The New Democrats were jubilant, the Conservatives relieved and the Liberals mildly perplexed as their leaders finally began running flat-out last week in Canada’s midsummer federal election campaign. The varying moods in the three political camps emanated directly from public and media response to the campaign’s first major action—the two televised debates among the leaders. And although Prime Minister John Turner repeatedly insisted: “I held my own,” most observers contended that the new Liberal leader had fared badly in his face-to-face-toface confrontations with Conservative Leader Brian Mulroney and New Democratic Party chief Ed Broadbent.
Turner entered the first debate, in French, on Tuesday with a widely perceived lead over his rivals in popular support. He emerged from the second debate, in English, on Wednesday aware that he faces the fight of his life in the five weeks before the nation votes Sept. 4.
That was a point which even his most ardent supporter, his wife Geills, seemed to concede on Thursday, during a barbecue in the Annapolis Valley town of Kingston, N.S.
Said she of her husband’s debate performances: “He was in a tough spot. Even though he just came back to politics he has to carry the can for the government.” Indeed, the long shadow of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau seemed to hang over Turner, however gamely he tried to escape it and present himself as a new man with new ideas who could satisfy Canadians’ hunger for political change. Both Mulroney, whose smooth debating performance heartened the Tories, and Broadbent, whose gritty effort in French won wide approval in Quebec and across the country, argued that the Liberal record was a key election issue and that Turner, as Liberal leader, had to account for it. Mulroney, in particular, succeeded in forcing Turner into a defensive posture by hammering away at two issues: the weak state of the Canadian economy and the rash of Liberal patronage appointments demanded by Trudeau and implemented by Turner after he took over the government.
In the first debate Mulroney shrewdly appealed directly to Quebec voters to elect a native son, and he drew Turner’s ire by describing him as “the father of the Canadian deficit.” In the second debate Mulroney continued to speak in mellifluous tones and, when Turner unexpectedly tried to turn the
patronage issue to his own advantage by citing Mulroney’s earlier budgetary policy switches, the Tory leader almost sorrowfully chastised Turner for his handling of the entire patronage issue. According to Mulroney, Turner should have refused to do Trudeau’s bidding. Turner countered that he “had no option,” and Mulroney demanded that the Prime Minister apologize to the Canadian people. Turner declined.
After the second debate, Mulroney was obviously pleased. The Tory leader declared: “I thought it went well. On the question of competence and the ability to handle oneself with Mr. Turner and others, that was there and people will have to judge for themselves.” And Broadbent, whose party entered the campaign at a 21-year low in terms of popular support but who has been the most impressive of the three leaders since the election was called on July 9, said, “The feeling that we were picking up during the first 10 days has snowballed since the debate. The response has been overwhelmingly favorable.”
he three leaders will share at least one more platform during the campaign. They agreed last week to a special debate on women’s issues on Aug. 15. The debate will be organized in Toronto by the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, and it is almost certain to be televised across the country. For Turner, the women’s debate offered two crucial opportunities. For one, it meant that he would
have another chance to take on his rivals and refurbish his image among undecided voters (page 10). For another, it would give him a chance to counter a rapidly spreading impression among some women that he is a sexist with wandering hands. Aside from the patronage issue, Turner has been hurt most in the early weeks of the campaign by the so-called “bum-patting” issue. In both the French and English debates, Turner sought to explain his penchant for touching people physically by saying he was “a chivalrous man” as well as “a tactile politician.”
But many women, including several prominent Liberals, were less than happy and on Thursday Consumer Minister Judy Eróla and Lucie Pepin, the Liberal candidate in the Quebec riding of Outremont, issued “body language” guidelines to all Liberal campaigners, including the Prime Minister. Under the guidelines, kissing, shaking hands and em-
bracing are acceptable; any other physical contact is not. For I his part, Turner continued to stumble on the women’s issue, despite obvious efforts to recover. He told his Kingston, N.S., barbecue audience that he was proud his party was fielding more women candidates than ever before (23 have been chosen to date). But then he went on to say, awkwardly, “If my daughter, Elizabeth, listens to too much of this, she may get the wrong idea and want to run for Parliament.” He quickly, if lamely, added: “And she should. I hope she does, some day.” Elizabeth, 20, smiled weakly on the platform. But the impression remained that Turner is still rusty as a campaigner.
At least his campaign—which this week will take him to Manitoba as well as to Vancouver, for his nomination meeting in Quadra riding—was under way. For the first two weeks of the race Turner and the Liberals were outpaced by both Opposition parties. However, on Thursday Turner’s chartered DC-9 campaign jet finally took off on an inaugural flight to Atlantic Canada. He and his wife mingled with journalists covering his tour. They met voters in Sydney, N.S., Moncton
and Saint John, N.B., before flying back to Toronto for a weekend of campaigning in the politically volatile region of southern Ontario where most observers believe the election will be decided.
Mulroney was on the road, too, and enjoying it. This week he planned to campaign in the Maritimes and Quebec. And last week, while his key organizers were applauding his effort during the two debates and planning how to retain what they saw as newfound momentum, the Tory leader visited Sherbrooke, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, before flying to Toronto and Hamilton with wife Mila in his chartered Boeing 727 jet. The Tories’ reputation as superior organizers suffered at least one blow when Mulroney’s press aides sought to distribute no fewer than 63 campaign pledges—most of them old—just before a bus ride from Sherbrooke to Montreal’s Dorval airport. Mulroney has insisted since the campaign
began that he will attach price tags to all his pledges, but he has been adamant that he will not do so yet. Reporters on the bus discovered that some of the press kits contained a party background paper on youth employment which carried a $250-million cost estimate. The estimate was missing from the actual press announcement. Under the proposal, Mulroney would revive a tax credit plan for employers willing to hire young Canadians.
he most recent Gallup poll, taken just before the election was called and before the patronage and “bum-patting” issues emerged, showed the Liberals holding a nine-percentagepoint lead over the Conservatives among decided voters. The results: Liberals 48 per ¡z cent, PCs 39 per cent, NDP 11 g per cent. A month earlier, the I figures were 49-38-11. In the I intervening period the numI ber of undecided voters 1 soared to a two-year high of “ 38 per cent from 28 per cent, which suggested that the three parties are correct in assuming that there is widespread voter volatility and that the election is up for grabs.
For Broadbent and the hard-pressed New Democrats, the surge in the number of undecided voters was a welcome development. Broadbent’s impressive performance in the two debates drew applause from the public and thrilled NDP workers. This week Broadbent and his wife, Lucille, planned to take their “ordinary Canadians” campaign to British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in hot pursuit of the undecided voter. When the election race began, most New Democrats conceded that they would be lucky to hold the 31 seats they controlled at Parliament’s dissolution. But after three weeks of hard campaigning, and the debates, there was more optimism in the NDP camp that, when the votes are counted next month, Broadbent and his colleagues would hold the balance of power in a minority Parliament. It seemed at least a strong possibility at the end of Week Three.
With Carol Goar, Mary Janigan and Terry Hargreaves on the Turner, Mulroney and Broadbent tours.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.