MACLEAN’S REPORTS

The tale of how Mackenzie King turned away and Trudeau picked his cabinet

NORMAN DEPOE August 1 1968
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

The tale of how Mackenzie King turned away and Trudeau picked his cabinet

NORMAN DEPOE August 1 1968

The tale of how Mackenzie King turned away and Trudeau picked his cabinet

MACLEAN’S REPORTS

DR. RAOUL HUNTER, the sculptor whose nine-foot bronze of William Lyon Mackenzie King was unveiled in Ottawa July 1, spent days studying the site. One of his main concerns was the angle of the sun from dawn to dusk. Finally, for reasons possibly obscure to anyone else, he designed and oriented his monument so that the shadows would fall across the brooding face exactly as he wanted them at or about one p.m. of a summer day.

He had reckoned without CBC-TV. The producer responsible for the broadcast of the unveiling, Wilf Fielding, didn't like the camera angles. So he asked the Public Works department if they could turn the statue to face in a different direction. They did.

It’s the kind of story that’s irresistible to a working reporter — teeming with analogies and ironic contrasts, conjuring up visions of a Compelling Moral. In his day, for instance, Mr. King had his very own radio studio in the Chateau Laurier, decorated to his own taste, which included a fake fireplace of real marble. Sketch in a comment on the amount of real warmth in his “fireside chats;” compare the bachelor King’s approach with the swinging TV style of his bachelor successor.

Most attractive comparison of all: the bronze King stands just behind the East Block’s Privy Council Chamber, where he presided over cabinets chosen with painstaking care. Every religious, regional, and political factor was weighed; no possibly useful compromise was overlooked. All of his cabinets contained nonentities or dullards who represented some group or region he felt he needed to woo or appease.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, modish as the meticulously dressed but always dowdy King could never be, of course attended the unveiling. Then, as the hot Ottawa sky clouded over and began to pour down a steamy rain, he retired to 24 Sussex Drive, changed into a white hangout shirt and faded blue slacks, shod his bare feet in sandals (what would Mackenzie King have thought of that?) and sat down to continue planning his cabinet.

After all his campaign talk about selecting the best men, regardless of

region, seniority and so on, what he came up with looks suspiciously like the mixture as before. But if you think the moral of the story is a cynical plus ça change, you're wrong.

The fact is that the first Trudeau administration was better off for cabinet timber than any we’ve had for years. With the exception of Prince Edward Island, which rejected them totally, and possibly New Brunswick, where no MP of previous national stature made it, the Liberals elected high-powered members from coast to coast. Trudeau found himself able to pick the men he thought best and get broad regional representation.

Well, then, if it comes to the same thing in the end, you may say, what’s the. difference? For one thing, there’s no necessary connection any more between a minister’s point of origin and the department he heads — at least not in the prime minister’s thinking. For another, there is what an older generation would consider a disproportionately heavy representation from the big cities. And many of the biggest changes are still to come.

As the prime minister explained in an informal conversation that July afternoon, “I want to put more politics in politics.” He feels the elected minister should be the prime mover in examining and solving problems. The civil service (“one of the really good ones in the western world,” he said) often produces excellent theoretical and practical reforms, but it is the politician who has to live with them, and who has the direct responsibility to the people.

His own experience at Justice has convinced him that when a minister becomes so busy that he can deal only with the very top priority papers on his desk, government begins to fail. Look then, for much greater use of parliamentary secretaries, freeing the minister to investigate the broad, major problems personally, and above all, giving him time to think about them.

The backbencher, who especially if able has always felt frustrated and somewhat useless, can look for more work as well. The Trudeau style includes a bigger role for the House Leader, working with policy groups of

backbenchers and in caucus. And the long-standing idea of giving more work to formal parliamentary committees will take a giant step forward.

Don’t, however, expect the committees to turn into replicas of the American kind. Trudeau has concluded that the amount of power acquired by committee chairmen in Washington, if open to backbenchers here, would destroy our parliamentary system. In Ottawa the ministry must take the lead and be responsible for policy. Trudeau’s solution; have the committees chaired by parliamentary secretaries, who, though MPs, are spokesmen for the minister concerned.

And all of this, of course, would

not only involve more people, and tap more brains, but also provide a training (or proving) ground for future ministers.

It won’t all happen at once. The cabinet announced in July is only phase one of the plan. And by the way, despite all the talk about unwieldy cabinets, don’t be surprised if this one. the largest in our history, gets bigger, not smaller. Trudeau isn’t backing away from the idea of a streamlined inner policy group. But as the government takes over more and more functions, he’s not ruling out the idea of appointing junior ministers to give some of them individual attention.

NORMAN DEPOE