CANADA

THE CALL TO ARMS

MULRONEY SETS AN ELECTION DATE AND SQUARES OFF ON FREE TRADE

ROSS LAVER October 10 1988
CANADA

THE CALL TO ARMS

MULRONEY SETS AN ELECTION DATE AND SQUARES OFF ON FREE TRADE

ROSS LAVER October 10 1988

THE CALL TO ARMS

CANADA/COVER

MULRONEY SETS AN ELECTION DATE AND SQUARES OFF ON FREE TRADE

They met at 3 p.m. last Friday in a second-floor boardroom in Ottawa’s sandstone Langevin Block, directly across the street from Parliament Hill. Over cups of coffee, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and nine of his top advisers reviewed the results of recent opinion polls and discussed the final arrangements for the country’s 34th federal election campaign. “Everybody was calm but confident,” said Marjory LeBreton, executive director of the Conservative party’s national

campaign. “We told the Prime Minister that we were taking nothing for granted, but that if he wanted to pull the plug, we were ready.” Ninety minutes later, Mulroney adjourned the meeting and returned to 24 Sussex Drive, his official residence. That evening, he sat up late, telephoning friends and advisers across the country to inform them of his decision and, in the words of one adviser, “to get a feel for the mood of the country.”

A blanket of fog was just beginning to lift over Ottawa the next morning, when Mulroney visited Gov. Gen. Jeanne Sauvé to request the dissolution of Parliament. Thirteen minutes later, the Prime Minister emerged, smiling, from the white portals of Rideau Hall and announced to a crowd of reporters that an election would be held on Monday, Nov. 21. Declared Mulroney: “We are at a point where the differences between our political parties require the judgment and decision of Canadians. Those differences are clear and substantial.”

With that, Mulroney launched the country on a campaign that all three federal parties say will be critical to the future economic development of the country. Liberal Leader John Turner, who was main-streeting in Toronto’s downtown Kensington market when he received word of Mulroney’s announcement, said that his party would continue to fight for the cancellation of the proposed Canada-U.S. free trade deal. That agreement was signed into law in the United States last week by President Ronald Reagan. But in Canada, the Liberaldominated Senate has pledged to obstruct it

unless the Conservatives win a second majority government. Later, in a speech to party workers at the Liberals’ Ontario campaign headquarters, Turner accused Mulroney of having an “unholy desire” to see Canada locked into an economic union with its southern neighbor. He added, “We are not going to let Mr. Mulroney destroy a great, 120-year-old dream called Canada.”

In Ottawa, New Democratic Party Leader Edward Broadbent launched his campaign with a scathing attack on the two other party leaders. Mulroney, he said, had run for office four years ago on a platform of integrity and honesty, yet “there were more resignations in dubious circumstances in the first three years of this government than perhaps any government since Confederation.” Broadbent also ridiculed Turner’s suggestion that the Liberals would campaign for the interests of ordinary Canadians, noting that before his return to politics in 1984 Turner had spent eight years as a corporate lawyer. Declared Broadbent: “You can’t spend half your life in executive offices on the 42nd floor and then suddenly abandon your conservative ideology.”

For Mulroney, last week’s election call marked the culmination of weeks of careful orchestration by Tory strategists and organizers. Since June, the Conservatives have announced more than $8 billion in new spending, including funds for major energy projects in Alberta, British Columbia and Newfoundland. And in a speech to the United Nations in New York City last week, he pledged another $5 million to establish an international centre in

Winnipeg to promote environmentally safe economic development. By announcing those projects before calling the election, Mulroney has left himself free to campaign on what the Tories say is their strength: their record in government.

So far, the Conservatives’ strategy appears to be working. After a prolonged slump, the Tories have overtaken the Liberals in recent opinion polls and, if current trends continue, could well become the first party in 35 years to win two back-to-back majority governments. Indeed, a poll for Southam News by Angus Reid Associates last week suggested the Tories had the support of 40 per cent of decided voters, compared with 31 per cent for the NDP and 26 per cent for the Liberals. Taking into account the poll’s 2.5-percentage-point margin of error, the survey suggests that the Liberals and the NDP are locked in a fight to see which party emerges from the election as the official opposition. Still, those numbers could change dramatically as the campaign unfolds. As well, most polls were taken before the scandal broke around Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson, and the Tories appeared to be badly divided in their approach to that explosive issue.

Indeed, the Liberals’ own research shows that the party is on a downward slide. A report prepared in August by Toronto-based Goldfarb Consultants—a polling firm closely associated with the party—found that about half of the 800 Canadians surveyed said that they were not impressed with either Mulroney or Turner. But the report, a copy of which was obtained by Maclean ’s, said that public impressions of the Prime Minister appeared to be improving, while those of the Liberal leader were deteriorating. The study concluded, “Overall, the public reaction to Mr. Turner suggests a serious problem for the Liberals in the coming election.”

Earlier in the week, the Liberals unveiled a 40-point policy document that Turner said would form the basis of his party’s campaign. Flanked by Liberal candidates in white sweat shirts sporting red Liberal maple leaf logos, Turner described the platform as “a vision based on caring profoundly about people.” Among other things, the platform called for tough new environmental laws and it committed the Liberals to scrapping the second stage of the Conservatives’ planned tax-reform program, which includes increased federal taxes on goods and services. Privately, Liberal officials said that the platform was influenced in part by the results of a Goldfarb survey conducted last July. The survey found that most Canadians were more concerned about the state of the environment and the prospect of higher taxes than about the proposed U.S.Canada free trade agreement, which Turner had previously said would be the cornerstone of the Liberal campaign.

Turner also pledged that a Liberal government would introduce a new national housing policy to help Canadians deal with the rising cost of shelter. Drafted by Thomas Axworthy, a former principal secretary to Pierre Tru1 deau, the policy includes tax breaks on mort-

TURNER'S FUTURE LIKELY AT STAKE; LATEST POLL PUTS THE NDP SECOND

CANADA

gage interest payments and a new program to help families save toward the purchase of a first home. The Liberal leader said that he would reveal the details of his policies—and their costs—as election day approaches.

For Turner, the 51-day campaign will be the climax of a four-year struggle to recover from his shattering defeat in the 1984 election. Said Senator Alasdair Graham, co-chairman of the Liberal campaign: “In order to win, Turner must get his head, his heart and his guts together.” In preparation, the Liberal leader has spent long hours with media coach Henry Comor, a British-born former actor and broadcaster. With Comor’s help, Turner has rid himself of many of the distracting gestures—including his habit of clearing his throat and licking his lips—that so often marred his public appearances in 1984. But Comor’s most important contribution, party officials say, has been to ensure that Turner remains calm before important public events. On days when Turner is scheduled to deliver a major speech, he and Comor frequently spend an hour or more alone, rehearsing lines and rewriting passages so that Turner feels comfortable with the script. “Henry won’t be travelling with Turner constantly during the campaign,” an adviser to the leader said last week. “But the goal is to make sure that he’s there for the big events, when it’s absolutely crucial that everything goes well.”

While Turner’s delivery is smoother, his organization is still beset by personal rivalries and petty jealousies among key players. Insiders say that Turner’s campaign director, John Webster, and his principal secretary, Peter Connolly, are barely on speaking terms with the Liberal leader’s communications director, Raymond Heard, whom they regard as looselipped and politically inexperienced. As a result, Heard has been left off the list of those who will attend the party’s daily strategy meetings and he will not travel with the leader on the campaign plane.

In addition, some members of Turner’s staff claim that Connolly and Deputy Principal Secretary Douglas Kirkpatrick have formed a wall around the candidate, denying party workers and some members of the media direct access to Turner. Those critics also say that Turner’s advisers refuse to tell him things that they believe he does not want to hear. In defence, Connolly tells Liberals that he is only trying to ensure that Turner remains buoyant and that he is not inundated with conflicting advice. Said one longtime friend of the Liberal leader: “If you talk to Turner privately, he sounds cocky and upbeat. But that is what sustains him—it keeps him from becoming despondent.”

For their part, Mulroney’s handlers say that

their biggest challenge will be to curb the Prime Minister’s penchant for hyperbole and rhetorical excess—habits that can create doubts about his credibility. They point out,

however, that within the past year, Mulroney has shown more discipline than during the early part of his term. “The problems begin to creep up when Mulroney deviates from his

speeches or answers questions that he should be avoiding,” said one adviser. Another official said that,after the 1984 election victory, Mulroney went through a period when all too often he trusted his own instincts and ignored the advice of his staff to remain above the fray and not engage in partisan attacks.

Mulroney’s advisers acknowledge that it may not be possible to prevent the candidate from making unguarded, off-the-cuff remarks. Declared one confidant: “He’s quite capable of becoming irritated and doing his own thing.” In fact, officials say, the Tory leader is usually at his best when things are going his way, as they appear to be now. “There is no question that he listens and performs better in good times than in bad,” said one member of Mulroney’s inner circle. “For the first time in a long while, he is sticking to the strategy. He listens, he is focused and he knows what he has to do.”

Unable to match the Tories in spending or in polish, the Turner camp will try to keep Mulroney off-balance. Although the scripts for the Liberals’ television commercials have not yet received final approval, a senior party official told Maclean’s that the first phase of the advertising campaign will likely be “tough and aggressive—a blunt attack on Mulroney’s values and credibility.” Turner’s aim will be to provoke his Tory opponent into committing embarrassing mistakes.

If the campaign does, indeed, evolve into a battle of images, Broadbent almost certainly has most to gain. As leader of the New Democrats since 1975, the 52-year-old Broadbent generally receives high marks for his leadership qualities even from Canadians who do not vote NDP. Last week’s Angus Reid poll found that 60 per cent of those sampled approved of Broadbent’s performance. Mulroney had an approval rating of 41 per cent, while Turner’s performance was endorsed by a mere 27 per cent of respondents—the lowest level in two years.

To capitalize on Broadbent’s popularity, NDP organizers will stress integrity and leadership as qualities that are just as important as the party’s stand on specific issues. In part, that is a reflection of Broadbent’s long-standing desire to shift the NDP closer to the centre of the political spectrum; the party’s official policy platform no longer calls for the nationalization of a major chartered bank or the immediate withdrawal of Canada from NATO. According to Robin Sears, deputy NDP campaign director, the goal is to convince Canadians that all three parties are broadly in the middle of the political spectrum and that, as a result, they should vote for the leader they trust most. Said Sears: “The three parties are closer on most issues, like child care and improved defence, than they have ever been. The issue will be leadership.”

MARC CLARK

HILARY MACKENZIE

THERESA TEDESCO

MARY JANIGAN

BRUCE WALLACE

ROSS LAVER with MARC CLARK,

HILARY MACKENZIE and THERESA TEDESCO in Ottawa and MARY JANIGAN and BRUCE WALLACE in Toronto

A FIVE-YEAR VOTING JINX

Some prime ministers waited too long to go to the people: four of the 10 elections since 1958 were held in the government’s fifth year. In each of those four, the party in power was either defeated or reduced to a minority:

On June 18, 1962, after four years and 70 days in power, the Conservatives were reduced to a minority.

On Oct. 30,1972, after four years and

j 127 days, the Liberals were reduced to a minority.

j • On May 22, 1979, after four years and 318 days, the Liberals lost to the I Conservatives.

• On Sept. 4,1984, after four years and 199 days, the Liberals again lost to the Tories.