In Ottawa over Christmas, a reporter contemplating his summer vacation expressed his concern to a cabinet minister that a federal election might interfere with his plans. The minister told him not to worry: the election will have come and gone by summer. That forecast is being widely echoed around Ottawa this month as the capital tunes up for Fight Night. While Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau could, constitutionally, delay calling an election until the summer of 1979, no one expects him to wait that long.
Trudeau, who alone must make the final decision, has warned against premature speculation. “It’s too soon to begin that game again,” he told a year-end press conference. But the game has already begun. One minister—Dan MacDonald of veterans’ affairs—even made public his prediction of a fall election. He reasoned that by then Canadians will have learned to “accept their responsibilities and live closer together, and Canada will have developed better foreign trade relations.”
But most signs point to a spring campaign. In February, the government will host a federal-provincial “summit” on the economy, to be followed by introduction of a constitutional reform package to parliament, all capped by a national Liberal o convention in Ottawa. The three events are
designed to create a launching pad for a spring election, to be called in March for May. The key element in the decisionmaking process could be the February Gallup poll, to be released in early March. “If it shows we’re at least six points ahead,” promises one prime ministerial aide, “an election call would be a safe bet.”
The most recent Gallup, released in early December, showed the Liberals 10 percentage points in front with 44% of the decided voters compared to 34% for the Conservatives. The trend, however, was running against the Liberals, who led by as much as 24 points (51% to 27%) last summer. Most observers have attributed this decline in Liberal popularity to the country’s poor economic performance and the shift in public attention from national unity to jobs and inflation. The federalprovincial economic conference in February is meant to arrest this trend by demonstrating that the government is doing something about the economy and by spreading responsibility to the provinces. But the conference could backfire. The provincial premiers, for example, particularly Tories Bill Davis of Ontario and Peter Lougheed of Alberta, may not go along with Trudeau. And the public might view the gathering as just so much window dressing. If the conference is a bust and
economic news continues to be ba'd, Trudeau might delay an election until fall. If not, “then, to no one’s surprise, we will have a federal election—in April, say, or May,” predicts Conservative guru Dalton Camp. “The centrepiece of the Liberal election campaign will be the new economic charter for Canada, which, as we will be told in story and song, will make the land prosperous once more.”
Actually, the charter that emerges from the conference will not be a centrepiece in the next election so much as a diversion. It will allow the Liberals to concentrate on national unity, Trudeau’s favorite issue. In effect, Trudeau will be running against Quebec premier René Lévesque—not the opposition parties in Ottawa—and Lévesque has already indicated he intends to respond. It is a situation designed to frustrate Conservative leader Joe Clark, who plans to run directly against Trudeau. The Tory campaign will try to cast doubt on Trudeau’s trustworthiness, in view of his creel of broken promises from the last campaign, and to question his sympathy
for tne average Canadian struggling against inflation and unemployment. Armed with polls showing the public thinks they would do a better job managing the economy, the Conservatives also plan to attack Trudeau’s fiscal record without actually saying what they would do differently.
It is a campaign strategy that might work in English Canada, especially Ontario, where the most seats (95 of a total of 282) are at stake. But Quebec remains a graveyard for Clark and the Conservatives, and Ontario has a tradition of withholding votes from a national leader who cannot attract support in Quebec. Clark’s own French has improved considerably since he was elected party leader in February, 1976, but he still sounds foreign to Frenchspeaking Quebeckers. Clark’s selection of an anglophone executive from Bell Canada, Keith Morgan, to run his Quebec campaign seems odd. Compounding the problem, Claude Wagner, Clark’s unofficial Quebec lieutenant, has been ill since last summer. The Conservatives do not expect him to run again in the next election. Wagner’s successor, by default, is Roch LaSalle, the Conservatives’ only other
francophone MP. His views often lean toward the Quebec government and he could be an embarrassment to Clark during the election campaign. One prominent Quebec Tory predicts the party will win just one seat in Quebec—LaSalle’s.
If the Conservatives are weak in Quebec, the New Democrats are off the map. They have never won a seat in the province and appear unlikely to mar that perfect record this year as they rest their hopes on consumer advocate Phil Edmonston, an American-born anglophone who lost a byelection in Montreal last May. The NDP will concentrate its resources outside Quebec, however, in the 50-odd ridings where the party finished first or second in recent elections. By making the economy a central issue and, unlike the Conservatives, offering defined alternatives to government policies, the NDP hopes to crawl back to the high of 31 seats the party attained in 1972 before dropping back to 16 in 1974. Marked out for special attention by the NDP are Transport Minister Otto Lang in Saskatoon and Commons Speaker James Jerome in economically troubled Sudbury. But the Liberals have a plan of their own to run Oshawa Mayor Jim Pottecary against
Ed Broadbent, a move that may tie the NDP leader to his own riding more than he would like.
On the fringes, the Créditistes are still a force in Quebec, although the party has leadership problems since the deaths of Réal Caouette in 1976 and his successor, André Fortin, in a car accident last year. Caouette’s son, Gilles, is the new leader, but he has yet to be confirmed by a party convention. Rumors persist that some Créditiste MPS will cross the floor to join the Liberals before the election. Others may simply retire.
There is a long list of retiring MPS, including former cabinet ministers Mitchell Sharp, Donald Macdonald and Bud Drury former Conservative leader Robert Stanfield and former NDP leader Tommy Douglas. Their departures, plus the creation of 18 new seats in parliament through redistribution, have opened vacancies for a gallery of new faces, and the parties are trying to coax “name” candidates into the race, particularly in Toronto. There, the Liberals are chasing John Evans, president of the University of Toronto, and Paul Cosgrove, mayor of suburban Scarborough. The Conservatives are making a de-
The years have not been that unkind
As Pierre Trudeau approaches his fourth election, and the completion of 10 turbulent years as Prime Minister, the camera records both that he has aged and that he has aged well. Directly below he fights the 1968 campaign, and below that, at his dandiest, he attends the 1970 Grey Cup game. Hand in hand with Margaret (right) he fought the 1972 election, a setback rectified in the 1974 campaign (below centre). Finally, in the spring of 1977, post-breakup and in ski gear, he is again the cat who walks by himself.
termined effort to get Toronto mayor David Crombie, and the New Democrats would like to run ex-Waffler Jim Laxer.
One person who will not be a candidate for any party is former finance minister John Turner.
In Quebec, the Conservatives are scrambling for a candidate of stature. They would love to get Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau but he seems more interested in staying where he is. The Liberals, too, would like some new blood in Quebec to replace nondescript backbenchers and are pursuing Laurent Picard, former president of the CBC. Bryce Mackasey, who left federal politics to run provincially, is floating his own name as a possible candidate, but not everyone in Ottawa is excited about the prospect of having him back.
No matter how many new faces emerge, however, the election will still revolve around Trudeau. It will be his fourth, and perhaps last, as Prime Minister. In an interview with CTV’S Bruce Phillips, he said his future after the next election is “an open question” and added: “When Mr. Lévesque loses his referendum and loses his next election, I may lose interest in politics. I will have felt that, well, we’ve closed that book for a while.” IANURQUHART
Meanwhile, back at the seashore
While Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau ponders the timing of the next federal election, the four Atlantic premiers will be anxiously awaiting his decision. Provincial elections are due in all four Atlantic provinces this year and the premiers will not want to seethe feds overwhelm their campaigns. If the federal election is in the spring, they will likely wait until the fall.
The most interesting of the four elections will be in New Brunswick, where Conservative premier Richard Hatfield stands a real chance of being beaten by Liberal Robert Higgins. Hatfield, 46, has become somewhat of a national figure lately with his strong appeals for national unity and his efforts to get the Englishspeaking provinces to recognize French minority rights. But in his own province he is best known for the Bricklin fiasco—the province lost $23 million investing in the
ill-fated sports car—and for an alleged tollgate scheme involving government contracts. Nonetheless, if a proposed new potash mine near Sussex and a liquefied natural gas terminal in Saint John get off the ground this year, the economic boost may save Hatfield.
In Nova Scotia, economic troubles will again be the central issue; there is even open discussion of people driven to suicide in unemployment plagued Cape Breton. But Liberal premier Gerald Regan, 48, has been given a lift by development of a new coal mine in Stellarton and by federal aid to refurbish the Sydney Steel mill and Halifax port facilities. Regan, who is being wooed by the federal Liberals, will also be helped by the ineptness of Conservative leader John Buchanan, the target of recurring ouster plots.
Newfoundland premier Frank Moores, 44, also must overcome considerable economic woes to hold onto power but nevertheless should have no trouble beating new Liberal leader Bill Rowe, who was actually his party’s third choice. Tory Moores may borrow a Trudeau gambit and run his campaign against René Lévesque and Parti Québécois plans to annex Labrador.
In Prince Edward Island, Liberal Alex Campbell has been premier for 12 years but is still just 44. He is expected to crush his bland Tory opponent, Angus MacLean, 63, in an issueless campaign. The Tories’ only hope is that Campbell will tire of PEÍ and defect to Ottawa—something the federal Liberals would like to see but is not at all likely to occur.
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