CANADA

Blitzing the West

MARC CLARK July 20 1987
CANADA

Blitzing the West

MARC CLARK July 20 1987

Blitzing the West

It was a blitz worthy of the Edmonton Eskimos’ front four in football. For two days last week the most powerful ministers from Brian Mulroney’s front bench spread out across Alberta’s capital to tackle the perception that the federal Conservative government is not paying adequate attention to the West. Trade Minister Pat Carney addressed the Edmonton Rotary Club. Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski targeted oilmen at a lunch meeting of the Petroleum Service Association. The Prime Minister met publishers and editors of Alberta weekly newspapers, an influential group in Alberta’s small towns, over chicken Madeira and wild rice at the University of Alberta faculty club.

Those sales pitches for the Mulroney government’s record were organized around two Edmonton meetings of the federal cabinet’s central priorities and planning (P&P) committee, which has held sessions in several centres outside Ottawa during the past two years. But despite a lengthy agenda and several pressing issues—among them plans to sell off all or part of Air Canada and proposals for a national day care scheme—the 17-member inner cabinet ended its private discussions in a university conference room without announcing any decisions.

Advance indications that the cabinet was close to a decision to sell ownership shares in Crown-owned Air Canada to private investors were fuelled by the presence of Privatization Minister Barbara McDougall, who is not a mem-

ber of (P&P). She attended the second day of meetings, amid speculation that she would nail down agreement to her plan for the airline’s future. But cabinet is believed to be split over features of McDougall’s plan to privatize a company with assets valued at $2.9 billion and which posted a $16.3-million profit in the first three months of this year. At issue is how much of the company should be sold, how soon, and whether to preserve some degree of national control over the airline.

Also on the agenda was Health Minister Jake Epp’s proposal to establish a national day care system. But that plan is also stalled over how much Ottawa should contribute toward the estimated annual price tag of $4 billion to $11 billion. Meanwhile, the announcement of a federal economic diversification fund for the West, which had been expected to be unveiled by June 21, was again postponed.

But the real work of the visit went into polishing the government’s image. Mulroney, his wife, Mila, and their four children waded into the task at a barbecue in the company of Alberta Premier Donald Getty, shaking hands and greeting supporters. The prime-ministerial family later headed out for a weekend in British Columbia—opening the Nanaimo bathtub race week and touring a sand-castle contest near Vancouver-before returning to Ottawa and settling into the official summer retreat on nearby Harrington Lake.

— MARC CLARK in Edmonton