The return of a man called Trudeau

IAN URQUHART October 4 1976

The return of a man called Trudeau

IAN URQUHART October 4 1976

The return of a man called Trudeau


Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was paying penance. He sat in a small meeting hall near Charlottetown listening to Prince Edward Island businessmen and farmers reel off complaints against his government: high energy costs, milk-production quotas, a doubling of ferry rates to the mainland, poor rail service. Outside, PEI unionists were getting into the mood for organized labor’s October 14 day of protest against wage and price controls by picketing the hall. Inside, Trudeau listened, but promised no miracles.

Battling to overcome the Liberals’ increasingly grim showing in the polls, Trudeau late in September, embarked on the first of a series of fence-mending missions with a five-day swing through the Maritimes that took him to some 12 cities and towns. In the course of his journey, he was called a bum by organized labor, described as arrogant and uncaring by angry housewives, and told by fishermen, farmers and tourist operators that his economic, farm and transport policies are causing havoc. There were, to be sure, flashes of the old Trudeaumania, particularly in northern New Brunswick, which is French Canadian and solidly Liberal. At Tracadie, there was a 1968-style mob scene as Mounties strained to hold back a crowd of about 500 surging around Trudeau. But

elsewhere, the PM seemed to shun the contact and kept to his hotel room for hours on end.

If Trudeau succeeds in reversing the Liberals’ downward spin in the polls, he will probably run again in the 1978 election. But if he fails, the Liberals will almost certainly move to deprive him of the opportunity by opting for a new leader, probably former finance minister John Turner.

Trudeau’s strategy is twofold: first, he and his ministers plan to travel more to meet people, including disgruntled Liberal Party workers, and they will try to put a new gloss on the government’s tarnished image. Two major sources of countrywide discontent, bilingualism and wage and price controls, will receive special attention. Back in Ottawa, the second tactical thrust will be a deliberate attempt to slow down the pace of change and emphasize consolidation. The “new society,” that awesome phrase that frightened so many, is apparently deadjust nine months after it was first uttered by Trudeau in his now famous year-end television interview.

As a necessary prelude to his attempt to retrieve lost ground, the beleaguered Trudeau presided over a cabinet shuffle of a magnitude that caught Ottawa by surprise, generally pleased the business community and seemed to signal a tilt to the

right. The shuffle also served to increase still further Trudeau’s domination of the cabinet. The past year had seen the departure from the cabinet of three veteran ministers—John Turner, Jean Marchand and Gérard Pelletier. Now two more longserving ministers, House Leader Mitchell Sharp and C. M. (Bud) Drury, the Minister of Science and Technology who doubled as public works minister, stepped aside to help make way for seven new and generally younger* faces in cabinet.

The shuffle also resulted in the unexpected departure of cabinet veteran Bryce Mackasey following an emotional showdown with Trudeau (see box). The shuffle nearly cost Trudeau the services of Allan MacEachen, who agreed reluctantly to give up the external affairs portfolio to replace Sharp as House Leader, where his skill in parliamentary manoeuvring will be needed by the government during the difficult months ahead. A gloomy MacEachen confided to a friend: “I felt I was just getting it all together at External.”

At least three of Trudeau’s new appointments won a warm reception in the busi-

*Trudeau, whose fifty-seventh birthday is October 18, now is the second oldest minister, after veterans affairs minister Dan MacDonald, 58.

ness community. One was the choice of Anthony Abbott to take over at Corporate and Consumer Affairs, a somewhat improbable choice forced on Trudeau by Mackasey’s last-minute departure from the cabinet. Tony Abbott’s father, Douglas, was Mackenzie King’s finance minister, and the younger Abbott is a former head of the Retail Council of Canada, the lobby for the major department stores and supermarket chains. In his new portfolio, Abbott will be responsible for legislation he once lobbied against, including the competition bill. The Retail Council naturally greeted his appointment with delight, while the Consumers’ Association of Canada expressed “extreme disappointment” at Mackasey’s departure. Insisted Abbott: “I want to set aside the notion that I’m a running dog of capitalism.”

Other moves applauded by business included the appointment of Jean Chrétien, who had earned a reputation as the “Mr. No” on government spending as president of the treasury board, to head Industry, Trade and Commerce, and the choice of Len Marchand, the first native Canadian in the federal cabinet, as minister responsible for small business, a new portfolio. The new man at External Affairs is Newfoundland’s Don Jamieson, a portly pitchman who is considered relatively pro-

American and will be given the job of trying to mollify American businessmen made uneasy by nationalist tendencies in the Trudeau government.

Some of Trudeau’s other appointments appeared to favor the progressive wing of the party, most notably the shift of Warren Allmand from solicitor general to Indian and Northern Affairs. Allmand, who admits to a bias in favor of Canada’s native peoples, replaced Judd Buchanan, who succeeded in alienating most native leaders during barely two years in the portfolio. Bud Cullen, promoted from the Department of Revenue to the immigration portfolio to replace Robert Andras who went to the Treasury Board, Francis Fox, named solicitor general in place of Allmand, and John Roberts, who replaces Hugh Faulkner as Secretary of State, are all considered progressives. Trudeau also moved to soften the anti-French backlash in the country with the appointment of Andras, a comparative cabinet veteran, to the Treasury Board, where he will also be responsible for bilingualism. Andras, an anglophone with a reputation for cooling off troublespots, can be expected to draw less fire as overseer of federal bilingualism policies than did Chrétien, a Quebec francophone. Trudeau also moved to protect his right flank by appointing Iona

Campagnola, a British Columbia MP who favors hanging and opposes gun controls, as minister responsible for sports.

The political coloration of the new cabinet was in keeping with the sombre and generally conservative mood that prevails in prime ministerial circles these days.

Accordingly, the government’s Throne Speech at the opening of the new session of parliament in mid-October will probably be an understated document, emphasizing industrial productivity and economic growth. Unemployment, the forgotten problem, will receive attention, but bold new initiatives and socially oriented legislation will be scarce. The proposed competition bill, part two, will be highlighted, but that legislation is essentially five years old and is meant to encourage free enterprise, not kill it. The bilingualism program will likely be altered slightly to put more emphasis on teaching the young, as recommended last spring by Official Languages Commissioner Keith Spicer. A new immigration law is expected to reflect the conservative mood of the country by further tightening entrance requirements.

Trudeau’s advisers are also hard at work on the Liberal image—to the point that some party members fear that real issues may get lost in the process. Now senior Liberals are expressing concern that the government, instead, should be getting ready for the tough decisions that loom ahead on such complex issues as the proposed Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline, the balance of payments problem and native rights. Says a former ministerial aide: “The feeling seems to be: when in trouble, advertise.” IAN URQUHART