Canadian News

On the road and on the ropes

Robert Lewis December 18 1978
Canadian News

On the road and on the ropes

Robert Lewis December 18 1978

On the road and on the ropes

Only the Liberal party’s professional optimists are convinced that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau can win the next election. Typically, a longtime Trudeau loyalist talks with resignation about "the defeat" and expresses the hope that at least Trudeau will stay on as a feisty Opposition leader. In Ontario, a few leading Liberals even thought of asking Trudeau to resign if last week’s Gallup poll results were bad— which they were.

Trudeau, however, was nowhere to be seen in the frosty capital. The day Gallup reported that Joe Clark’s Conservatives had shot to a 45-35 percentage lead over the Liberals, Trudeau flew to Europe for private talks with Britain’s Prime Minister James Callaghan and French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.

Curiously, Trudeau, who gets his best

publicity on the world stage, went out of his way to avoid the press. His office discouraged Canadian reporters from covering the trip and turned aside interview requests from Europeans. Trudeau himself asked for an inconspicuous suite at the fabled Ritz in Paris—at 1,100 francs, or roughly $275 per night—and left word with the hotel staff that he wanted "total calm.”

It was the stuff to inspire Trudeauwatchers to new heights of speculation about his future plans at a time when his every move is assayed by political panhandlers. There were unconfirmed reports

that Trudeau intimates Senator Jean Marchand and Ambassador Gérard Pelletier were urging the PM to step down because of his bleak prospects for re-election.

Trudeau flatly denied the reports about Marchand ("simply not true,” as he allowed privately), but no one seemed to know what he discussed with Pelletier at meetings in Ottawa, and during four days of "private time” Trudeau planned in France after his meeting with Giscard. It is

always possible that Trudeau secretly has made up his mind to leave office and to move to a high-profile international diplomatic job, with the backing of the British and French, although his close associates doubt that he plans to resign. Marchand, denying that he had urged Trudeau to quit, told Maclean’s: “I would not urge the prime minister to step down unless there is a clear substitute.” Is there one? "I don’t see anybody.”

That may come as a shock to Toronto lawyer John Turner, but it is a view shared by many elected or aspiring Liberal MPS. Says one candidate, reflecting the fatalistic mood, "I’d much rather lose the election with Trudeau and keep the party intact than to make the cynical move, bring in Old Blue Eyes, and then lose to Joe Clark anyway.” The cynical move might just work, however. A Gallup poll reported at week’s end that with Turner as leader, the Liberals would be favored over Clark’s Conservatives by 44-39 per cent.

Robert Lewis with correspondents’ files