Atlantic Canada: where bread and butter count

Roy MacGregor April 23 1979

Atlantic Canada: where bread and butter count

Roy MacGregor April 23 1979

Atlantic Canada: where bread and butter count

Roy MacGregor

Edward Ezekiel had other things on his mind as he sat, heater blasting, in a red half-ton down by the St. John’s docks. Ears full of seagull complaints and pockets empty, the 25-yearold Newfoundlander was acutely aware that the bloody bucket of seal flippers in back was as full at suppertime as it was when he first came down. It might have been the price—$17 a dozen—or perhaps the cold. Whatever was to blame, it was not a politician. “I don’t follow the election too close,” Ezekiel said, apologetically. “It don’t make too much difference to me who’s in.”

But it sure makes a difference to the more than 100 candidates who are scratching and biting their way toward the 32 federal seats the Atlantic region will fill on May 22.* Given that the final national results may well be a tie, even the subtle shift of one seat in generally

*St(Hidings at dissolution: PCs 15, Liberals U, NDP two, independent one.

stable Atlantic Canada may decide a prime minister. So when NDP leader Ed Broadbent warned students in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, this past week to “beware of all politicians,” he was passing on good advice. With both Conservative and Liberal strategists saying they will win “more than half the seats” in the region, and the NDP lusting after a half-dozen more, it is clear that something has to give.

Down east, politics is more lifestyle than calling, and what plays in the rest of Canada often doesn’t even go on sale in the four eastern provinces. Voters there care about jobs and prices and not much else. Walter Mombourquette, a white-haired Halifax laborer, says he’ll vote for anyone “as long as they got lots of carpentry work.” One current joke has Ottawa changing the Election Act so Cape Breton Island, which has a long history of opposition representation, will go to the polls the day after the rest

of the country, so for once they will know how to vote. In Prince Edward Island there’s even a Draft Beer party, with one nominated candidate promising to bring foam to the lips of his constituents.

There are, however, also frowns. “There’s an awful lot of people bitterly opposed to Pierre Trudeau,” says a ranking Newfoundland Liberal. “I think we could lose the election.” The purely coincidental and recent announcements of $4 million for Newfoundland roads, $17 million for port expansion at Saint John, New Brunswick, and $50 million for the deeply troubled Sydney Steel plant may help, but it is not papal proof that “God is a Liberal,” as Pierre Trudeau recently told Nova Scotians he himself believed. Trudeau’s saving grace in the east comes from the west and is called Joe Clark. “It’s a question of leadership, isn’t it?” asks William Marks, an apprentice machinist in Corner Brook. Tory “at heart,” Marks says he will vote NDP this time out. Howard Crosby, the PC incumbent in Halifax-East Hants, hands out brochures with pictures of him standing beside John Diefenbaker —with Clark in the background.

Of the half-dozen Atlantic seats that may change hands, the most intriguing is St. John’s West where the NDP— encouraged by the party’s first-ever Newfoundland victory in last October’s byelections—are seriously threatening incumbent Tory John Crosbie. Crosbie, a tough, witty man who has performed well in Ottawa since he arrived via a 1976 byelection, has taken to calling Ed Broadbent “the Mongolian Santa Claus” and “Tweedledummer” to Pierre Trudeau’s “Tweedledum.” In this singular case, names are perhaps more effective than sticks and stones, for the New Democrats have discovered fertile ground in Newfoundland’s abysmal unemployment (perhaps 30 per cent in real terms) and are predicting three Newfoundland seats will be won on those issues. Unity is simply not an issue there. “Newfoundlanders have an identity,” says Crosbie’s opponent, Tom Mayo. “We’re puzzled that Canadians are always out looking for one.”

Mayo, president of the Newfoundland Federation of Labor, lost by only 3,000 votes to Crosbie the last time they battled and would likely be the front-runner today were it not for his Joe Hill stand on last fall’s postal strike (“Not on the same scale as Nuremberg, but comparable”) and the fact that Crosbie has made friends with the railway union workers by fighting to save Newfoundland trains. Crosbie, incidentally, is not without his own mistake, having supported Brian Peckford for the provincial Tory convention when his con-

stituents wanted Walter Carter to win. Carter, after all, had passed on the seat when he left federal politics for provincial. Crosbie, however, maintains an air of confidence — “whistling through the graveyard,” Mayo calls it—but will admit to praying for good weather on May 22.

“The NDP are too well organized for rain,” he says.

The other focal point for election night will be Robert Stanfield’s old seat in Halifax. Stanfield barely won by 2,583 votes over Liberal Brian Flemming in | 1974 and Flemming, * a close Trudeau aide, 1 has been acting as £

MP-in-waiting ever 03 since. Bright, earthy and an acknowledged expert in international law, Flemming might have been a shoo-in were it not for the Tories’ recruiting an equally bright lawyer named George Cooper, who was instrumental in helping Joe Clark to become leader in 1976. With Stanfield at his side and with a disabled campaign machine patched up, Cooper has recently pulled even with Flemming and may be slightly ahead. Flemming’s main hope is that Trudeau, with whom he is constantly tagged in Halifax, takes off late in the campaign and orbits Flemming’s star with him. Halifax’s NDP candidate, Alexa McDonough, is also a first-rate prospect and, in fact, all three are interconnected: all have been acquaintances for nearly 20 years. Alexa’s husband, Peter, is a law partner of Cooper’s and a former Liberal worker. That only one can win is, in the words of a ranking provincial Liberal, “a threeway tragedy.”

For a while it was thought ailing Veterans Affairs Minister Dan MacDonald might not be running again, but the P.E.I. minister accepted his Cardigan riding nomination last week from an Ottawa hospital, dashing any hopes the other parties might have had of change on the island. “They could run him stuffed and he’d still win,” said a disgruntled NDP organizer.

The other ridings that may see a change include Saint John, where Tories are “extremely confident” their candidate, ex-Saint John police chief Eric Ferguson, can depose lacklustre

Liberal incumbent Michael Landers. The Liberals would hope to balance out that loss with a gain in Cape BretonThe Sydneys, which opened up when the Liberals lured Tory incumbent Bob Muir into the Senate. Russell MacLellan, the lawyer the Liberals are backing, is up against a good PC candidate in Joyce McDougall, but the Tories privately admit that Cape Breton is not likely ready for a woman MP.

One wild card that is currently developing is the New Brunswick riding of Moncton which had previously produced the area’s sole independent in Leonard Jones. Jones, the Tory who was dumped in 1974 by Stanfield because of his anti-bilingual stance, had been conceded the seat by all parties, but suddenly dropped out for health reasons. Now ex-mayor Gary Wheeler—who recently lost his Moncton mayoralty when the Supreme Court ruled he had a conflict of interest—is seeking the PC nomination and is thought to be popular enough to win, though it is not yet known how Joe Clark will react to his candidacy.

It will be no surprise, however, if nothing is said—not with the slim stakes of the Atlantic being so potentially crucial to the outcome. As a Newfoundland senior citizen said last week, “The brass in Ottawa don’t give a continental for anything but votes.” He didn’t have to be from the East Coast to know that, but it sure helps.^