Canadian News

Travel test for a PM-in-waiting

Robert Lewis January 8 1979
Canadian News

Travel test for a PM-in-waiting

Robert Lewis January 8 1979

Travel test for a PM-in-waiting

Canadian News

At the first North America division of Gaimusho, Japan's foreign min-

istry, the cables have been clattering in over the wire from Ottawa in recent weeks. The messages have nothing to do with the political situation in Quebec or the level of coal deposits in British Columbia—but rather with Conservative leader Joe Clark, who arrives in Tokyo next Sunday to start a four-nation world tour.*

For the Japanese, ruled since 1955 by

the business-dominated Liberal-Democratic Party, the concept of an officially designated opposition leader has required a modicum of explanation. The Japanese embassy in Ottawa also has pressed home the point that Clark now stands 10 points ahead of Pierre Trudeau in the polls and that a federal election is expected early this year. “We are trying very hard,” notes a senior Japanese official as he details the efforts to arrange for Clark to see the new prime minister, Masayoshi Ohira, who last month ousted Takeo Fukuda. “But the government will be busy doing its bud-

get-planning until mid-January.”

In the capitals of India, Israel and Jordan similar efforts are under way, with an eye on Canadian Gallup polls, to ensure top-level meetings with the young man from Alberta who could be prime minister of Canada. From New Delhi the word came last week that India’s Prime Minister Morarji Desai will meet with Clark, who will be an official guest of the state. Sessions with Israeli leader Menachem Begin and Jordan’s King Hussein are still tentative.

Who Clark sees and, more importantly, how he conducts himself will be the crucial elements of the mission which is costing the Conservative party $25,000. A major concern of Clark’s staff is the accompanying party of 14 reporters, whose organizations are picking up the $4,000-per-correspondent tab for a view of the prime minister-in-waiting abroad. Clark strategists are anxious to avoid a damaging media circus. Perhaps mindful of the leader’s poor performance on a European trip in the fall of 1976, a Clark adviser notes sombrely: “After all, this is an opposition leader going on a learning experience. There will be no treaty signings and we are not going to sell any wheat.”

But six months before an expected Canadian election, Clark can scarcely avoid comparisons with Pierre Trudeau. Indeed, Clark already has taken himself out of his accustomed role in planning a meeting with Indira Ghandi. Now that she has emerged from jail as the principal thorn in the side of Desai’s embattled Janata party, Clark will first sound out his hosts about the politics of meeting the most visible opposition leader on the stump in India today.

Robert Lewis

*An overnight stop in Athens is essentially a jet-lag cure.