COVER STORY

HERE WE GO AGAIN

Robert Lewis December 24 1979
COVER STORY

HERE WE GO AGAIN

Robert Lewis December 24 1979

HERE WE GO AGAIN

COVER STORY

Robert Lewis

"Canada,” the English poet Rupert Brooke once opined, “is a live country, live, but not, like the States, kicking.” Wyndham Lewis snorted about “a sanctimonious icebox,” Voltaire “a few arpents of snow,” and Andrei Gromyko “the boring second fiddle in the American symphony.” It is lamentable that those gentlemen won’t be around to judge the “Canada is not boring, because ...” contest on February 18—the second federal election in nine months, and only the sixth such slog through ice and snow since Confederation; or that they never encountered the likes of a finance minister with a million ounces of gold for sale on a Tuesday evening, coining only campaign catchwords by Thursday; or that they probably never got to see—not Gromyko, anyway—a political party forcing an election without a designated leader; or that they will miss freezing rain in Corner Brook, CD fog in Victoria and the 24-hour g night of Inuvik as grown men m and women swoop and whoop upon the populace. “Some kind of queer disease,” sniffed Finance Minister John Crosbie, whose 20-page “Bodjit” last week served as the basic text for a production owing more to Aristophanes than Aristotle—with a rewrite by Hunter S. Thompson.

It all started innocently enough when, under the provisions of Standing Order 60 (6), the House of Commons was required to vote on a sub-amendment to the budget resolution penned by the NDP’s Bob Rae condemning the government for “outright betrayal of its election promises . . .” Within 29 hours the Liberals mustered all but one of their 113 voting members and joined 27 New Democrats, the gang of five

Créditistes under Fabien Roy declared its intention to abstain, and the government was toppled 139-133.

By week’s end, with Joe Clark and Ed Broadbent already deep in details for cross-country swings before Christmas, the Liberal caucus in Ottawa, backed by a Saturday meeting of the national executive, was pleading with Pierre Trudeau, in the words of chairman Jacques Guilbault, “to come back to fight, to win and to govern.” Trudeau, Maclean's has learned, participated personally in the drive to round up members for the vote and, indirectly, helped set the stage for a draft return. Clark, meanwhile,

sought to bury memories of his shaky seven months in office with a display of crisp confidence that Canadians are prepared to swallow the budget and new energy' policies as bitter tonics to ward off advancing economic ills. At first blush, the Liberal tactics had the ring of a battle plan from Mad magazine, not Machiavelli. But emboldened by booze at a Christmas party the night before the vote on Thursday and the equally heady elixir of their 19-point lead over the Tories in the last Gallup poll, they convinced themselves that the Clark years were over—a mere 206 days after his election last May 22.

If, as expected, Trudeau this week responds with favor to his party’s well-orchestrated appeal, the campaign to come will be anything but a replay of the days of May. En route from Jerusalem to Petrocan, the Clark government did not pass any important new legislation (see story page 17). But Clark did put flesh on his gangling view of governance. No matter who eventually heads the Liberals, Clark’s plans and posture, in most respects, will be an antithesis: deep spending cuts in provinces, more open and informal government and the end of what he dismisses as “gunslinger federalism.” That the zany nature of the call could produce a campaign of sharp contrast on issues is only a minor mystery in a week of wackiness.

TUESDAY

It seemed somehow demonic that John Crosbie’s new $117 moosehide and sealskin moccasins had no soles and that he got his feet wet padding around in the night with the first Tory budget in 17 years*. “Don’t be defensive,” Crosbie admonished the Conservative caucus. “This is an offensive Bodjit.”

And how: a boost in oil prices, new

taxes on gasoline, tobacco, alcohol, cosmetics and photofinishing; the prospect of wages lagging and inflation soaring to double digits until 1982. Crosbie pledged “short-term pain for long-term gain,” notably a reduced deficit and better growth through the ’80s. There was some selected sweetening, too: an energy tax credit to offset higher oil and gas prices for families earning under $25,780, tax deductions for salaries paid to a spouse by the boss in the same business, tax deferrals on capital gains up to $100,000 for farmers and a bunch of goodies for rural Canada, including increased exemptions for volunteer firemen, and lower prices on Bible recordings and bird-scaring devices.

WEDNESDAY

Predictably, the Opposition uttered screams of its own —but no one seriously believed that the routine noncon-

*In a lyrical close to his budget speech, Crosbie invoked the memory of his grandfather, Sir John Crosbie, delivering his fifth and last Newfoundland budget 51 years before. But this finance minister personally edited out a reference to the actual year—12 months before the Crash of '29 and four years before the financial collapse of Newfoundland.

fidence motions by Liberal and NDP members would carry. Just in case, though, the Liberal caucus sounded Trudeau out about his plans if the government went down. He told the troops it was their decision, but that he would need the backing of his caucus and the national executive. Then, quietly, he involved himself in whip cracking by asking MP Francis Fox to cancel a Thursday trip to Calgary. That evening, at the annual caucus Christmas party, the booze flowed, the faces reddened and the laughter rolled. Montreal backbencher Thérèse Killens confided soberly: “We are going to do it.’’

THURSDAY

Créditiste Fabien Roy brought the fun and games to an end by declaring his intent to sit out the vote with his four followers (see box). “All our people,” confided one Liberal, “insist on being present for the vote. They don’t want to be fingered as the people who supported the government.” By midday Clark and his confidants realized that they were in trouble. Even with Roy’s support and one more vote of their own, the best they could do was a tie, but three of their MPs were missing: Lloyd Crouse from Nova Scotia inexplicably on a South Seas cruise, Saskatchewan’s Alvin Hamilton in hospital with kidney disease and Flora MacDonald at NATO meetings in Brussels (see World news). Roy’s request for a doubling of the energy tax credit was rebuffed. The call went out for members of the Tory national campaign committee to scramble to Ottawa.

As the division bells rang at 9:45 p.m., % there were still doubters. Treasury g Board President Sinclair Stevens bet a § reporter a bottle of Chivas that the Toil ries would survive. By 10:20, the chorus

of cheers and the shower of paper on the Commons Hoor signalled the end. “I think we stumbled into it,” one shaken Liberal MP confided in the crush of the lobby. Said Thérèse Killens: “I have mixed emotions. I think we all do.” FRIDAY

Not, from all signs, Joe Clark. As the help watered the outdoor skating rink at Rideau Hall, the prime minister stepped confidently out of his Chewy Bel Air for an 8 a.m. meeting with Governor-General Ed Schreyer, who apparently extended the session to 45 minutes by asking if Clark would form a caretaker government to spare the nation a wintry election. Clark refused and, after dropping by a party for Parliament Hill chars, went to the Commons to announce the election date.

While Clark and Ed Broadbent held campaign kickoff press conferences, the Liberals talked late into the nightemerging shortly before 11 p.m., as Allan MacEachen put it, with “the overwhelming conclusion” that Trudeau should reverse his decision to step down. By then, Trudeau had repaired to Montreal for the weekend with his children. As Maclean's Ottawa bureau staffer Susan Riley reports: “The party brass sold the decision as unanimous, but it was by no means spontaneous. There were more than a few long faces, especially from Ontario. The long day had been a victory for the Quebec caucus which favored a Trudeau recall from the outset.”

SATURDAY

As a meeting of the Liberal national executive opened in Ottawa, word came that Trudeau had expressed interest in

staying on —raising thoughts that this had been his plan all along. Pending word from Trudeau, no decision was made on a leadership convention for January. At the dinner hour, the lights in Joe Clark’s fourth-floor suite of offices burned bright on Parliament Hill. One floor below, in Trudeau’s perch, all was darkness.

Thus did the nation’s business grind to a halt for the 67-day campaign. The budget provisions, including the tax on gasoline and tax credits for energy and mortgage payments, have been withdrawn by parliamentary custom. The decision on spending $2.3 billion for fighter jets, scheduled for last Friday, never was made. This week’s meeting of

first ministers on the economy and energy was shelved. In Quebec, however, Premier René Lévesque plans to go ahead this week to reveal the wording of The Question for the referendum, a campaign that now will run in uneasy tandem with the federal election. On the social side, Governor-General Schreyer has postponed an annual skating party—but it was only a bash for a bunch of Ottawa reporters who now join the political leaders on some real ice and snow. John Randolph, the Virginia Republican leader during the War of 1812, would have been bemused. “One eternal monotonous tone,” he once exclaimed in exasperation, “Canada! Canada! Canada!”