CANADA

TROUBLES FOR THE NATIVE SON

FACED WITH ‘DEVASTATING’ OPINION POLLS IN QUEBEC, SOME FEDERAL LIBERALS SAY THAT JEAN CHRETIEN MAY NOT EVEN WIN HIS SEAT

BARRY CAME April 5 1993
CANADA

TROUBLES FOR THE NATIVE SON

FACED WITH ‘DEVASTATING’ OPINION POLLS IN QUEBEC, SOME FEDERAL LIBERALS SAY THAT JEAN CHRETIEN MAY NOT EVEN WIN HIS SEAT

BARRY CAME April 5 1993

TROUBLES FOR THE NATIVE SON

CANADA

BARRY CAME

MARY JANIGAN

LUKE FISHER

FACED WITH ‘DEVASTATING’ OPINION POLLS IN QUEBEC, SOME FEDERAL LIBERALS SAY THAT JEAN CHRETIEN MAY NOT EVEN WIN HIS SEAT

By any measure, the downtown Montreal riding of StHenri/Westmount is a bastion of the federal Liberal party. Voters in the ethnically mixed constituency have sent Liberal MPs to Ottawa since 1925, an unbroken record of partisan support stretching over 20 general elections and three by-elections. “TTiis place has always been Liberal,” complains Montreal labor lawyer Thomas Davis, president for “the last four lean years” of the St-Henri/Westmount Progressive Conservative riding association. In recent weeks, however, Davis and his fellow Tories have sensed a new reason for cheer. “Our fortunes are on the upswing,” he says, barely able to contain his optimism. “For the first time in the living memory of anybody I know, we now have a better-than-even chance of bringing to an end the long Liberal domination of this riding.” With a federal election still months away, Davis’s dream of a Tory victory in St-Henri/Westmount may yet prove unrealistic. But even many diehard Liberals acknowledge that their party’s grip on the time-tested loyalties of area voters is beginning to slip, to the point where incumbent MP David Berger, first elected in 1979 in neighboring Laurier riding, concedes that he is facing an uphill battle for re-election. “Undoubtedly I have a few fences to mend,” says Berger, a 43-year-old former football team executive who in 1984 and 1988 was among the handful of Quebec Liberals to survive Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s Tory juggernaut.

Berger’s problems stem partly from a sudden resurgence of Conservative prospects, apparently inspired by the possibility that Defence Minister Kim Campbell will assume the Tory leadership. But they also mirror the difficulties that fellow Liberals are encountering right across Quebec, including those facing party leader Jean Chrétien in St. Maurice, the riding where he plans to run in the next election (he now represents New Brunswick’s Beauséjour riding). And that, in turn, does not augur well for the Liberals’ chances of forming the next government. As one constituency-level Liberal organizer glumly remarked, “If Chrétien cannot win in Quebec, not even in his own riding, how can he be expected to take the rest of the country?”

In public, at least, Chrétien and his followers remain bullish about Liberal prospects in his native province. But there is no shortage of disgruntled voices within the party’s own ranks. ‘We are on the brink of becoming a national joke,” maintains one veteran organizer. He adds that while the party won 12 of the province’s 75 Commons seats

in 1988, primarily in ridings where francophones are a minority, “I see a distinct possibility that we will be reduced after the next election to no more than 10 Quebec MPs— eight anglophones and two francophones.” For his part, Jean Lapierre, the former Liberal cabinet minister who bolted to the Bloc Québécois before quitting politics to become a Montreal-based political commentator, says that he cannot

see the Liberals “winning more than 15 or 20 seats in Quebec.” That prospect, he adds, “is already demoralizing the troops and spreading among the leadership.” Even the Liberals’ chief organizer in Quebec, Senator Pietro Rizzuto, is no longer predicting a major sweep in the province. Earlier this month, Rizzuto publicly predicted that the Liberals would capture 30 Quebec seats, roughly equal to the number he expected the Bloc Québécois to capture. It was a surprising admission from the normally tight-lipped senator, and far less than the figures he had previously flaunted when public opinion polls showed Liberal support in Quebec holding steady for the past two years at 40 per cent of the popular vote.

More recent soundings paint a far less attractive picture for the Liberals. An Angus Reid survey conducted between March 15 and March 18 suggested that Conservative support in Quebec would jump to 47 per cent with Campbell as leader from 37 per cent now. Against Campbell, the Bloc Québécois had 32 per cent and the Liberals had a meagre 14 per cent. ‘The new polls have been devastating,” said one Montreal-area riding president, lamenting the sudden evaporation of Liberal support. “They have been showing

that people were ready to vote for us to get rid of Mulroney but quick to drop us for a new face—even if they know next to nothing about what’s behind the face.”

But for many Liberals, Chrétien’s continu-

THE TORY RACE

Defence Minster Kim Campbell, who has been described by critics as aloof and arrogant, launched her campaign to replace Prime Minister Brian Mulroney by vowing to “give government back to the people.” Although Campbell promised to unveil detailed policy positions in the weeks ahead, her biggest challenge will likely be to maintain her momentum as the runaway favorite in a field of five declared candidates (page 15). In other developments:

• Environment Minister Jean Charest, widely seen as Campbell’s strongest challenger, said that Ottawa needs to play a leadership role in helping the poor and the unemployed.

• Leadership hopeful Patrick Boyer criticized Mulroney’s government for not doing enough to control spending.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“That’s agriculture.”

Solicitor General Douglas Lewis, ducking journalists’ questions about Kim Campbell’s admission that she smoked marijuana once in the 1960s

mg unpopularity in Quebec is as much of a problem for the party as Campbell’s current popularity. In his native province, many voters hold Chrétien partly responsible for the death of the Meech Lake accord, and view him as an anachronistic reminder of Quebec’s past. “What startles me is the viciousness that Quebecers, especially francophone Quebecers, are prepared to use in speaking out against Chrétien,” says a party worker who has been travelling door-todoor in a suburban Montreal riding in pursuit of new party members. The party’s brass is clearly aware of the problem, but so far has seemed powerless to combat it. Instead, frustration occasionally rises to the surface, as it did recently with Rizzuto. “Jean Chrétien is no traitor,” the senator fumed in an uncharacteristic—but revealing-outburst. “He presented himself as a candidate in St. Maurice, where he risks being beaten, in order to show his attachment to Quebec. We could easily have chosen an absolutely safe riding for him, but he refused. The image that is being projected is false and unfair.”

So far, at least, Rizzuto’s party machine has been unable to rejuvenate Chrétien’s tattered image. The 34 Liberal candidates who have been nominated to date in Quebec include a number of new and potentially attractive faces such as Michel Dupuy, a former ambassador to Paris, and Kimon Valaskakis, a wellknown economist. But there have also been some questionable choices, such as Camil Samson. In February, the former provincial Créditiste leader captured a nomination in a Quebec City riding, much to the dismay of members of the party establishment in Montreal who loathe Samson’s right-wing views on immigration,

sex education and other issues.

Only days before Samson’s nomination in Quebec East, Chrétien’s own chief of staff, Jean Pelletier, found himself at the centre of another controversy. According to Mali-born Boubacar Toure, who was seeking the party’s nomination in Beauport/Montmorency/Orléans, Pelletier cautioned him about the difficulties a black person would encounter winning election in the Quebec City area. The Chrétien aide later publicly withdrew his remarks—and Toure went on to lose the nomination.

Compounding its image problem, the Liberal hierarchy has appeared inept in handling a number of constituency-level disputes over candidate selection. Many of Berger’s problems in St-Henri/

Westmount, for one, stem from a challenge launched by former Liberal cabinet minister Donald Johnston, now the party’s national president. Johnston, who represented the riding when he was a member of Pierre Trudeau’s government, had initially received Chrétien’s approval to challenge Berger at an open nomination meeting. Under pressure from his caucus, however, Chrétien reversed his decision. Johnston then withdrew from the race, prompting a bitter split among members of the riding’s executive and opening a longsought opportunity for the Conservatives. “If the Tories want this riding, all they have to do now is come forward with a decent, half-credible candidate and he— or she —will win hands down,” complained embittered Liberal worker and Westmount resident Sally Drummond, who had been part of Johnston’s team.

Similarly, Liberal organizers irked party workers in the Montreal riding of Ahuntsic by imposing another former Liberal cabinet minister, Céline Hervieux-Payette, on a reluctant membership, which had been backing newcomer Haytoug Chamelian. Not all influential Liberals have received the same treatment, however. In response to a plea for high-profile candidates, former cabinet minister and past party president Francis Fox offered himself as a contender in the Montreal riding of Verdun/St-Paul. Rizzuto refused to support the bid, having already promised the nomination to someone else. An identical

fate befell Chrétien’s principal secretary, Edward Goldenberg, who had sought the nomination in the suburban Montreal riding of La Prairie.

Chrétien’s willingness to intervene in nomination battles in Quebec and elsewhere has only heightened the contrast with the treatment accorded Elijah Harper, who became the party’s candidate in the Manitoba riding of Churchill by acclamation last week. Harper, a veteran provincial New Democrat, leapt to national attention in 1990 when he helped to block the Meech Lake accord. Even though many influential Liberals, including deputy leader Sheila Copps, opposed Harper’s Liberal candidacy because of the harm it might inflict on the party’s chances in Quebec, Chrétien was not among them. And in Quebec, party workers complain that they will now have to explain to voters why the party chose to affiliate itself with a man whose actions undercut Quebec’s constitutional interests. “Elijah Harper is fast becoming a kind of flag in Quebec, signalling the Liberals’ problems there,” former Conservative cabinet minister Marcel Masse told Maclean’s. “He symbolizes the Liberals’ insensitivity to Quebec.”

Montreal MP Paul Martin, however, argues that the party’s problems in Quebec _ are only a “temporary g blip,” and that beneath 5 the surface the Liberals 1 remain “in pretty good I shape.” Indeed, Martin ë insists that the recent Tory revival in the province is actually good news for his party, because it will draw support away from the nascent Bloc Québécois, paving the way for a three-way fight and, in his words, “making it easier for us to slide right up the middle.” He added that he believes the bubble of support for Campbell will eventually burst. “She’s going to be pushed right to the wall over the next few months,” Martin said. “And when she’s finally forced to explain herself, the voters are going to see pretty quickly that she really does not represent any fresh new breeze in Canadian affairs.” For the moment, however, it is the Liberals who are being buffeted by the political winds, particularly in Quebec.

BARRY CAME in Montreal with

MARYJANIGAN and LUKE FISHER in Ottawa