Whatever else 1984 may hold for Canada, one man seems certain once again to play a commanding role in determining the course of political events—and to do so in his characteristically enigmatic and unpredictable way. Last week, as politicians and political observers tried to guess the shape of the year ahead, it seemed that the man in question—Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau—was, in one important respect, stubbornly out of step with political supporters and rivals alike. While his fellow Liberals watched in gloomy fascination, Trudeau arrived back in Ottawa from Florida and resumed work on his quest for global peace, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Brian Mulroney’s confident Conservatives had, on New Year’s Day, kicked their well-oiled election machinery onto a campaign footing.
If Trudeau’s agenda remained as mysterious as ever, at least he was back in the office last week, while Mulroney and NDP Leader Ed Broadbent continued to soak up the sun in Florida. But, while Trudeau concentrated on securing an invitation to carry his peace proposals to Moscow, Liberals worried that the party’s electoral machinery would remain paralysed until he announced whether he planned to step down or lead the party at the polls once again. “Everyone is holding their breath, waiting for the PM to move,” said a senior cabinet minister last week.
“But he has always worked to his own timetable. He has to make a judgment: what is more important—the party or the peace initiative?”
To a large extent, that question could determine the year’s political timetables, even beyond the federal level, since provincial governments are unlikely to go to the polls until the federal election is held. And that could be delayed— though it would be politically risky for Trudeau’s Liberals to do so—until 1985.
In Ottawa political insiders speculated that Trudeau might have retirement in mind because he did not grant
his traditional year-end interviews, and because he failed to mention domestic issues in his New Year’s message. Instead, Trudeau was midway through a major round of appointments—a possible sign that he wants to reward faithful followers before he departs. Late last week Trudeau elevated veteran Ottawa MP Lloyd Francis from the post of Deputy Speaker of the Commons to the Speaker’s chair as a replacement for Jeanne Sauvé, who was named governor general three weeks ago. But 18 Senate vacancies remained—Trudeau ap-
pointed three new Liberal senators before Christmas—and the posts of Air Canada chairman and lieutenant governor of Quebec were still unfilled.
On the other hand, for a man who might be thinking of stepping down, Trudeau faced a heady international calendar. This week he was scheduled to discuss his peace initiative with United Nations Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuellar in New York. Next week Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang—a Trudeau peace plan supporter—is due to arrive in Canada for a sixday visit. As well, Liberal insiders say that Trudeau is unlikely to jeopardize his standing overseas by announcing his retirement before meeting the ailing Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov.
For all that, Trudeau will have to make up his mind sometime. The Liberal party executive meets at the end of January. As a sign of the changing times, the party’s legal affairs committee has concluded that the executive itself probably has the technical power to call a leadership convention—though such an action would be out of step with party tradition. Although it is highly unlikely that the executive would ever move to oust Trudeau, a party dissident warns that Trudeau must decide his future before the spring or “the shouting and screaming and stomping feet will start— and it just takes one person to put a motion to call for a convention.” If Trudeau does leave sooner rather than later, the party’s leadership convention will probably be held before Pope John Paul II arrives for a 10-day visit in mid-September, to avoid any suggestion of politicking around the pontiff.
While the Liberals wrestled with their uncertainties, the Tories were on a smooth campaign footing. Last week campaign chairman Norm Atkins took control of many party functions, such as tour planning and publicity, while a party committee examined draft policy papers from Tory caucus members. A Mulroney aide promised some “dingdong battles” when nomination meetings to select Conservative candidates begin Feb. 1. In the meantime, pollsters are sampling six Quebec ridings to determine where Mulroney, a Quebecer who currently holds a Nova Scotia seat, will run in the next election.
Mulroney’s Tories were buoyed by a private Gallup poll conducted last month for the party among 1,055 Ontario residents. The poll showed that 55 per cent favored the Tories, while 29 per cent backed the Liberals and 14 per cent supported the NDP. When asked the reasons for their choice, 29 per cent of the respondents said that it is “time for a change.” In the matter of personalities, nine per cent disliked Mulroney, 23 per cent did not like Broadbent and fully 41.2 per cent indicated an aversion to Pierre Trudeau.
While the Tories rejoiced, the New Democrats were planning survival exercises, since party strategists are aware that the party could lose as many as 23 of its 31 seats in an election.
Next month the party will unveil an ambitious campaign built around advertising and door-to-door canvassing, aimed at convincing voters that “the party of conscience” has a valuable role to play in Canada’s political life. “The Canadian people do not want to be without the NDP,” argued federal secretary Gerald Caplan. “They would be very disturbed if they lost the NDP as the spunky conscience, as the defender of ordinary people.” But the party has lost its peace platform to the Liberals, and both the Tories and Liberals also oppose extra billing or user fees in medicare. That means the party must quickly find new issues.
In contrast to the large question marks hanging over the federal scene, provincial politics are likely to be somewhat more predictable in 1984. While Quebec’s Parti Québécois and Manitoba’s NDP governments are
in deep trouble with their electors, a clutch of Conservative administrations—including four Tory fiefdoms in the Atlantic provinces—sailed into the new year in good standing. In Newfoundland, a mellowing Premier Brian Peckford appeared to have an iron hold on power. The dispirited provincial Liberals were trying to convince fisher-
men’s union leader Richard Cashin to run in their October leadership convention. But, in any case, an election is not due until 1987.
In New Brunswick, Tory Richard Hatfield, the dean of Canadian premiers, this year will face Ray Frenette, the fifth provincial Liberal leader to oppose him in the premier’s 13 years in office. But, along with James Lee in Prince Edward Island, William Davis in Ontario and John Buchanan in Nova Scotia, Hatfield seemed securely
In Central Canada the contrast was stark between the prospects of Quebec Premier z René Lévesque on the Sj one hand and Ontario
1 Premier William Davis ^ on the other. In Quebec
2 the ruling Parti Québé-
cois was favored by only 27 per cent of respondents in the polls, while the Opposition Liberals, under former premier Robert Bourassa, were riding high at 67 per cent. Although Lévesque is still in control politically and an election is not due until the spring of 1986, his future looked uncertain. In Ontario the Tories and Davis never looked stronger as the party entered its fifth decade of uninterrupted power.
In the West only Manitoba’s NDP Premier Howard Pawley is in trouble. Tory Premiers Grant Devine of Saskatchewan and Peter Lougheed of Alberta have a solid hold on power. Manitoba NDPers admit that the party could lose half of its 31 seats in an election, although Pawley can wait until 1986 to face the voters. Pawley’s government has fumbled such issues as French language rights, an abortion controversy and lottery reform. With a debt of $525 million, the NDP hopes to avoid controversy in 1984 and keep a three-per-cent limit on growth in public spending.
Although Alberta’s Lougheed faces little serious political opposition, the premier’s spending habits have come under increasing scrutiny by financially pressed Albertans. The province reported an $845-million deficit in 1983 and there were fears that a sales or gasoline tax might be introduced to remedy that. Despite the province’s financial difficulties—due mainly to declining oil and gas revenues—the government recently spent $2 million on toilet facilities for a new provincial recreational development.
After last year’s stormy, 13-day public sector strike, British Columbia’s Social Credit Premier Bill Bennett headed into 1984 planning to play the role of a moderate who has given his constituents a fair hearing. Controversial bills on human rights and landlord-tenant legislation were expected to be watered down and re-introduced. The emphasis in British Columbia will be on recovery, not restraint. And the Opposition NDP will likely be distracted by a looming leadership convention to replace leader Dave Barrett.
If 1984 holds one prospect of relative tranquillity at the provincial level, the federal arena promises emotion and controversy. Last week’s Gallup poll reported that support for Mulroney’s Conservatives had slipped three points to 53 per cent, with the Liberals at 30. But the spread left no doubt about one aspect of the federal mood—Canadians want a change.
With Jane O’Hara in Vancouver, Gordon Legge in Calgary, Dale Eisler in Regina, Andrew Nikiforuk in Winnipeg, Ann Walmsley in Toronto, Anthony Wilson-Smith in Montreal, David Folster in Fredericton, Kennedy Wells in Charlottetown and Bonnie Woodwork in St. John ’s.
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