Canada

McTeer’s turn to press the flesh

Suzanne Zwarun April 30 1979
Canada

McTeer’s turn to press the flesh

Suzanne Zwarun April 30 1979

McTeer’s turn to press the flesh

Alberta

Maureen McTeer dropped into a Spruce Grove, Alberta, travel agency last week and announced she wanted to go to Hawaii. “They took me seriously,” said a surprised and amused McTeer, who had only gone in to shake hands. Well they might have. Joe Clark’s Yellowhead riding was being blanketed in snow and buffeted by spring blizzards as McTeer made her first solo foray on her husband’s behalf across one corner of his 50,000-squaremile constituency, running from Edmonton west into the mountains. But if the weather delayed schedules and made campaigning hard and dirty, McTeer, clearly, wouldn’t have been anywhere else—even Hawaii.

Her welcome was a lot warmer than the weather. “You’ve got my vote,” people assured her in shopping centres and on sidewalks. “Why are you canvassing?” asked one woman. “Joe’s going to get in anyway.” McTeer beamed. “Well, we never take anything for granted,” she allowed. The pundits, however, don’t give much chance to Clark’s opponents, Liberal Laurie Switzer and NDPer Bob Ritchie, who were both defeated in the March provincial election, and independent Lex Miller.

Tory back-benchers evidently have reservations about McTeer’s part in the campaign, fearing her presence would remind people that she retained her own name (a sore point still with some old Tories) or that she might indulge in

a public, partisan outburst like the time a couple of years ago when she lambasted a reporter for “crapping all over my husband.”

But, freed of a silent, wifely role at Clark’s elbow, McTeer blossomed into a poised, relaxed and confident canvasser with a politician’s knack for recalling names and faces. She seemed equally at ease trading nursery talk with young mothers or outlining Clark’s anti-capital-punishment stance to a pro-hanging supporter. No one commented on her name, although local organizers introduced her as Maureen McTeer, as she did herself.

The Clarks arrived together in Spruce Grove, on the western outskirts of Edmonton, on Monday. It was Clark’s only scheduled appearance in his riding until election day and while he flew off to better weather and bigger cities, McTeer took to rural roads in a Winnebago, trying to reach as many as possible of the 58,750 registered voters.

On Thursday, just as Clark was addressing the Empire Club in Toronto, McTeer’s iceand mud-encrusted Winnebago lumbered into the mining town of Hinton, moving blithely through the nauseating stench of the town’s pulp mill. McTeer pressed the flesh at a small shopping centre and doorknocked through a familiar trailer park—she was bitten by a dog there on the final day of the last election campaign.

Although it stopped snowing for a couple of hours, there were few shoppers about. A lunch for campaign workers was more sparsely attended

than the hotel kitchen expected and many of the trailers were unoccupied— the aftermath of a seven-week mine strike just recently ended. But Hinton (population 7,300), is bustling with oil and gas exploration work and people there voiced no complaints. Albertans, in any case, aren’t inclined to political discussions on their doorstep and have not yet worked up any visible interest in the federal campaign which came directly on the heels of a provincial election. In fact, a day earlier in isolated Grande Cache, McTeer found some householders surprised to hear there was an election on.

In Yellowhead, however, they have no trouble recognizing McTeer, either from seeing her on television or from earlier meetings. They commented, in surprise, on her good looks, probably because she tends to photograph as stiffly as a turnof-the-century wedding portrait, and they inquired after her interrupted law career. McTeer says she hopes to practise law, at least part-time, if Clark becomes prime minister. “You forget so much otherwise. I forgot a lot of law the year I took off.” A decision isn’t necessary until February and by then, if Clark wins, “I’ll know what the social responsibilities are and how they can best be handled.”

On May 22, Clark plans to fly from poll to poll in Yellowhead which, McTeer laughs, will keep him busy enough not to be troubled by electionday butterflies. By then, it may even have stopped snowing. The great Root Bear has issued an order about that on the Hinton A&W signboard. The great Root Bear says: STOP SNOWING NOW. Maureen McTeer could only add amen.

Suzanne Zwarun