COVER

THE WESTERN DISTINCTION

THE TORIES FACE A CLEAR CHALLENGE

PEETER KOPVILLEM December 5 1988
COVER

THE WESTERN DISTINCTION

THE TORIES FACE A CLEAR CHALLENGE

PEETER KOPVILLEM December 5 1988

THE WESTERN DISTINCTION

COVER

THE TORIES FACE A CLEAR CHALLENGE

He asked for, and received, his second consecutive parliamentary majority—and a clear mandate to put the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement into effect. But for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, the election results from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia confirmed earlier indications from the Atlantic region that Canadians remain divided over the merits of the agreement. In 1984, the Conservative electoral sweep gave the party a strong majority of seats in all four western provinces, as well as in Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic region. Last week, after a bitter and fractious campaign, the Tories maintained their majority of seats only in Alberta and Quebec, where voters resoundingly approved the free trade agreement. But the Tories also dropped 10 seats in the West from the election in 1984. Even in Alberta, where the seat count actually produced the majority in the Commons, slight cracks appeared in the walls of the provincial bastion: the NDP made a one-seat breakthrough from the left; the right-wing, western-based Reform party and, to a lesser extent, the fundamentalist Christian Heritage Party

also made inroads in the popular vote.

Indeed, throughout the western provinces the Tories faced a challenge from across the political spectrum, although they won 48 of the 86 seats, compared with 32 for the New Democrats and six for the Liberals. (The NDP also won in the Yukon, while the Liberals took the two Northwest Territories seats.) In Manitoba, the Liberals increased their standing to five seats from one—at the expense of both the Conservatives and the New Democrats. In Saskatchewan, in what senior Tories acknowledged was an overwhelming vote against the trade agreement, the Conservatives dropped to four seats from nine as the NDP captured 10 of the 14 ridings. In British Columbia, the New Democrats surged ahead to win 19 of 32 seats.

But in Alberta—and to a lesser degree in British Columbia—the Conservatives also faced a formidable challenge from the Reform party, campaigning for a stronger western voice in national affairs. Appealing to feelings of western alienation, it attracted 15 per cent of the Alberta vote—just two points behind the NDP—much of it apparently at the expense of the Tories. None of the Reform party’s 72 candidates won a seat, but the organization made a mark on the western political land-

IN ALBERTA, THE REFORM PARTY ALMOST CAUGHT UP TO THE NDP

scape. Said Keith Archer, a political scientist at the University of Calgary: “There is still the feeling that the political system is stacked against the West. The Reform party will pick up on these issues.”

The Conservatives were not alone in enduring setbacks in the West. After a poor showing in Atlantic and Central Canada, the NDP suf-

fered dramatic losses in Manitoba. Former NDP premier Howard Pawley failed in his bid for election. The Liberals also captured two ridings that are at the heart of NDP history. In Winnipeg North, held almost continuously by the NDP and by its precursor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), since the 1930s, 26-year veteran MP David Orlikow lost to Liberal Rey Pagtakhan, a Filipino-Canadian. And in Winnipeg North Centre, represented for two decades by legendary CCF cofounder J. S. Woodsworth and later by Stanley Knowles, Liberal David Walker defeated New Democrat Cyril Keeper, who won the riding in 1984 after Knowles’s retirement. Those losses left the NDP with only two of Manitoba’s 14 seats, compared with the four that it won in 1984.

In a breakthrough that Liberal trade critic Lloyd Axworthy welcomed, the Liberals won two other Winnipeg ridings from the Tories. For the past four years the sole Liberal MP in the Prairies, Axworthy easily held his Winnipeg South Centre seat by a 13,083 margin over Tory challenger Garth Dawley. Said Axworthy: “We ran on the trade issue here and we won on the trade issue.”

But the parties’ fortunes turned at the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. In 1984, the To-

ries won nine of Saskatchewan’s 14 seats. Last week, New Democrats took 10 seats, leaving the Conservatives with four and the Liberals once again with none. Among the Tory casualties: Justice Minister Ray Hnatyshyn, who lost his Saskatoon-Clark’s Crossing riding to New Democrat Chris Axworthy by 3,960 votes. The NDP made its gains in the face of Mulroney's

announcement late in the campaign that Ottawa would provide $850 million in drought relief to Prairie farmers and despite Conservative Premier Grant Devine’s efforts to promote the trade accord. Said Hnatyshyn: “People here made a decision—against free trade.”

The NDP’s Ross Harvey beat Tory incum-

bent William Lesick by a slim margin in Edmonton East. But it was enough to make him the first New Democrat ever to win a federal seat in Alberta, a province traditionally considered to be an unassailable Tory stronghold. Albertans, led by former premier Peter Lougheed— an active proponent of free trade—and his successor, Donald Getty, delivered the other 25 seats to the Tories, providing Mulroney with a ringing endorsement of the accord.

But underlying Harvey’s upset victory was a phenomenon that haunted the Tories throughout the campaign: the popularity of the Reform party and other right-wing fringe elements and their potential to pull votes away from Conservative candidates. In fact, in Edmonton East, the Reform party received 1,731 votes, while Harvey won by only 654 over Lesick. But the Christian Heritage Party, whose 63 candidates across Canada campaigned against abortion and pornography and for a balanced federal budget, also received 806 votes in Harvey’s riding—and also took about one per cent of the popular vote in both Alberta and British Columbia. Together, the two parties polled 6.4 per cent of the Edmonton East vote—much of that clearly at Lesick’s expense.

Reform party candidates attracted support with a platform backing free trade and calling for increased western participation in federal affairs. The party also opposed the Meech Lake constitutional accord and other legislation that party spokesmen say favors francophones. Among the party’s strongest candidates was its leader, Preston Manning, a management consultant who favors cowboy boots and suede jackets over the more traditional political uniform—a dark suit. Manning, the son of former Social Credit premier Ernest Manning, ran a high-profile campaign against External Affairs Minister Joe Clark in Yellowhead riding. In the end, Clark won with a comfortable 6,695-vote margin. But Manning finished a strong second with 11,152 votes—5,042 ahead of the thirdplace NDP candidate. Declared Manning: “We will keep stressing that there is reform necessary to get more equal representation for Western Canada within Confederation.”

Reform party candidates placed second in nine other Alberta ridings, and third in six. And the party might have done even better had free trade not been the central issue of the campaign. Analysts said that in a province where the trade agreement enjoys broad support, many Albertans wanted to ensure a Tory majority in Ottawa and were unwilling to vote for a fringe party. Said Peter McCormick, a political scientist at the University of Lethbridge: “The Reform party got ambushed by free trade. They had hoped for a broader range of issues.”

Still, the new party’s performance was a clear signal to the Conservative government that some Albertans are unhappy with federal initiatives. That discontent may increase during the Conservatives’ second mandate. For one thing, as University of Calgary’s Archer pointed out: “Mulroney’s caucus is over one-third Quebec. He likely will have to be very sensitive to Quebec concerns.” And that, added Archer, “will rankle the West —

especially a province such as Alberta.”

In British Columbia, the Tories received a message of a different kind. In the 1984 election, they had captured 19 of the province’s 28 seats, with the NDP winning eight and Liberal Leader John Turner gaining his party’s only riding, Vancouver Quadra. But on Nov. 21, of the 32 seats in British Columbia after electoral redistribution, the Tories captured only 12. They picked up two of the four new ridings in the province—but lost nine seats to the New Democrats. In turn, the NDP increased their B.C. representation to 19 from eight, including a potential leadership candidate, former B.C. premier David Barrett. Among the Tory losses: Mission-Coquitlam, held by Gerry St. Germain, minister of state for forestry.

Throughout the seven-week campaign, the NDP enjoyed a strong lead in public opinion polls in British Columbia. Part of that was clearly due to strong anti-free-trade sentiment in the province—especially in such areas as the grape-growing Okanagan Valley. But the results last week showed that fringe parties may also have played a role in undermining some Conservative candidates in the province. The Reform party drew five per cent of the popular vote across the province, but in some ridings its impact was much stronger. In the largely rural riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands—formerly Esquimault-Saanich—the NDP’s Lynn Hunter defeated Tory incumbent Patrick Crofton by 1,191 votes. In 1984, fringe candidates had received only two per cent of the vote in Esquimault-Saanich. On Nov. 21, they won 13.6 per cent—8,871 votes, of which 8,192 went to the Reform party candidate.

Kenneth Carty, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia, said that the party may have played a part in some Tory losses—especially Crofton’s. “It might have made a difference in Saanich,” he said. “It got the rural vote out—but not in downtown Victoria or Vancouver. It is largely a rural protest on the periphery.” And Lynda Erickson, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University, said that it does not automatically follow that all those who voted Reform would under different circumstances be Conservative supporters. “They may have just been angry at the government and voted Reform because they didn’t like what was going on,” she said. “That does not mean to say that without the Reform party they would have voted Tory.” Still, she added, “I would argue that the tendency would be toward the Conservative party.”

Meanwhile, New Democrats in British Columbia attributed their own gains to what they described as a widespread feeling among residents that Ottawa had ignored the province’s interests. “Mulroney’s MPs didn’t deliver for British Columbia,” said provincial NDP Leader Michael Harcourt. “The warning is that he better start paying attention to British Columbia.” And if Harcourt is right, voters in the three other western provinces may have intended to send precisely the same message.

PEETER KOPVILLEM

JOHN HOWSE

HAL QUINN