Canada

PUTTING THE TORIES TOGETHER AGAIN

IAN URQUHART March 8 1976
Canada

PUTTING THE TORIES TOGETHER AGAIN

IAN URQUHART March 8 1976

PUTTING THE TORIES TOGETHER AGAIN

Canada

IAN URQUHART

“We are well into day one of the next election campaign.” With those words the day after his dramatic victory, newly elected Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark began the task of unifying his party and building himself up as a winner. One of Clark’s first moves was a meeting with Claude Wagner, the ex-Liberal he had so narrowly defeated on the last ballot. Instead of summoning Wagner to his office, Clark went to Wagner’s office, where they talked for about an hour. “I’m confident Mr. Wagner will play a major role in the party and in the House of Commons,” said Clark afterward. Before he left for a few days rest in the Bahamas at the end of last month, Clark had also spoken to all the other defeated leadership candidates, including Jack Horner, the bitter Alberta cowboy-MP who stomped out of the convention as Clark delivered his victory speech, and to some of his more vociferous detractors in the Conservative caucus. The message was the same: Clark would be open-minded and fair with everyone, but he would be firm as well and tolerate no rebellions. Clearly, he had the vast majority of the caucus behind him. Said one Conservative MP: “If anyone steps out of line, it won’t be Joe who has to step on him. The rest of the caucus will do it for him.” The first step toward reunifying the badly split party was actually taken between the first and second leadership ballots when Sinclair Stevens decided to support Clark. Stevens, a Bay Street operator who had run a vigorous and expensive campaign (estimated cost: $200,000), had finished a lowly seventh with just 182 votes on the first ballot and was looking around for somebody to support. It was expected he would opt for Wagner, who finished first on the opening ballot and was considered ideologically similar to Stevens. Instead, he went to Clark in a move that stunned the convention, led to Clark’s eventual victory and built a bridge between the party’s left and right wings after a decade of acrimonious infighting. Stevens explained his move as being based more on personality than philosophy (“I like Joe’s style,” he said). But Stevens and Clark are not as far apart philosophically as many commentators have suggested. On one high-profile issue, capital punishment, they are diametrically opposed: Stevens is a retentionist, Clark an abolitionist. But on most other important economic, social and international issues. The two expressed remarkably similar views-

COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY HORST EHRICHT

Wrote former NDP leader David Lewis in a column in the Toronto Star after the convention: “Joe Clark is obviously young, vigorous, and a strong organizer. But to call him a leftist is nonsense ... (he) is a conservative, pure and simple.” Clark, like several other Stanfield Conservatives, may, of course, have been tailoring his policies to the mood of the convention, which was decidedly right-wing, reflecting the mood of the country as a whole. A poll by Alan Frizzell, visiting professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism, showed that 49% of the delegates described themselves as being in the right wing of the party, compared to 34% in the centre and just 17% on the left. (Significantly, just 6% felt Clark was on the left, compared to 48% for Flora MacDonald and 32% for Brian Mulroney.) In question-and-answer sessions just two days before the leadership vote, both the candidates and delegates came down firmly in favor of “law’n’order,” the military, and better relations with the United States, and opposed Communism, strikes, and nationalism. Attacks on unemployment insurance, the right to strike, and Trudeau’s trip to Cuba were guaranteed to get a cheer, as were blasts at the press.

Alberta’s Horner, considered the most right-wing candidate by the delegates in the Frizzell poll, left supporters cheering with an attack on the concept of a guaran-

teed annual income. “My son is 25 years old and healthy, and if he can’t earn a living he needs a swift kick,” Horner declared. Candidate Paul Hellyer, also considered right-wing although his views on the economy are quite radical, asked delegates: “How many here think the poor should have a better break?” When only two people raised their hands out of an audience of about 80, Hellyer was taken aback. “I didn’t realize we were that conservative,” he cracked.

Clark, however, is different from most of the other candidates in that he is more pragmatic and has the flexibility to move back closer to the centre if the country heads in that direction again. “Pendulums do swing in society,” he says. “Issues are cyclical... politicians always have to operate within moods.” It is party unity, though, and not ideology, that preoccupies the Conservatives now. Stung by media criticism of the schisms in their party and faced with a public attitude that they cannot govern until they demonstrate they can run their own affairs more peacefully, the Conservatives were determined to come together at last month’s convention. Former prime minister John Diefenbaker, a leading dissident since he was ousted as party leader, set the mood on opening night when he ended his old feud with Robert Stanfield. Said Diefenbaker of his successor’s wage-price control policy in the

1974 election: “Stanfield was right.” The next night, Stanfield himself pitched for unity in one of the toughest speeches of his political career: “Our party must be seen to be working together. With our reputation from the past, journalists are always looking for feuding in our ranks ... in the years leading up to the next election, caucus will have a heavy responsibility to our party and to our country. Its responsibility is to unite behind the new leader chosen by this convention, to work as a team to help the new leader... those, if any, who call themselves Progressive Conservative Members of Parliament and who do not want to play on the team, they’ll sit on the bench. And if they don’t behave on the bench, they will be put on waivers.”

If unity was the aim of the convention, Clark was the perfect candidate, which he demonstrated by attracting the support of candidates Flora MacDonald, John Fraser, Jim Gillies and Heward Grafftey as well as Stevens. (Wagner drew support from John Diefenbaker and candidates Hellyer, Horner and Nowlan. Mulroney and Stanfield remained neutral.) After Clark’s win, pledges of loyalty and unity began to pour in, beginning with Wagner’s gracious speech, in which he moved to make the convention’s choice unanimous: “We must translate this dream (of a French-Canadian leader) into loyalty to our new leader, which we should demonstrate in a way so that this party will become the voice of all Canadians.” Pledges of loyalty have, of course, been broken in the past. In 1967, it was Diefenbaker who mounted the platform to appeal for unity on behalf of Robert Stanfield: “For him,

above all else, I ask loyalty from the rank and file of this party.” Diefenbaker then spent the next eight years undermining Stanfield’s leadership before relenting at last month’s convention. But Clark, heeding Stanfield’s warning, promised to get tough if necessary: “We have to function as a team. If some players do not wish to play, then I will have to ask them to leave the team.”

The biggest internal problem for Clark could be his age (36) and relatively short term in the Commons (three years). A generation gap could develop between the new leader and some of the more senior Tories in the Commons. The contrast was vivid on the convention floor before the last ballot as Hellyer, 52, first elected to the Commons in 1949, and Horner, 48, first elected in 1958, joined Wagner in his box. Clark was surrounded by younger, fresher faces, people first elected in 1972, or, as they call themselves, “The Class of ’72.” Clark is expected to bump MPS such as George Hees, 65, Angus MacLean, 61, Eldon Woolliams, 59, and Marcel Lambert, 56, all of whom have served at least 18 years in the Commons, off the front bench and replace them with such Class of ’72 members as Flora MacDonald, 49, Sinclair Stevens, 49, Doug Roche, 46, and Jake Epp, 36. The move would give the party a fresh face, but it would also exacerbate tensions within. To make the move easier for Clark and to set an example, Stanfield is expected to shift voluntarily from his front bench seat to back benches in a few weeks time. If he can overcome the internal divisions and build on the initial goodwill that greets any new leader, Clark

has a good chance of ousting the Liberals, in power since 1963 and 59 of the past 80 years. The latest Gallup poll shows the Liberals and Tories are neck-and-neck in popular support with 39% and 37% respectively, and a whopping 42% undecided.

The Liberals profess to be unconcerned. Said one senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office: “I think the Tories passed over three people who could have been more trouble to us: Flora MacDonald, Brian Mulroney and Claude Wagner/’ Clark isn’t paying any attention to such jibes. On his first day at work after winning the leadership, he declared: “My whole premise in all of this is that we can’t predict what leader the Liberals will have or what issues the next election will be fought over. That is much more in their hands than mine. All we can do is put ourselves in shape. And that means organization and projecting a sense of competent alternative government. Those are what are on my mind.” IAN URQUHART