COVER/SPECIAL REPORT

Election Countdown

NINE DAYS INTO THE CAMPAIGN, JOHN TURNER MADE A DECISION THAT REVIVED THE LIBERALS

ROSS LAVER,BRUCE WALLACE November 21 1988
COVER/SPECIAL REPORT

Election Countdown

NINE DAYS INTO THE CAMPAIGN, JOHN TURNER MADE A DECISION THAT REVIVED THE LIBERALS

ROSS LAVER,BRUCE WALLACE November 21 1988

Election Countdown

COVER

SPECIAL REPORT

Exhausted and dispirited, John Turner sat slumped in the backseat of his chauffeur-driven sedan as it sped through the northern New Brunswick countryside. It was Oct. 10, nine days into the campaign, and the Liberal leader had just delivered a rambling, 30-minute speech on tax reform to about 1,500 voters in a Caraquet, N.B., hockey rink. Now, as Turner and his tour director, Douglas Kirkpatrick, drove to meet the Liberal campaign plane an hour and a half away in Chatham, N.B., the two men searched for a way to breathe life into the party’s lacklustre drive to the Nov. 21 election. As Turner saw it, the only part of his standard stump speech that invariably brought supporters to their feet was his blunt attack on the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement. “That’s what gets people roused up—the rest just isn’t working,” said Turner. From then on, he and Kirkpatrick decided, the Liberal leader would throw away his prepared texts and concentrate instead on delivering his

NINE DAYS INTO THE CAMPAIGN, JOHN TURNER MADE A DECISION THAT REVIVED THE LIBERALS

passionate appeals to Canadian nationalism.

That decision may have saved the Liberal campaign. The next night in Sydney, N.S., Turner put aside a planned speech on regional development and launched into an emotionally charged assault on the trade pact. And about 1,000 Liberals crowding the Bicentennial gymnasium loved every minute of it, interrupting

him five times with standing ovations. Later, Turner’s advisers would look back on that night as a watershed in the country’s 34th federal election—the moment when the Liberal campaign, crippled by debt, internal dissension and rock-bottom morale, became a singleissue crusade. Newly invigorated, Turner outshone Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and New Democratic Party Leader Edward Broadbent in the televised leaders’ debates on Oct. 24 and 25. By tapping into Canadians’ deeply rooted anxieties about American economic and cultural domination, Turner transformed what many observers had predicted would be a Tory landslide into an election too close to call.

Mulroney fought back vigorously against the Liberal onslaught, but a spate of public opinion polls released last week showed that the Tories and the Liberals were locked in a seesaw battle for first place, with NDP support dwindling. Barring another dramatic shift in public sentiment, the polls suggested that no party was likely to form a majority government after Nov. 21—a result that would almost certainly

scuttle the trade agreement. At week’s end, all three party leaders discussed their free trade positions and the marked changes in the campaign in interviews with Maclean’s (pages 21 to 32). For his part, Mulroney said that he intends to reintroduce the legislation to put the trade deal into effect, even if the Tories are returned with a minority government. But Broadbent said that he would not co-operate with any attempt to reintroduce the current free trade agreement.

Meanwhile, Tory strategists were preparing to ask Washington for written assurances that social programs would not be affected by the agreement. And U.S. President Ronald Reagan planned to defend the deal in a Nov. 17 speech on international trade policy. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, in announcing the plan last week, denied that Reagan was attempting to help Mulroney sway Canadian voters. Both Fitzwater and Mulroney’s spokesman, Bruce Phillips, denied that the Prime Minister had appealed to Reagan for support.

Amid the uncertainty over free trade across Canada, many Conservatives were looking back over the campaign and wondering how their carefully laid election plans had gone awry. Some went so far as to argue that Mulroney had mishandled the free trade issue over the past three years by treating it as one of his government’s top priorities. In so doing, some advisers said, the Tories gave the two opposition parties an easy target. Said one veteran strategist: “We made a dreadful mistake. Free trade as an issue was a clunker, but you could not convince anyone of that. Instead, we blew it into a big issue and drew people’s attention to it.” Another senior Tory, campaign operations director Harry Near, ac-

knowledged to Maclean ’s that the government had miscalculated the potential public backlash against the trade pact. Said Near: “Canadians feel comfortable with the status quo and they see free trade as a change.”

As the campaign entered the final stretch, both Mulroney and Broadbent focused most of their attacks on Turner. Among their thrusts: Turner should explain how he would pay for what the Tories estimated to be $37.7 billion in campaign promises, particularly since he has also vowed to cancel the Tory government’s planned new national sales tax. But Finance Minister Michael Wilson blunted the Tory attack somewhat by saying that several billion dollars ’ worth of projects that the Tories announced in the months leading up to the campaign, including the Hibernia and Lloydminster energy megaprojects, could not be called election spending promises. Instead, Wilson called the Tory announcements government “spending commitments” to be financed from normal revenue. For his part, Turner said repeatedly that he would not be more specific about where he would raise the needed money until the Liberals formed a government and he had a chance to examine the ledgers.

In Halifax, meanwhile, the NDP leader, turning away from his campaign-long attack on the Conservatives, described Turner as a closet right winger who has feigned opposition to the trade agreement in a cynical grab for power. Said Broadbent: “I believe John Turner to be one of the most conservative men ever to enter public life in this country.” Still, some NDP activists were clearly worried that their leader had failed to convince voters that he, not Turner, was the champion of the movement against free trade. Said Alvin Comiter, a Hali-

National Notes

GOOD-NEIGHBOR POLICY

An agreement between Quebec and Ontario to share traffic violation information will take effect next April. Under the amendment to the provinces’ highways acts, a motorist from one province who is convicted of a driving offence in the other will have demerit points deducted from his licence.

YUKON LAND CLAIMS

After more than 15 years of land claims negotiations, Yukon Indians reached an agreement-in-principle with the federal and territorial governments. The deal involves more than $215 million in compensation and 16,000 square miles of land—about three-quarters the size of Nova Scotia—for 6,500 natives who form one-quarter of the territory’s population.

NEW GATT CHAIRMAN

Delegates to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade elected John Weekes, Canada’s ambassador to the GATT, as their new council chairman. The Genevabased organization determines tariff levels among 96 member countries.

ANOTHER PRIEST CHARGED

Rev. John Corrigan, a Roman Catholic priest in St. John’s, Nfld., was charged with nine sexual offences against young boys between 1981 and 1988. Two months ago, Rev. James Hickey of St. John's received a five-year sentence after pleading guilty to similar charges.

FEARING A MURDERER

Ontario Attorney General Ian Scott blamed the federal Young Offenders Act for the expected release next February of a teenager who murdered a Scarborough, Ont., family of three in 1985. The act sets a maximum three-year sentence for murder for youths under the age of 18.

SMOKING ROW

Antismoking groups charged that proposed tougher health warnings on cigarette packages, to take effect next Oct. 31, are too weak and a sellout to the tobacco industry. The organizations wanted warnings to take up 50 per cent of the space on a package. The proposals would have the warnings cover 20 per cent of the package.

TANKER SINKS

The 65,000-ton British oil tanker Odyssey broke apart, Caught fire and sank in a mid-Atlantic storm while halfway to its Newfoundland destination. Searchers found two charred lifeboats but none of the 27 crew members.

BARRING ANOTHER DRAMATIC SHIFT, MAJORITY GOVERNMENT IS UNLIKELY

fax photographer who has canvassed door to door on behalf of local NDP candidate Ray Larkin: “People say they will support Turner because it is the best way to defeat free trade.” Equally dismayed over the campaign’s dramatic twist were people who had spent years promoting the idea of a CanadaU.S. trade deal. As far back as 1984, economist Richard Lipsey of the C. D. Howe Institute, a Toronto-based conservative think-tank, has been an advocate of expanded—and unfettered—trade between the two countries. Last week, Lipsey complained that the Tory government had mishandled the issue. “The Conservatives never understood that the fate of free trade was going to be decided by the great mass of average Canadians, not the businessmen and intellectuals who read The Globe and Mail,” said Lipsey. “They did nothing while a grassroots movement grew up under them.”

Another devout free trader, political scientist Peyton Lyon of Ottawa’s Carleton University, was also critical of the Tories’ strategy. Said Lyon: “This looks like one of the most massive miscalculations in Canadian political history.” Lyon added that he had implored the government last year to hold a separate referendum on free trade before calling a general election. “We would have had a better chance in a referendum because

Turner’s political future would not have been at stake,” said Lyon. “Instead, Turner has thrown himself into the fight because by defeating free trade, he has a chance to become prime minister.” But Lyon said that senior Tory advisers had rejected a referendum “be-

cause they thought free trade was popular and wanted to use it to get back into power.”

But the events of the past few weeks showed clearly that the Tories had overestimated the strength and durability of public support for free trade. According to former Liberal cabinet minister Mitchell Sharp, the government was likely misled by the fact that the country’s business community—which has traditionally

resisted attempts to remove barriers to crossborder trade—had swung in favor of free trade as a way of countering U.S. protectionism. Said Sharp, now an Ottawa consultant: “The Tories assumed incorrectly that if business leaders had changed their minds, that meant that the public had also changed. The government was on the wrong political track.”

Mulroney’s decision in 1985 to proceed with free trade negotiations also stemmed from polls that showed that more than two-thirds of Canadians expressed generalized support for the concept. But even then, some Tory advisers were counselling caution. Conservative pollster Allan Gregg told Maclean’s in 1985 that Canadians still harbored a deeply rooted ambivalence toward their southern neighbors. He added, “If opponents of free trade are able to portray it as something that will make us the lapdogs of the Americans, support will quickly disappear.”

In fact, the Tories themselves remained ambivalent about the best approach to free trade right up until the election call. One 3 faction wanted Mulroney to avoid emphasizing the importance of the trade deal. But others, including Mulroney’s chief of staff, Derek Burney, were convinced that the trade agreement would be popular with voters. That faction prevailed and, rather than play down the deal, the Conservatives poured more than $23 million into promotional campaigns extolling its benefits for Canadian industry and job creation. “It was like Hitler at Stalingrad,” said one party adviser. “It did not matter that the polls were saying that support was fading for free trade. The attitude was: we will just pump more money into it. But to suggest

otherwise was considered to be subversive.” The Tories also acknowledged that they did not expect Turner to be able to keep the focus of the campaign on trade. “We knew that they would use emotional arguments against free trade, but we did not think that Turner could keep a campaign of fear alive for more than 10 days,” said Senator Michel Cogger, co-chairman of the Conservative campaign. And some senior Tories acknowledged that they were not prepared for the ferocity of Turner’s attack. Said John Laschinger, the Toronto-based communications consultant who directed a $13.4million pro-free-trade advertising campaign for the Tories earlier this year: “I suppose there was always that soft underbelly of fear for Canadian sovereignty.” But Laschinger defended his ad strategy. “We were not trying to defend the trade deal against misrepresentations,” he said. “To expect us to have been prepared for [Turner’s charges that social programs are not protected in the agreement] is like saying I should have been telling people that sex was not in the agreement.”

Ironically, the Liberals themselves had serious qualms about the effectiveness of a campaign based almost entirely on opposition to free trade, despite the fact that such grassroots organizations as the Pro-Canada Network had already launched nationwide assaults against the pact. To test whether such a narrowly based strategy could succeed, Liberal Senator Michael Kirby—currently co-chairman of the party’s campaign strategy committee—com-

missioned a poll last July by Toronto-based Goldfarb Consultants, a firm in which he is a partner. The survey suggested that Canadians were worried more about higher taxes and the quality of the environment than about the impact of free trade. Moreover, the party’s principal Quebec advisers—including MPs An-

dré Ouellet and Raymond Garneau—told Turner that running on an anti-free-trade platform would be tantamount to committing political suicide in that province.

At first, Turner acquiesced. When the Liberals unveiled their 40-point policy platform on Sept. 28, free trade was ranked third in importance as an issue, after the environment and tax reform. In Quebec, the party’s campaign advertising scarcely mentioned free trade, focusing instead on allegations of Tory corruption. Said one senior Liberal adviser: “Kirby and Ouellet had no confidence in Turner’s ability to lead a fight against free trade. They even tried to keep him out of the television ads because they were convinced that Turner was a vote-loser.”

Those tensions were evident in the early days of the campaign. In Montreal on Oct. 5, Turner suffered through an embarrassing news conference during which he was unable to provide details about his party’s child-care program. Finally, with polls suggesting that the Liberals had sunk to third place and reports of party infighting dominating the nightly newscasts, Turner told party officials that he had decided to alter course by ignoring most of the Liberal platform and concentrating on free trade. “If I am going to go down,” a senior aide quoted Turner as saying two weeks into the campaign, “I am going to do it my way.”

By then, the Liberals knew that their hopes of a recovery depended almost entirely on Turner’s performance in the televised debates. The

WILSON SAYS TORY MEGAPROJECTS WERE NOT ELECTION EXPENDITURES

long-awaited breakthrough came in the third and final hour of the English-language encounter, when Turner accused Mulroney of signing a deal that would reduce Canada “to a colony of the United States.”

Yet even Turner’s own advisers acknowledged to Maclean’s that the exchange might never have occurred had it not been for a stroke of good fortune. The three networks that sponsored the debate had earlier planned to devote most of the final hour to questions about such issues as native rights, AIDs and leadership. But with time running out in the final encounter between Mulroney and Turner, Laszlo Bastyovanszky, then general manager of news programming for Global TV, consulted with his counterparts at the CBC and CTV, then relayed a message to the panel of journalists to steer the debate back to free trade. Said a Liberal official of the TV executive’s intervention: “If it hadn’t been for

that decision, we would have been finished.” Even Broadbent acknowledged that the dramatic exchange altered the course of the campaign. Since then, said the NDP leader, Turner has emerged as the undisputed champion of the anti-freetrade forces. But Broadbent insisted that the NDP would not change its long-planned strategy of campaigning on a wide range of issues rather than concentrating on the trade pact. According to some polls last week, voter support for the NDP was hovz ering near 24 per cent, S roughly 15 points behind the I others. But if free trade was 3 the only issue in the campaign, the NDP leader told Maclean’s, “the NDP would be at zero in the polls.”

By refusing to alter his campaign to address the potency of the free trade issue, Broadbent, too, may have misread the mood of the Canadian electorate. Said Canadian historian Bruce Hutchison: “Canadians have always been vis-

cerally frightened of becoming a colony of the United States. And by going for broke on free trade, Turner has played to those fears with great success.” That fear of American domination, say some observers, is a prominent component of the Canadian psyche. Said Montreal author Mordecai Richler: “We are basically a cautious people who resist change.”

Clearly, the bitterness of the campaign will not dissipate quickly. Some Quebec Tories issued dire warnings about the future of Canadian federalism if the anti-free-trade forces succeed in killing the trade pact. “There will be a wind of discouragement if we lose,” said Secretary of State Lucien Bouchard. Meanwhile, Canadian business leaders—many of them campaigning for free trade through an umbrella organization, The Canadian Alliance for Trade and Job Opportunities—voiced concerns about trading relations with the United States without a trade deal. Said Peter Nicholson, executive assistant to the chairman of the Bank of Nova Scotia: “The one certainty is that it will be a long time before a Canadian politician dares to tamper with our relationship with the Americans.” Whatever the outcome on Nov. 21, the force of passions released over free trade has taught the country’s leaders a lesson they will not soon forget.

HILARY MACKENZIE

THERESA TEDESCO

MARC CLARK

LISA VAN DUSEN

ROSS LAVER and BRUCE WALLACE in Ottawa with HILARY MACKENZIE, THERESA TEDESCO and MARC CLARK on the leaders’ tours and LISA VAN DUSEN in Montreal