CANADA

Talking up the team

Liberals pin their hopes on ‘star’ candidates

NANCY WOOD August 2 1993
CANADA

Talking up the team

Liberals pin their hopes on ‘star’ candidates

NANCY WOOD August 2 1993

Talking up the team

CANADA

Liberals pin their hopes on ‘star’ candidates

While president of the B.C. Medical Association, Hedy Fry lobbied politicians on everything from doctors’ salaries to family violence. In Fry’s words, she found them “willing to listen, very nice and very polite”—but rarely interested in implementing real change. That realization eventually spurred the 51-year-old general practitioner to launch a successful bid for the federal Liberal nomination in Vancouver Centre, where the incumbent is none other than Prime Minister Kim Campbell. Al-

though the odds against her appear formidable, Fry says that she is hopeful that her high profile in the community will translate into electoral victory.

Fry’s decision to enter politics under the Liberal banner this year puts her in what party officials are convinced is stellar company. Across the country, as the pieces fall into place for an expected autumn federal election, Liberal organizers are boasting of their success in attracting so-called star candidates—those who, before deciding to run for the party, were well-known for their achieve ments in other fields. Many, presumably, were drawn to the Liberals in part because of the party’s position in the polls. A Gallup survey conducted from July 8 to July 13 put the Liberals at 43 per cent, with the Conservatives at 33 per cent and the New Democrats at eight per cent. The Reform Party of Canada was at seven per cent while, in Quebec, the survey showed the Bloc Québécois tied with the Liberals at 33 per cent, with the Tories at 29 per cent. Says Senator Pietro Rizzuto, a veteran Liberal organizer in Quebec: “People want to be on the winning team.”

In striving to put together that team, Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien and his organizers have left little to chance. Indeed, Chrétien has stirred controversy in 14 ridings by personally selecting candidates, sparing them the need to compete for the nomination. In some cases, the Liberal leader has sought to justify his actions by saying that he wanted to field a large number of qualified women candidates. But in several other ridings, he handed the nomination to a well-known local figure—such as former senior federal bureaucrat Marcel Massé, running in Hull/Aylmer, or former Toronto mayor Arthur Eggleton in the Toronto-area riding of York Centre.

Whether they ran for their nominations or received them without a fight, the party’s star candidates are certain to be the centre of attention in the weeks ahead. Liberal strategists acknowledge privately that much of their campaign advertising will focus on the roster of well-known candidates rather than on Chrétien—who, they say, is less popular personally than his party. Still, it took the persuasive abilities of some party veterans to convince many star candidates to put their

private lives on hold and run in the election. Rizzuto, for one, says that it took him three months to convince Jean-Claude Villiard— former president of the Montreal giant engineering firm SNC-Lavalin—to run in the Montreal-area riding of Chambly. According to Rizzuto, Villiard was reluctant to run because the political system is viewed with contempt by many voters.

The result of such recruiting efforts, across the country, is an impressive list of names. In Ontario, the Liberals have attracted Doug Peters, the 63-year-old former chief economist for the Toronto-Dominion Bank, to run in Scarborough East. In British Columbia, renowned constitutional scholar Edward McWhinney, 68, is running in Vancouver Quadra. And in Alberta, the former chairman of Nova Corp., Robert Blair, has spent months going door-to-door for the Liberals in Calgary Centre. Said Blair, 63, of his initial experiences in politics: “I have learned that there is nothing that warms the heart of a citizen more than seeing a former chairman of Nova standing out in the cold on a winter night, knocking on his door.”

The party’s hope of diverting attention away from Chrétien is similar to the tactic used in 1962, when then-leader Lester Pearson’s popularity lagged behind his party’s. The Liberals at that time referred repeatedly to “the Pearson Team” and featured the leader surrounded by such star candidates as Paul Martin Sr., and such promising rookies as Herb Gray. This time, party organizers say that the leader’s image is such a problem— particularly in Quebec—that they are designing the campaign to avoid putting Chrétien himself front and centre. Said one veteran Liberal organizer, who asked not to be named: “We are not going to run the ‘Chrétien team.’ We are going to run the ‘Liberal team’ because it is quite a bit more effective than the ‘Chrétien team.’ ”

In Quebec, where polls show the separatist Bloc Québécois running neck and neck with the Liberals, the party is keen to play down Chrétien’s track record as a champion of strong central government. As part of that strategy, the party has recruited candidates who have already made names for themselves in politics or in business—including former provincial environment minister Clifford Lincoln, 64. Among the younger new candidates is Angéline Fournier, 36, a Parisborn commercial and copyright lawyer. Fournier acknowledges that a year ago Chrétien was a tough sell in her Montreal South Shore riding of Saint-Hubert, but says that there is less hostility towards him now. Adds Fournier: ‘The fact that he has surrounded himself with strong candidates and that he lets them speak and take initiatives, well, people really appreciate that.” That willingness on Chrétien’s part to blend into the background-while his team of candidates takes the spotlight—may be one of the Liberals’ strongest assets in the next election.

NANCY WOOD