Canada

A study in contrasts

GRAHAM FRASER February 20 1978
Canada

A study in contrasts

GRAHAM FRASER February 20 1978

A study in contrasts

QUEBEC

At the back of a Sherbrooke hall full of chanting, cheering Liberals who were applauding provincial leadership candidates Claude Ryan and Raymond Garneau, one party member turned to a friend with a smile and said, “You know, I think Ryan’s getting off on this.” So it seems. After a month of vigorous campaigning, with two months left until the April 15 leadership vote, both the former publisher of Le Devoir and the former Bourassa finance minister give every indication that they are having a wonderful time.

So far, the two are in a close battle for the job of leader of the opposition in Quebec— and leader of the federalist fight against

the Parti Québécois in the referendum debate. Both have strong support, each with an equal number of party regional presidents, while Ryan has a slight edge of eight declared supporters to seven among Garneau’s 25 colleagues in the National Assembly. But the contrasts are striking. Ryan brings a reputation made outside the Liberal Party, of which he is often critical,

while Garneau’s strength is based on strong party loyalties that go back almost 20 years.

The contest has been dubbed a fight between “the man of the situation” and “the man of the party” or, as one reporter said a bit sourly after his third regional meeting: “It’s a funny fight—between an old rookie and a young hack.” Ryan must show that he has the partisan punch to woo skeptical party faithful who are still bitter about the fact that he endorsed the Parti Québécois in the last election, while Garneau has to prove he is more than just a faceless technocrat who spent six years in Robert Bourassa’s cabinet. Ryan seems to be gaining a slight edge in support at regional meetings,

and is learning quickly how to charm a Liberal crowd. But Garneau supporters complain that this has been done by artfully packing halls with supporters.

While Garneau stresses a return to private enterprise and internal party reforms, Ryan makes it clear he is approaching many of the Parti Québécois social reforms—and Parti Québécois voters—with an open mind. He got his wildest applause when he read a letter from a financial contributor who sent in his PQ membership card as proof of his conversion.

So far the battle has been polite, but tensions may soon rise. At each meeting, Ryan repeats his conclusion that the Liberals lost to the PQ in 1976 because of a “catastrophic weakening in leadership,” and has made it clear that he does not exempt Garneau from that criticism. The inevitable identification of Garneau with the still-discredited Robert Bourassa infuriates some of his supporters. “Bourassa had an inner circle of confidants to which he turned for guidance,” said one Garneau man: “If you counted the number of times he consulted Claude Ryan, they would be in the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds. When people identify Garneau with Bourassa, and Ryan as pure ...” The man just glared in frustration, unable to finish his sen-

tence.

GRAHAM FRASER