Canada

Round and round they go

Ian Urquhart May 14 1979
Canada

Round and round they go

Ian Urquhart May 14 1979

Round and round they go

Canada

ELECTION '79

Ian Urquhart

The television screen shows a bright red rose in full bloom on You-Know-Who’s lapel. But, as a voice lists the failures of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s 11-year-old regime, the rose begins to wither until it is left a decayed corpse. Only then is the viewer asked to “give the future a chance” and vote Conservative.

That and other Tory ads were the highlight of last week in the election campaign. The ads—shown during Stanley Cup hockey broadcasts to 3,185,000 Canadians—were all virulent attacks on Trudeau. In French, they were even tougher, with one ad proclaiming Trudeau “coupable” (guilty) to the sound of a jail door slamming shut. It was undoubtedly gripping television. But many viewers were left wondering whether it was just too negative.

The Liberals and New Democrats were to focus on their leaders in their

television advertising, as will the Conservatives near the end of the campaign. “He’s respected, he’s tough,” says an authoritative voice in a Liberal ad as the camera shows Trudeau in action. Broadbent is shown talking issues with the skylines of Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver serving as backdrops. Conservative leader Joe Clark will be seen speaking directly to the camera in 30and 60-second clips taken from a lengthy interview.

Whether any of this Madison Avenue packaging will affect the undecided voters remains to be seen. More certain to have an impact is the television debate on May 13, pitting the leaders against each other in a series of one-on-one debates. Last week, the three men were already making preparations for the showdown. Staffers were assigned to prepare background briefing notes and time was blocked off just before the debate to give the leaders a chance both to rest and to study up.

The Liberals were increasingly wor-

ried that Trudeau could win the debate—yet lose it because the public’s expectations of the prime minister are so high and of Clark so low. The Conservatives, on the other hand, were concerned with Broadbent, whom Clark must face first in the order of events. The NDP leader, with little to lose, could destroy Clark’s credibility with an all-out attack.

Meanwhile, the national tours of the three leaders continued apace. Maclean's had Robert Lewis with Trudeau, Roy MacGregor with Clark and Jane O’Hara with Broadbent. Here are their reports:

Pierre Trudeau called it the “home stretch,” but he spent the first two days of last week in a canter through Prairie ridings where the races will go down to the wire. In the Saskatchewan farm communities of North Battleford, Weyburn, Assiniboia and Rosetown, he spoke to roughly 4,300 people out of a total population of 29,000. The response was subdued but attentive as Trudeau,

sensing that rural audiences are more “contemplative,” dropped his strident tone and adopted a low-key pitch. Still, he kept up his attack on Clark and it was the references to the Tory leader that provoked the heartiest response from his audiences. In North Battleford, Trudeau quoted from a La Presse interview with John Diefenbaker in which the former prime minister is reported as saying: “You can’t leave government to any passing Joe.” Said Trudeau: “I stand on his words.” (Diefenbaker subsequently denied he had ever said them.) Trudeau also took a shot at the New Democrats, saying they were tied to “big labor bosses in Ontario.” Between speeches, Trudeau toured a grain elevator and looked at some new hopper cars. He was visibly ill at ease.

Later in the week, back in Montreal, Trudeau was more at home. He had a drink with Princess Caroline of Monaco and her husband, Philippe Junot, at Thursday’s, a fashionable Montreal dining spot. The next day, he campaigned in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, where he endured an encounter with members of the farcical Rhinoceros Party, and Drummondville, where he blasted Social Credit leader Fabien Roy for flirting with the separatists.

Joe Clark knows his 2 V2 -year-old daughter Catherine is as interested in a balloon as she is in her father’s becoming prime minister. Last week, as Clark stood centre-stage in a Georgetown, Ontario, curling rink and raised a pale white balloon above his head, he declared: “If I can keep this as intact as our campaign has been the last weeks, then I know Catherine will be very happy.” It went without saying how her Dad would feel.

The Tories, sensing victory is at hand, are doing their best to keep Clark’s campaign balloon intact. But there were times last week when it appeared as if it might be punctured. In Ontario, Clark had difficulty explaining away the apparent contradiction between his call for a “stimulative deficit” and his insistence that federal spending deficits be lowered. In Quebec, his shifting positions (from apparently endorsing negotiation of sovereignty-association last fall to categorically denying the province’s right to self-determination this spring) caught up with him and he split publicly with Roch LaSalle, his Quebec lieutenant. But he never made clear how, precisely, he would handle Quebec after a “Yes” vote in a referendum, despite reporters’ efforts to ambush him on the question.

In Regina later in the week, Clark was on the offensive again and, for the first time in the campaign, attacked Trudeau in a speech for his handling of RCMP wrongdoings. Using Watergate vocabulary, Clark accused Trudeau of

letting the RCMP ‘twist slowly in the wind” while his ministers denied responsibility for any wrongdoings. Trudeau himself was guilty of “a serious dereliction of duty” for not bothering to check reports that the cabinet had been informed the RCMP would have to break the law, said Clark.

Ed Broadbent’s Easy Rider style campaigning not only slipped into low gear last week but took real shape when he donned a crash helmet and rose to a Campbell River, B.C., rally on the back of a motorcycle. The driver, whose own helmet was replete with handpainted marijuana plants and smouldering reefers, was told not to speed and Broadbent admitted the jaunt was “the most pleasurable experience of the

whole campaign.” It looked that way. Making only eight brief speeches in five days, Broadbent labored through a tour of Saskatchewan, B.C. and Alberta before main-streeting in Toronto with MP Bob Rae. His message was the same: lower food prices and Canadian control of resources. In Regina he promised a basic food-price assistance program and in Vancouver he vowed to investigate the corporate grocery barons. In Calgary, where the NDP had difficulty filling a hall of 400, Broadbent proposed setting up “natural gas banks” to save for the future. The next day, while Broadbent’s plane remained fogbound on the tarmac, the leader admitted: “It’s nice to be back in sunny socialist Alberta.”