Ever since he infuriated Prime Minister Brian Mulroney by arriving in the House of Commons in June wearing the flowing academic robes he had put on for his son’s high school graduation, there had been speculation in Ottawa that Science and Technology Minister Tom Siddon’s political prospects were in decline. But last week a broadly smiling Siddon arrived at Government House in Ottawa to be sworn into a more senior portfolio as minister of fisheries and oceans. Siddon, a British Columbian, took over from Deputy Prime Minister Erik Nielsen, who had been filling in as acting fisheries minister since John Fraser resigned on Sept. 23 after the tainted tuna affair.
In a minor rearrangement of his cabinet, Mulroney at the same time promoted Frank Oberle, another British Columbian who has served on the Commons’ back benches for 13 years, to take over the science and technology portfolio. But Mulroney did not name a replacement for former communications minister Marcel Masse, who resigned from the cabinet two days after Fraser when he discovered that he was being investigated for possible irregularities in his election expenses. While Masse remains frustrated by the ongoing investigation, he is heartened by weekly phone calls of encouragement from Mulroney.
Atlantic experts, for the most part, were pleased with the surprise appointment of Siddon to the fisheries post, although New Brunswick MP Gerald Merrithew had been widely touted as the likely candidate. Said Gordon Cummings, president of Halifax-based National Sea Products Ltd.: “A Maritime minister would have the added handicap of worrying about being accused of being partial to his province.” Added Earle McCurdy, secretary-treasurer of the Newfoundland Fishermen’s Union: “The fact he is a Westerner is neither here nor there. I’m more worried about finding out what policies he will espouse.”
Although his promotion had been widely rumored, Oberle admitted that science is not his strong suit. But he added that Mulroney “didn’t ask me to build the space ship but to create a climate in which the government can be helpful for Canada to play a role in science and technology.”
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.