Turner faces the future

PAUL GESSELL December 15 1986

Turner faces the future

PAUL GESSELL December 15 1986

Turner faces the future


The lively music, red wine and five-course Italian meal probably helped. But they were not the only reasons the 275 Liberals from Toronto’s York West riding were in high spirits last week. They had gathered in the Galaxy Banquet Hall to celebrate the resounding victory of their leader, John Turner. Only two days previously, 76.3 per cent of the delegates to a national Liberal convention in Ottawa had endorsed Turner’s leadership. That show of support, York West MP Sergio Marchi told his cheering constituents, had “returned the party to the grassroots and opened the doors to fresh air, frankness, honesty and integrity.” Across the country, Marchi’s words were echoed by Liberals who saw Turner’s triumph as a victory for rank-and-file party members.

But there was also evidence that Turner was not moving swiftly enough to heal political wounds created by the divisive leadership debate. And some Liberals expressed doubts about his willingness to adopt the policies that Liberals had decided he should carry into the next election campaign. Even the frankness with which Turner had impressed Marchi and other Liberals came under challenge—as part of a carefully rehearsed performance. And perhaps most important, there were warnings that the Liberal party’s financial problems are much more acute than had been initially believed.

As Turner returned to the parliamentary fray, confidants said that he had no immediate plans to contact key people who had pressed for a review of his leadership. Instead, he was waiting for the pro-review forces to make the first peace overture. He had adopted the same tactics after defeating Jean Chrétien for the party leadership in June, 1984, waiting for Chrétien to telephone moments after the result of the leadership vote was announced. At the time, Turner was blamed for keeping the party divided by failing to reach out immediately to his rival’s supporters—a charge that was echoed last week.

The Turner camp, said one party official, was “more conciliatory in public than in private.” Even publicly, some Turner loyalists sounded vindictive. Iona Campagnolo, who retired as party

president at the convention, told the York West meeting: “We know who Cassius and Brutus are. We will remember.” And she added: “I’m not president anymore. I don’t have to be nice.”

But other Turner supporters were trying to mend political fences. Senator Michael Kirby, Turner’s chief election strategist, assumed the role of peacemaker by phoning leaders of the defeated pro-review forces. Dennis Mills, a prominent Toronto-area Liberal who had campaigned for a leadership review, said that he received five calls from senior Liberals, including Kirby, within days of the convention. “I don’t think being vindictive is much help to anybody,” Kirby told Maclean’s. “Let’s get on with the job of beating the Tories.”

The Tories, meanwhile, were delighted with Liberal divisions over some

policies. Several resolutions adopted at the Ottawa convention diverged from traditonal Liberal stands on foreign policy. Among them: a demand that cruise missile testing by the United States in Canadian airspace be ended, and a declaration that Canada should be a “nuclear-free zone.” That proposal would force Canada to break its commitments to NATO. “They’re all over the map on a number of issues,” said Deputy Prime Minister Donald Mazankowski. “I think we’re going to have a little fun.” An aide to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said that the Tories were already discussing ways to portray the Liberals as anti-NATO.

The new policy positions also created difficulties for Turner in his own caucus. Some MPs said that the leader did not have to be restricted by the resolutions; others disagreed. But if Turner does not follow the new party

positions, said Montreal MP Warren Allmand, “then we’re going to have some problems.”

For their part, New Democrats voiced delight at Turner’s victory, claiming that he would be an asset in their election planning. They forecast a repeat of the 1984 campaign, when they labelled Turner a conservative in Liberal clothing. Said NDP Leader Ed

Broadbent: “I am not unhappy with a conservative heading the Conservative party and a conservative heading the Liberal party.” But many Liberals, including Senator Keith Davey, one of Turner’s toughest critics, said that he had moved significantly to the left during the convention—endorsing a national child care program and tentatively supporting a guaranteed annual income.

Davey was also among the party members who praised Turner’s nearly flawless convention performance. Once awkward and wooden in public, Turner impressed supporters and opponents alike with a smooth and spontaneous manner. In fact, party officials acknowledged last week that Turner spent most of the two weeks before the convention rehearsing speeches and appearances—including several of the apparently spontaneous touches that

charmed many delegates. His scripts were carefully vetted by Kirby, Liberal caucus chairman Douglas Frith, British Columbia adviser Senator Jack Austin and Liberal House leader Herb Gray. Dress rehearsals of speeches— including jokes—were conducted at Turner’s official residence, Stornoway, before an audience of aides. In one, Turner agreed to ingratiate himself

with the party’s women’s commission by referring to himself as a “reformed bum-patter”—a reference to the 1984 incident when he was caught giving Campagnolo’s rear a friendly pat. The line was a big hit.

To polish his performance, Turner called on Gabor Apor, a Toronto consultant who has advised such other top Liberals as Ontario Premier David Peterson and former prime minister Pierre Trudeau on how to walk, talk and dress. Apor first worked with Turner in the winter of 1984-1985, helping him to eliminate a nervous laugh and awkward facial movements. Apor spent more time with Turner during weekends before the convention. They watched videotapes of Turner in action and reviewed his performances. Apor also persuaded Turner to order a new wardrobe for the convention. Said one senior Liber-

al: “He was impeccable. His suits fit like a glove, his shirts were the perfect color for the cameras. It was quite a change.” And during the convention itself, Apor stayed a few doors down the hall from Turner’s 24th-floor hotel suite, ready to offer last-minute advice. Even Davey was impressed. Said the senator of Turner’s performance: “It was well rehearsed.”

But while the leadership issue appeared resolved—at least until after the next election — Turner still faces major problems inside his party. By far the biggest worry: the Liberals’ enormous debt, now said to be approaching $6 million. Only hours after Turner was reaffirmed as leader he met members of the party’s national executive privately in Ottawa and told them, “The No. 1 problem is now money.” That difficulty will become acute in the next two months, when some big bills—including one for $600,000 from Air Canada for flying delegates to the convention-come due.

The Liberals did make progress at the convention in addressing one cause of their financial woes. Officials had complained about the party’s inability to assemble a master list of y members and support§ ers needed to raise money through new directmail techniques. The convention passed a resolution encouraging, but not requiring, provincial Liberal organizations to submit their membership lists to national headquarters.

Senior Liberals conceded last week that they have little hope of winning the 100 key ridings targeted for the next election if they do not solve the party’s financial troubles. “The convention was a good catharsis for the party,” a senior Liberal said last week. “But now Turner must get back on the ladder right away, because he has got a lot higher to climb. And the higher he climbs, the more it will sway. We cannot win without money.” And that, Liberals at every level acknowledge, will be another tough test for Turner.