Cover Story

Top-dollar men: Who would Clark pick for Finance?

Ian Urquhart October 30 1978
Cover Story

Top-dollar men: Who would Clark pick for Finance?

Ian Urquhart October 30 1978

Top-dollar men: Who would Clark pick for Finance?

Last week’s Tory triumphs brought problems as well for Joe Clark. Just as the coach of the Montreal Canadiens must contend with too many good players competing for too few positions, Clark now faces a surplus of MPS who feel they deserve cabinet status. The problem is most acute in the finance portfolio, where Robert de Cotret, the economist who won Ottawa Centre, joins Toronto-area MP Sinclair Stevens as a candidate for the job.

Ever since the 1976 Conservative leadership convention, Stevens has seemed the natural choice for finance minister in a Clark government. It was felt Clark owed him the position because, without Stevens’ support at the convention, he would never have become leader. After the convention, Clark kept Stevens as finance critic in his shadow cabinet.

But Clark’s office, worried about Stevens’ wheeler-dealer image, has tried to dampen speculation that the 51-year-old lawyer would get the portfolio. There is concern that Stevens, because of his track record, could become a liability to Clark if it were widely believed he would become finance minister. In the 1960s, Stevens was the key organizer of the ill-fated Bank of Western Canada, which expired in 1968, dragging a lot of investors down with it but leaving Stevens relatively unscathed. As a result, the financial community, whose endorsement is crucial for any finance minister, views Stevens as a buccaneer.

Clark himself refuses to speculate on his choice for finance or any other portfolio. But he adds: “I’m not going to operate on [the basis of) debts. I am going to operate on the basis of experience acquired with people.” Reading between the lines, Clark seems to be leaning toward De Cotret, the newcomer, as his choice for finance and away from Stevens, the loyalist. De Cotret, formerly head of the Conference Board, a business-oriented economic forecasting

agency, undeniably possesses some of the necessary qualifications for the job. He is bright, a small-c conservative, and humorless. (Big Business does not appreciate finance ministers who crack jokes, as does Jean Chrétien.) But De Cotret is also young (34 and looks 25) and politically inexperienced. His profession may work against him as well because, in the British parliamentary tradition, experts in a particular field are not normally given a ministry in the same area. Thus, no one with a doctorate in economics has ever been minister of finance in Canada,

As an alternative, Clark might opt for John Crosbie, the well-connected Newfoundland lawyer who came to Ottawa in the 1976 byelections. Crosbie has age (47) and experience (formerly minister of finance in Newfoundland) on his side. But he also has a well-developed sense of humor and is the object of a mudslinging campaign by John Doyle, the American promoter now living in Panama who faces fraud charges in Newfoundland, where he crossed Crosbie several years ago. No one takes seriously Doyle's charges of “improper acts” by Crosbie, but they could prove troublesome for a finance minister.

Ian Urquhart