There are no magic windows through which any country can view what lies ahead, but from the vantage point of the past turbulent 12 months it looks as though 1977 could be one of those pivotal years that will decide Canada's future. Debates on all the major issues—Quebec’s place within Confederation, construction of the Arctic gas pipeline, the war against inflation—have long been joined, but it will be during 1977 that a national consensus will begin to develop on how these and other major problems will be resolved.
The foremost question will be Quebec’s status and, by implication, whether Canadians have the desire and will to stay together. The future of this 109-year-old country cannot be decided in the next 12 months. But as the debate between Ottawa and Quebec heats up, the tone should at least suggest the outlines of Canadian society for the Eighties, and beyond.
The first test of “federalism” will come in Quebec, where four by-elections* will be held. There also will be a bubbling of partisan pots throughout the year in anticipation of a full-dress national election expected in 1978, Trudeau has toyed publicly with the notion of an election before 1978,
telling a press there are “circumstances where I would try to finesse Mr. Lévesque’s referendum.” But in a year-end appearance on CTV, taped the day before the conference, Trudeau suggested that Quebec Premier René Lévésque might never hold a referendum if he thought he might lose it. Trudeau then told his troops, “My orders right here are . .. to start preparing for an election a year-and-a-half down the road.” Stirring up election speculation was one way for Trudeau to underline the fact, given Lévesque’s victory, that the PM now has an issue that will allow him to dominate again. He is fudging the fact that, after eight years in office concentrating on Quebec, the people of his native province rejected a federalist-leaning party in favor of the Parti Québécois. As a result, the opposition party leaders in Ottawa are scrambling to define their positions. An aide to NDP leader Ed Broadbent notes that, while the NDP will stress solutions to unemployment as a central part of preserving national unity, “Trudeau is in charge on the (Quebec) issue. How can Clark or Broadbent top him on that?” A Clark adviser, conceding that there are rumbles in the party about “The Leader’s” performance, observes, “Our number one strategic problem at the moment ,is to define Clark’s leadership style. A lot of people seem to want Trudeau, without warts. We’ve got to get it across that warts are an intrinsic part of Trudeau.”
Clark must first deal with his own blemishes, in particular growing complaints within Tory ranks that he hasn’t really taken charge. In recent weeks party supporters and rivals alike have talked candidly with reporters about Clark’s flaws. In a brutal summation crafted for The Toronto Star, Dalton Camp, who led the antiDiefenbaker forces in the mid-Sixties, wrote: “The trouble with Joe Clark is that, of necessity, he is still running for the leadership of his own party ... In the minds of some Conservatives of larger calibre there is some doubt, when their national leader enters the room, as to whether they should stand up or send him out for coffee.” By way of reply, a Clark loyalist explains, “This is a party that can’t take success. We are ahead in the polls.”
One factor contributing to Clark’s problems—a recent private Tory poll in Ontario indicated a slippage in support in that allimportant battleground—is the perception that he doesn’t take clear stands on major issues. This month, as a result, Clark belatedly will name the 20 members of a policy advisory committee and one planner promises “some policy component” at the party’s annual meeting in the fall.
Trudeau’s strategy is to flush Clark out on issues. The Prime Minister used his annual CTV appearance to reiterate his 10year-old stand that the solution to keeping
* Three vacancies in Quebec were caused when Liberal MPS Bryce Mackasey, Jean Marchand and Roland Comtois resigned to run in the Quebec election. The fourth Quebec vacancy occurred when Liberal MP Albanie Morin died of cancer. A fifth vacancy is in PEI, where Angus MacLean resigned to become provincial Conservative leader.
Quebec in Confederation is more of the same policies on bilingualism and regional economic incentives. Trudeau also warned it would b'e “a very serious mistake if we sort of forgot about inflation and unemployment and just began concentrating on constitutional or national unity issues. The economy is every bit as important now as it was before the fifteenth of November [the day of the Quebec election].”
The other issue of momentous import for Canada’s future is the decision facing the government on several applications to build an Arctic gas pipeline. In its scope and cost, the proposed pipeline dwarft the construction 91 years ago of the Canadian Pacific Railway. At issue are two conflicting claims, the resolution of which will reflect a crucialjudgment on national values. On the one hand, the multinational corporate structure wants to insure security of energy supplies for hungry markets in southern Canada and the United States. On the other, native groups and their supporters want to preserve traditional lifestyles in the North. Guiding Ottawa in the deliberations will be the eagerly awaited report of BC Supreme Court judge Tom Berger on the social and ecological impact of the proposed, eight-billion-dollar Mackenzie Valley line (see page 30).
Hearings also continue before the National Energy Board on the escalating costs of several pipeline proposals and the low level of proven reserves which cast doubt on earlier assertions by companies on delivery. Informed Ottawa speculation is “no pipeline in the immediate future.”
The year will also be rich in other issues that, in normal times, would be regarded as crucial:
Finance: Donald Macdonald, Minister of Finance, in addition to overseeing the antiinflation campaign, must get a new bank act approved by June. He will bring in a new budget, probably with tax cuts, in the spring and he will introduce a bill incorporating tax-sharing agreements reached by
the 11 first ministers last month (see Maclean’s, December 27).
Justice: A special review on abortion law will be published early this year. Justice Minister Ron Basford also intends to bring back a watered-down gun control bill and to introduce changes in divorce law removing the concept of blame in marriage breakdowns.
Energy: Beyond the pipeline issue, there will be oil price increases, in response to recent OPEC hikes and as part of the policy of allowing Canadian prices to rise to international levels.
Parliament: Two intramural house-
keeping matters also hold out the promise of enhancing parliament’s credibility. Televising Commons debates is a high government priority, in part because the Liberals feel Trudeau can outperform Clark before the cameras. The Tories, perhaps sensing the same scenario, have reservations.
More significantly, House Leader Allan MacEachen is determined to push through new conflict of interest rules for MPS and senators in an attempt to help restore public confidence in politicians. Current proposals before cabinet call for disclosure of assets over a fixed amount by both politicians and their spouses. MacEachen also vows that unless he wins cabinet’s approval to bar senators from holding corporate directorships, he won’t proceed with the legislation.
But inevitably, the focus in Ottawa will be on Pierre Trudeau rather than legislation. Despite his more conventional style, Trudeau continues to be ever enigmatic on Quebec. In his year-end reflections, the PM suggested that if Lévesque loses a referendum “very badly, he obviously would have failed in his raison d’être and ... he would go away.” By the same standard, said Trudeau, “if Quebec were to vote very massively for a separation ... I would have failed and I would silently go away, perhaps to fight another day in some other field.” In a private moment before the Quebec election, Trudeau expressed his thinking more directly. The election of a PQ government, he said then, “wouldn’t be the end of the world. I would have fought the good fight.” ROBERT LEWIS
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