MARY JANIGAN in Ottawa, with files from Peter McGill in Tokyo.
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