COVER

A srtuggle to survive

Anthony Wilson-Smith October 18 1993
COVER

A srtuggle to survive

Anthony Wilson-Smith October 18 1993

A srtuggle to survive

As she stood outside a high-school gymnasium in Prince Edward Island last week, waiting to be introduced, Canada’s 19th Prime Minister looked like a boxer pumping herself up mentally and physically for a prize fight. Kim Campbell paced restlessly back and forth, swinging her arms and rolling her head from side to side in an apparent effort to loosen up. From time to time, she made polite conversation with an aide and flashed smiles at a small knot of supporters. Then, when her name was announced, she strode briskly into the gym, and before about 400 Conservative supporters, delivered one of her most pugnacious speeches of the campaign. “The media are talking about a more aggressive Kim Campbell,” she said, slashing at the air with both hands. “And they’re right. It’s time to tell the truth about the other parties.”

It was a spirited performance, but Campbell

The Tory collapse is reflected in the growing discontent at campaign headquarters and the Tories appear to be fighting a losing battle. Waging an election campaign, after all, differs from boxing in several key respects. In politics, the best defence is not always a good offence. And in politics, the harder you run, the more it may appear that you have something to hide. While Campbell skipped across five provinces in less than three days last week, she and her party were doing their best to dodge a series of embarrassing revelations and accusations. Chief among them: the controversial privatization of Toronto’s Pearson airport (page 50).

The Tories refused to respond to that—or any other controversy—directly. Instead, a clearly exhausted and sometimes grumpy Campbell continued to ignore journalists’ questions. (Since her victory at the Tory leadership convention on June 13, she has not held a single formal news conference.) She also paid scant attention in her speeches to her party’s policies, referring only vaguely to the programs the party would implement if re-elected. Campbell spent most of her time attacking the Liberals and Preston Manning’s fast-rising Reform party—the target of a hard-hitting new series of Tory television ads. An Angus Reid/Southam News poll conducted immediately after the televised debates made the reason for that criticism obvious. Reform was tied with the Conservatives in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, was first in Alberta and British Columbia and was close to overtaking the Tories \WJfn nationally. The findings: Liberals,

37 per cent; Tories, 22 per cent;

Reform, 18 per cent; Bloc Québécois, 12 per cent; New Democratic 2 Party, eight per cent. ^

For the Tories, whose popularity has been sliding since the campaign began, the outlook is even grimmer than those numbers suggest. Because their supporters are dispersed widely across the country, the Tories could find themselves in third or even fourth place behind the Liberals, Reform and the Bloc. Some senior Tories gloomily predict that, based on their own polling results, the party’s share of the 295 House of Commons seats will fall to no more than 40, from 153 now.

Current trends also suggest that more than half of Campbell’s 24 cabinet colleagues are headed for defeat. Those in serious trouble include Finance Minister Gilles Loiselle, Human Resources Minister Bernard Valcourt, External Affairs Minister Perrin Beatty, Public Security Minister Doug Lewis and Defence Minister Tom Siddon. One senior Tory told Maclean’s that only three of the party’s 53 Quebec MPs are considered safe: Deputy Prime Minister Jean Charest and MPs Guy St-Julien and Vincent Della Noce, each of whom has a large local following. Yet even Charest—the party’s best-known figure after Campbell— has cut back on his national campaigning to spend more time on his riding.

Predictably, the Tory collapse is reflected in growing discontent and backbiting at the highest levels. The primary culprits, according to accounts by critics in the party, are campaign co-chairman John Tory and senior adviser Patrick Kinsella, veteran party pollster Allan Gregg and Campbell herself. Critics, requesting anonymity, say that each has committed major errors:

• Party insiders hold Tory responsible for several tactical blunders. Remarkably, the party entered the election without a policy platform. As well, Tory failed to unify competing factions, and he prepared for only one enemy, the Liberals. The failure of that strategy, some party members say, has left Tory anxious and depressed. Said one insider: “We’re in the extraordinary position where people are having to give encouragement to the co-chairman of the campaign in the middle of the campaign.”

• Kinsella, an Ontario native who now lives in Vancouver, is an aloof and widely disliked figure in the party—although even his critics respect him for his intelligence and no-nonsense approach to politics. He is also one of Campbell’s favorites, and one of the few people she relies on for advice. Tories say that Kinsella, who is travelling with Campbell during the campaign, has isolated her from other advisers, softpedalled criticism of her performance and shielded her from the true extent of the campaign’s problems.

Liberals

■i NDP

* Reform ■HI Bloc mm other

Percentage of decided voters

• Before and after the Sept. 8 launch of the election campaign, Gregg repeatedly told other Tory strategists that Canadians would be influenced primarily by their perceptions of the party leaders. The theory was that voters would cast their ballots for the leader with whom they most closely identified. Based on that advice, the Conservatives emphasized Campbell’s personality rather than detailed policy discussions. With pre-campaign opinion polls indicating that Campbell was by far the most popular leader, the Tories assumed that it was only a matter of time before the party’s approval ratings caught up to hers. Instead, Campbell’s level of popularity has dipped sharply during the campaign. Among other things, that has reinforced longstanding complaints among some Tories that Gregg—widely considered Canada’s top pollster—is preoccupied by other projects. Gregg’s nicknames around party headquarters include “Waldo”—after the hard-to-find children’s character—and “the accidental tourist” wandering in from time to time to check up on the campaign.

• Campbell’s defenders say that she alone is responsible for restoring whatever hope the party had of re-election after the June resignation of former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s. But others are much less charitable. Complains a senior Tory who worked for Campbell during the leadership campaign: “She is not a team player.” Rather, she and a small circle of supporters were convinced that her personal popularity would be sufficient to ensure victory. Having joined the party shortly before her election as MP for Vancouver Centre in 1988, she has few confidants with whom she is comfortable discussing and debating ideas. Along with Tory, Kinsella and Gregg, Campbell relies most on the advice of Fisheries Minister Ross Reid. But unlike Mulroney, critics say, she is not skilled in building support and brokering different interests.

Perhaps more to the point, Campbell has made little effort to heal the deep wounds left after her narrow leadership victory over Charest. Publicly, all is fine. Charest’s praise of Campbell borders on the excessive, and Charest’s campaign manager, Jodi White, a tough, smart organizer, is now Campbell’s chief of staff. But White only recently began to travel with Campbell, and one source says that the relationship between the two is “not always easy.”

Similarly, despite Charest’s national popularity, he and Campbell have little contact. For the most part, Charest plans his own tour schedule, and the only time he hears from officials in the Prime Minister’s Office, as one adviser puts it, is “when the Prime Minister is coming to Quebec, and wants him to go somewhere else.” He added: “They tell us it would be a waste of energy to have them both in the same place at the same time, but we think it’s just that she hates hearing him get more applause than she does.” In fact, while Charest is careful to stress his loyalty to the Prime Minister, many of his former Quebec supporters are not nearly so enthusiastic. Some will not be dismayed if the election is a debacle. Said one of the party’s most senior Quebec organizers: ‘There are a lot of people around here who think the leadership race is not over yet—or should not be.” But Campbell’s problems run deeper than the issue of how well she relates with other elements of the party. After all, as leader she has the right to make her own decisions. And as someone who has promised “new politics,” it is clearly within her mandate to re-examine traditional ways of campaigning. The trouble, one of her own advisers conceded recently, is that “she really believes she is doing things differently, but the truth is that she is doing nothing that has not been done a thousand times before.”

Indeed, Campbell’s only unusual campaign tactic was her decision to bypass traditional partisan rallies in favor of meetings at which she would converse with small, carefully selected groups of Canadians. That approach was pioneered by Pierre Trudeau in 1972, when his campaign was dubbed “conversations with Canadians”—but produced a Liberal minority government. It was practised with greater effect in the United States last year by then-Democratic candidate Bill Clinton. Similarly, Campbell vowed in one of her earliest speeches as Prime Minister to shy away from personal attacks on other politicians, and to “be direct, truthful and frank with Canadians at all times.”

THE BLOC'S MASSIVE LEAD IN QUEBEC

wm Bloc

NDP

pPercentage of decided voters

But with the Tories plummeting in the polls, those folksy rallies, along with her professed distaste for personal attacks, have gone by the boards. The only reminder of the first weeks of the campaign is her fondness for describing a visit in early September to an American-owned crayon factory in Lindsay, Ont. Over and over again, Campbell has described it as an inspirational Canadian success story—while her advisers rolled their eyes. On the stump and in last week’s two televised debates, Campbell has been aggressively and sometimes harshly partisan—such as when she and Chrétien took turns describing each other as a “laughingstock.” Similarly, Campbell’s insistence on basing her own deficit-fighting plans over the next five years on economic growth predictions that even Tories admit are overly optimistic is hardly what might be expected from someone practising a more candid style of politics.

No doubt it is some consolation to the Tories that the Liberals, too, are divided on their approach to the campaign. But for now, the biggest question facing the Liberals is whether they will form a minority or a majority government. The Tories, by contrast, are fighting for their lives. More than a few people in either party have noticed the striking comparison between this election and 1984, when it was the Liberals who pinned all their hopes on the belief that a new leader would be enough to bring them a new mandate. “Now,” one Campbell adviser confessed last week, “we can appreciate how big that gamble was.” Under John Turner, the Liberals were reduced to 40 seats in 1984. Dispirited, divided and facing a much more diverse group of opponents, the question is whether the Tories will do any better.

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH

in St.John’s, Nfld.,

with MARYJANIGAN in Toronto and E. KAYE FULTON in Ottawa