Trudeau never promised Vancouver a rose garden-which is probably just as well

Allan Fotheringham October 4 1976

Trudeau never promised Vancouver a rose garden-which is probably just as well

Allan Fotheringham October 4 1976

Trudeau never promised Vancouver a rose garden-which is probably just as well

Allan Fotheringham

It is the best view in town—westerly of course—an eighteenth-floor perch, in a tower on the water’s edge, overlooking the sweep of the harbor and the bottle-green mountains rising on the other side. It is in fact the most expensive maildrop in the world, the supposed “headquarters” of the Canada Development Corporation in Vancouver. It is also a prime example of why the Liberals, with vast rhetoric about their concern for Western Canada but little understanding, are so wretchedly unpopular in British Columbia at the moment.

Some are born to farce, some achieve it and yet others have it thrust upon them. The Trudeaucrats and the CDC seem made for each other. Here we have a government that tries a public relations coup and ends up with a publicity disaster. It is a classic case study of a political regime that lacks resolution. The CDC, of course, is a hoary shibboleth of nationalism going back to when Walter Gordon, conscience of the party, first proposed it in 1963. (David Lewis, as a matter of fact, claims the NDP invented the idea in 1971.) It was all part of the Gordon dream—ignored by his close friend Lester Pearson—to curb foreign control of our economy and “buy back” Canadian industry by encouraging Canadians to invest in ownership of their own enterprises. A standard fixture in Liberal throne speeches since 1963 and just as standardly bypassed in government legislation, the old-before-its-time CDC finally was introduced to the Commons in 1971. Its formation on November 29 of that year was remarkable only for the announcement that Trudeau made following the initial directors meeting. He stated that the CDC head office would be moved permanently from Ottawa to Vancouver “within two years.”

It was acclaimed, naturally, as a shrewd Liberal move, at a time when an election was approaching. The voters were restless in Western Canada and there was all the talk of the need to decentralize Ottawa’s unfathomable midden of bureaucrats. The mint was going to Winnipeg and sulking, unloved Vancouver had to be thrown a bone. It was the line story in The Vancouver Sun (GIANT FEDERAL AGENCY TO LOCATE HERE) as the Ottawa correspondent explained how the move would“bring hundreds of civil servants and corporation officials to the Vancouver area and should stimulate investment activity in the city.”

Alas, the government reckoned without Tony Hampson. H. Anthony Hampson was the “take-charge fireball” (as The Canadian Press called him) who was put in

charge of CDC. He had only one small flaw. As a Montreal native and well plugged into the Ottawa mandarins’ incestuous clutch, it became clear very early that Tony Hampson had no desire to leave the tight little Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal triangle. He got the CDC machinery into a moving van as far as Toronto, but no farther. Mrs. Hampson, as it turned out, had a good job in Toronto; the children were in school and how do you spell Vancouver?

As the deadline approached on Trudeau’s two-year pledge and the derision from Vancouver grew heavy, cabinet ministers grew nervous. It was “inconceivable,” said Ron Basford, that the CDC would not move to Vancouver. If it didn’t move, Hampson would. Finally, under heavy pressure. Finance Minister John Turner got up on his hind legs at the Western Economic Opportunities Conference in Calgary in 1973 to announce that the CDC had decided to move its headquarters to Vancouver. Those of us who were wondering who ran the country—Trudeau or Hampson—breathed a sigh of relief.

As it happens, we breathed too soon. Today the answer is clear: when there is a difference of opinion between Trudeau and Hampson, Hampson prevails. That eighteenth-floor office, as it turns out, is a fake office. It is a charade. The immovable Hampson remains in Toronto with his brass, flying to Vancouver periodically to

fake board meetings. At one such gathering, eastern directors planned to hold the board meeting at 7 a.m. because it fitted in with their jet lags and left time for the 2 p.m. jet plane back east. The howl of rage from western directors killed it. When Hampson makes one of his rare appearances before the Vancouver press, he is greeted with cries of, “Welcome to Vancouver, Mr. Hampson. Find your way in from the airport okay?”

Today, the farce that the Liberals can’t seem to manage has five employees in the fake Vancouver office. There are 17 in the Toronto office, where the decisions are made. On the twentieth floor in the Vancouver office, behind a billing that specifies CANADA DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION

PUBLIC RELATIONS, there sits another strange aspect of this puzzling operation. His name is John Ellis, the new chairman of the CDC. When the heavy flak from the press was making a growth industry of the criticism of Hampson, there was an obvious decision made to brandish a token Western Canadian chairman. Ellis, then a vice-chairman of the Bank of Montreal in Vancouver, was chosen. How a man still working for a chartered bank could double as chairman of the CDC—chasing the same funds—was an exercise in mental gymnastics forbidden to those of us of simpler minds. When this contradiction was hammered in, Ellis finally left the bank and now sits in lonely splendor on the twentieth floor, gazing at that splendid harbor view. There is also, next door, the CDC public relations officer, Ken Grant. Beautiful. A PR man stationed in Vancouver to try to convince the public the head office is not still in Toronto. Vaudeville lives.

As the fifth anniversary of the CDC approaches, we consider the evidence. Hampson, president and chief executive officer, says he must remain in Toronto to be near the money markets. Perhaps so— which would indicate the Liberals made a silly error in designating Vancouver in the first place. What is apparent is that Ottawa can neither bring itself to force compliance with its original order nor admit its mistake. As a result, for five years the BC public has been treated to a steady stream of evidence that the Trudeaucrats can’t follow through on simple declarations of intent.

A move that was designed to win votes has ended up losing them by the bushel. Instead of getting respect from the voters, they’ve earned contempt. As a classical study in government frig-ups, it deserves to be put under glass.