COVER

CHANGING THE GUARD

OLD FACES, NEW JOBS

March 5 1990
COVER

CHANGING THE GUARD

OLD FACES, NEW JOBS

March 5 1990

Last week’s cabinet shuffle elevated Vancouver MP Kim Campbell to the Justice portfolio and brought former consumer and corporate affairs minister Bernard Valcourt back from political purgatory to serve as the country’s new minister of fisheries and oceans. In all, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney shifted 15 portfolios and reassigned some regional political responsibilities. Some of the most important changes:

When Benoît Bouchard faced reporters on Parliament Hill last week to talk about his appointment as minister of industry, science and technology, a new federal department, he appeared subdued and somewhat disappointed. “I'm excited but very prudent,” Bouchard said after being sworn into the new cabinet. “I can better serve the government now.” But his tepid response may also be a result of the fact that his responsibilities in Ottawa had become progressively more demanding since he left his job as the principal of a community college in Roberval, Que.— 200 km north of Quebec City—to win election as the area’s MP in 1984.

He immediately entered the cabinet, serving as junior minister of transport for a year. That job was made easier when then-transport minister and political veteran Donald Mazankowski formed a close friendship with the unilingual francophone. Bouchard quickly learned to speak English. But after his second cabinet assignment—a relatively breezy 10-month stint as secretary of state-he took on the much more demanding Employment and Immigration portfolio in 1986.

There, Bouchard had to deal with controversies ranging from boatloads of Tamils and Sikhs arriving on the shores of Atlantic Canada to a refugee backlog and a hunger strike by illegal Turkish immigrants facing deportation. Anxious for a new assignment, he became transport minister two years later. But that post brought more troubles, including disputes over transport deregulation and a public backlash after he announced cutbacks affecting more than half of Via’s passenger rail service. Some of those pressures clearly took their toll. In December, 1988, Bouchard, 49, underwent quadruple heart-bypass surgery—and returned to Ottawa a month later after losing 25 lb.

Bouchard’s new post will give him more influence in his home province—and other provinces—because he will have discretion over how industrial-development funds are distributed. But the Quebec nationalist may not remain in Ottawa much longer. Last year, he and fellow Quebec minister Lucien Bouchard considered forming a new Quebec nationalist party if the Parti Québécois were to suffer a crushing defeat in the provincial election. They abandoned the idea after the PQ finished a respectable second. But both Bouchards (they are not related) have also implied that they may resign from the cabinet—and their seats—if the Meech Lake accord is not ratified by its June deadline. For now, though, the new minister for industry, science and technology may be able to enjoy a more manageable portfolio.

The Tory wave that swept the Liberals out of office in the 1984 general election carried Mary Collins to the Commons. Then, after easily holding her West Vancouver riding of Capilano in the November, 1988, general election, the 49-year-old native of Vancouver and former businesswoman was elevated to the cabinet as associate minister of defence. Now, the well-spoken and stylish Collins—“I spend a lot on clothes: it’s part of the image”—will retain her Defence post while also becoming the minister responsible for the status of women, a portfolio previously held by Employment and Immigration Minister Barbara McDougall.

During the Conservative government’s first four years in office, Collins established a reputation as a hardworking MP and an able speaker. A committed Tory whom one commentator labelled as “slightly to the right of Marie Antoinette,” Collins also attracted the attention of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who in 1986 chose her to be the lead-off speaker in the debate on the speech from the throne. At the same time, the mother of three has also been a tireless fighter for such Tory causes as privatization and tax reform.

But Collins has also broken new ground for women and has strongly defended women’s rights. In the 1960s, after graduating from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., with a degree in political science, she went to work for the Ontario government and became the first woman to hold the senior bureaucratic position of executive officer to the cabinet and premier of Ontario. When the Canadian Human Rights Commission ruled in February, 1989, that women in the Canadian Forces cannot be excluded from combat roles, she convinced her cabinet colleagues not to appeal the ruling. Said Collins: “I know what it’s like to face up to those challenges where everyone you work with is saying ‘Oh God, what have we got here?’ ”

Despite her forceful character, she may find her new role a difficult one. Although McDougall was frequently criticized for her handling of the Status of Women portfolio—often because she devoted too much of her time to her other cabinet job with Employment and Immigration—she wields great influence within the government as a member of both the powerful priorities and planning committee and the all-powerful operations committee. For her part, Collins is not part of the inner circle of cabinet—a fact that could leave the portfolio vulnerable to Finance Minister Michael Wilson’s expenditure reductions. Still, a senior Collins aide described her as “high-energy, committed and quietly determined.” She may need all of those qualities in the months ahead.

On election night in 1984, Brian Mulroney gathered his family and a few close friends, including Lucien Bouchard, to watch the results on television. When it was confirmed that Mulroney would win a landslide, the Tory leader turned to Bouchard and said, “Lucien, two of my dreams are coming true. Quebecers will hold two of the most important jobs in Canada—I am going to be Prime Minister and you are going to Paris.” The following year, Bouchard reluctantly agreed to leave his Chicoutimi, Que., law practice to become Canada’s ambassador to France. But it was only the first step in a campaign by Mulroney to elevate his old school chum—they studied law together at Laval University—into the upper echelon of Canadian political life. Last week, Mulroney again promoted Bouchard, 51, naming him to replace Communications Minister Marcel Masse as the Tories’ Quebec political lieutenant while retaining his job as environment minister.

It was another step in Bouchard’s rapid rise through the political ranks. In March, 1988, Mulroney brought him back from Paris and appointed him to the cabinet as secretary of state. Three months later, Bouchard won a Commons seat in a by-election in Quebec’s Lac St-Jean riding, after the government committed $4 million to spending in the area. Then, after winning re-election in 1988, Bouchard became environment minister in the new cabinet. His latest appointment will give him control over some party jobs and riding grants in his province.

In fact, as Mulroney’s most trusted Quebec minister, Bouchard has already been performing many of those functions for the past several months. And opposition critics have charged that he has neglected the environment because he is too concerned with Quebec party matters. For one thing, last year Bouchard promised to unveil a five-year master plan designed to safeguard the environment with programs to promote sustainable agricultural development and limit carbon dioxide emissions. After several earlier delays, the plan was scheduled late last year to be released along with the federal budget, which was tabled last week. But last month, he announced that the program would be delayed again—perhaps until the fall.

Environmental groups said that Bouchard failed to get cabinet support for the document because he planned it without consulting other government departments—and that the plan remains paralysed by bureaucratic infighting. “It was a catastrophe for environmental protection,” said Kai Millyard, policy director for Friends of the Earth, an Ottawa-based environmental group. “Bouchard is sincere, but he has not delivered anything.” And although he now has added support among Quebec Tories, his ability to advance his environmental agenda effectively has still to be proven.

Then-Fisheries and Oceans Minister Thomas Siddon went to Atlantic Canada in January to present what he knew would be an unwelcome report. He held news conferences in St. John’s, Nfld., where he was joined by Trade Minister John Crosbie, and in Halifax to announce that Ottawa had overestimated the size of some of its fish stocks and that, as a result, quotas would have to be slashed to save the industry from destruction. In the Newfoundland capital, Richard Cashin, president of the 23,000-member Fishermen, Food and Allied Workers union angrily confronted Siddon. As the TV cameras whirred, the labor leader declared that Siddon had treated Newfoundlanders with contempt. Cashin then shouted directly at Siddon, “You are singularly the worst minister we’ve ever had.”

The incident underscored how profoundly unpopular Siddon had become in his four years as fisheries minister. Industry spokesmen have attacked him for being aloof, for failing to show compassion for towns facing fish-plant closures and for not consulting directly with industry workers on both coasts. And they clearly welcomed his move to Indian Affairs and Northern Development. “He was a lost cause,” said Desmond McGrath, education officer for the Fishermen, Food and Allied Workers union. Added Halifax fisheries consultant Owen Myers: “He wasn’t a guy that would stand up and be counted when it came to the crunch in cabinet.” In fact, recently, the embattled fisheries minister had largely avoided public appearances. After Siddon left St. John’s, Crosbie stayed on to deal with angry protests. Similarly, Crosbie appeared alone in Vancouver last week to deal with widespread anger over a trade-dispute settlement that allows the United States to take 20 per cent of the salmon and herring caught off British Columbia directly to U.S. ports.

Siddon had become fisheries minister in 1985 after his predecessor, John Fraser, now Commons Speaker, was forced to resign following a scandal over the sale of rancid tuna. Born and raised in Drumheller, Alta., Siddon is a professional engineer and an associate professor of engineering at the University of British Columbia. He was elected MP for the B.C. riding of Richmond-Delta in a 1978 by-election. The father of five was first appointed to cabinet as minister of science and technology following the Tory victory in 1984, then shifted into Fisheries.

His next assignment promises to be equally controversial. Land-claims disputes, demands for a native justice system and anger over budget cuts to the funding for 22 Indian groups across Canada are among the issues that Siddon will have to deal with. Declared Ovide Mercredi, a regional chief with the Ottawa-based Assembly of First Nations: “Siddon is walking into a powder keg. He’s coming to a department that has as many problems as the one he left.”

During the free vote on abortion in the House of Commons in the summer of 1988 that ended with no legislation, Douglas Lewis, then minister of state for the Treasury Board and deputy House leader, passionately stated his belief in a woman’s right to choose. As a result, when Mulroney promoted him to justice minister and government House leader in January, 1989, anti-abortion lobby groups protested that the minister would strongly influence any new abortion legislation. As it turned out, the compromise bill that Lewis tabled in the Commons in November drew opposition from advocates on both sides of the explosive issue. But last week, after his shift from the Justice portfolio to minister of transport, the response from his former critics was decidedly muted. “What Mulroney has done is let Doug Lewis off the hook,” said Margaret Purcell, a spokesman for the Toronto-based Campaign Life Coalition.

Lewis, who lost, as well, his position as House leader to Calgary MP Harvie Andre, also seemed initially subdued by the move. Calling the Transport job “a major portfolio,” Lewis had nothing to say immediately about his new department’s most contentious issue, the government’s unpopular decision to reduce Via Rail passenger services by more than half.

At 51, Lewis is known as a workaholic, typically arriving at his Parliament Hill office at 7 a.m. and often staying until 10 p.m. He is devoted to his family of five children and wife Linda, who is in a first-year law program at the University of Ottawa. Born and raised in Toronto, he initially followed his father into chartered accountancy. But, at 24, he entered Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, where he earned his law degree. In the early 1960s, he moved his family to the small central Ontario city of Orillia, where he returns on most weekends.

Representing the Orillia-area riding of Simcoe North since 1979, Lewis has displayed strong political manoeuvring ability in the past. He practised his parliamentary skills in the early 1980s, serving as deputy opposition House leader under the cunning and fiercely partisan Yukon MP, Erik Nielsen. But after becoming House leader himself, Lewis assumed a style very different from that of his mentor. Although the legislation he shepherded through the House— including bills on free trade, abortion and the proposed Goods and Services Tax—was surrounded by controversy, he managed to keep himself above the partisan fray. Interim Liberal leader Herb Gray described Lewis as “very affable and congenial.” And NDP House Leader Nelson Riis once remarked that Lewis was the kind of man he could go fishing with. □