Energy: Canada

War within the Tory Triangle

Robert Lewis November 12 1979
Energy: Canada

War within the Tory Triangle

Robert Lewis November 12 1979

War within the Tory Triangle

Robert Lewis

Toronto, May 17, 1979: Joe Clark’s national election tour is visibly out of starch five days before the vote—and Ontario Premier Bill Davis comes to the rescue. As Davis looks down at a crowd of 2,000 mustered by his organizers for the evening rally, his ruddy cheeks and banker's vivid blues reflect the vision below of suburban comfort and content. “Joe,” he proclaims by way of introduction, “isn't tied to the battles of the past. He has offered Canadians a chance to work with the federal government, to work with each other. ”

Calgary, May 20,1979: Clark is home in the West for his last formal rally two days before the people speak. On the edge of the city's sprawl at a lavish equestrian complex, Peter Lougheed joins Clark on a platform slung over a sawdust floor in an arena jammed with folks more loyal to Lougheed than Clark. “One of my friends, ” says Clark to the cheers, “is Peter Lougheed. Another of my friends is Bill Davis. We will approach disagreements in an atmosphere of mutual trust. ”

In the months after his election, Clark strove for what he termed “a new partnership,” which he signalled in a series of

concessions to the regions: off-shore oil and gas ownership to governments on the coasts, control of lotteries, provincehood for the Yukon. The word went out to seven Tory premiers that they were to be first among the others in having a say on federal appointments * As the first westernborn PM, Clark symbolized the breakup of the Toronto-centred Family Compact— underlined in a style borrowed from All in the Family. But now, after a public spat in

the household over the price of oil, the Clark-Lougheed-Davis alliance has taken on the air of a menacing ménage à trois. Clark desperately hopes to avoid resorting to battlefield first-aid methods to mend the wounds. But the new Tory Triangle, as one Alberta MP confesses, is “a zero sum game: there will be no winners from this bloody decision.”

*Nova Scotia Premier John Buchanan even had the last word: he vetoed the planned appointment of Haligonian Finlay MacDonald to the Senate. Buchanan, who resented MacDonald's participation in the dump-Diefenbaker movement of the '60s and MacDonald's expressed doubts about Buchanan 's chances of victory in the provincial election, held out for the subsequent appointment of former attorney-general Richard Donahoe.

The irony is that Clark now may be forced to impose a solution on two strong, fueding brothers in the very manner he accused Trudeau of adopting. The remedy would be all the more painful, if only because of old ties between three camps which have fashioned the modern Tory party in the last decade.

In Alberta, Lougheed led the faithful out of the wilderness in 1971 after 36 years of Social Credit monopoly—and the Clark

family was there. Joe, then president of the national student PCS, persuaded his father, Charles, to add rural balance to Lougheed’s leadership bid in 1965 by seconding his nomination. In the provincial election in 1967, Clark narrowly lost election to the legislature, where the PCS formed the official Opposition of six. When Clark subsequently was elected to Parliament in 1972, he retained his connections from Lougheed’s camp which proved so valuable in his own leaderhip race in 1976. At the time, Harvie Andre was the only Alberta MP supporting Clark. Lougheed, while appearing privately to favor Montreal’s Brian Mulroney, adopted a public stance of benign neutrality. It was left to two junior Lougheed loyalists to provide key organizational muscle for Clark: Dave King, now Lougheed’s education minister, and Jim Foster, former provincial attorney-general. In the last federal election, Clark’s Alberta campaign manager was Bob Dinkel, who has run Lougheed campaigns since the majority victory in 1971.

In Ontario, where Bill Davis is the latest exponent of the Tory art of regeneration, the PCS pioneered a system of slick advance work based around a dedicated team of young executives on leave from corporations. Davis loaned the Big Blue Machine to every federal campaign since

1972. At no time was the gift so golden as in 1979, where cool efficiency banished the lingering logistical nightmares of Clark’s world tour. One Machine graduate, Paul Curley, was even picked by Clark to become national party director—but not until he had stuck a foot in the western camp during a stint with Calgary-based Esso Resources Canada Ltd. In his own office, Clark’s two top strategists on the energy beat are Ontarians: Bill Neville, chief of staff, and Jim Gillies, the former MP who is co-ordinating the negotiations with Alberta and Ontario. One of their key connections is Jim Seymour, energy adviser in the Alberta government Ottawa office and a friend of Lougheed’s since childhood. (It is a mark of how proud institutions get out of date that the maître d’ at the Château Laurier Grill actually asked Neville for his name when he recently took Seymour there for lunch.) As if there were any doubts about Ontario’s political importance to Clark, Davis pointedly reminded the faithful in September that the party “delivered” 58 of Clark’s 136 seats, and that the group should fight to protect Ontario’s interests.

Lougheed made the same pitch to Alberta's 20-member federal contingent. By all accounts it was a bare-knuckled harangue about not letting the province down.

Says one participant “We were made to feel like naughty little schoolchildren.”

Hints that Davis and Lougheed regard Clark as something of a family junior underlie the public debate. Earlier this fall after meeting privately with Clark in Toronto, Davis concluded that the feds were dismissing Ontario’s stand. As a remedy Davis called in Tom Kierans, an investment executive and head of the Ontario Economic Council, whom Clark just happened to be wooing as a potential energy czar in his office. Kierans warned Clark that the Davis stand was not a bluff. Lougheed’s doubts about Clark are written in the unauthorized biography of the premier by Allan Hustak. He quotes a Lougheed associate saying that Clark’s near-victory in the 1967 election “came too close for Peter’s good. He wasn’t of the calibre that Peter wanted for his team.”

Overriding the family feud, of course, is the more lasting issue of the new centre of power in Canada. As a westerner Clark cannot ignore the implied threats of Alberta-firsters. His region’s history is rich with a tradition of populist protest, which spanned the creation of the CCF, the United Farmers of Alberta and the Progressives of the ’20s. “Westerners,” notes Stanley Roberts of the Canada West Foundation, "are looking for a new deal in Confederation ... or else." Inside the troubled Tory Triangle, there is a less genteel rendering of that claim. “The West is out for retribution,” notes one Davis adviser, sipping his scotch at a regular Tory watering hole. "They want our ass!” All the signs, including the push for world-price oil, suggest they are going to get it. The apex is pointing west.