ONTARIO: Key to the Kingdom

Ian Urquhart May 21 1979

ONTARIO: Key to the Kingdom

Ian Urquhart May 21 1979

ONTARIO: Key to the Kingdom


Ian Urquhart

The Scarborough home of Mel and Diane Wilson is much like their neighbors’ homes in suburban Toronto with one notable exception: there are two election signs planted firmly on the front lawn. One—hers—is for Alan Martin, the Liberal incumbent. The other— his—is for Bill Wightman, the Conservative challenger. “We still argue about it,” says Mrs. Wilson, 36. “We both like Alan Martin. But my husband doesn’t like Trudeau. I think Trudeau is very intelligent and I just don’t think the other guy [Clark] can run his own household. So I don’t know how he would run the country. The Conservatives would win easily without Clark.”

The campaign is like that in Toronto and throughout Ontario. With the most seats (95, including 23 in Metro Toronto) and the most eligible voters (3,982,822, including

1,202,826 in Metro Toronto),

Ontario holds the key to the kingdom of political power in Canada. But it seems the more the party leaders concentrate their efforts in the province—all three were in Ontario on the same day last week, highlighted by the Trudeau rally in Toronto—the more confused the voters become. With one week to go before voting day, there was no obvious swing toward any one party, no prospect of a sweep such as the Liberals fashioned in 1974 (55 of the preredistribution total of 88 seats, including 17 of 21 in Toronto, giving Trudeau top spot in the province, as illustrated on our cover). Instead, there was division. Whether it was households like the Wilsons, or polls, or neighboring ridings, people seemed to be going in opposite directions.

Ontario voters are divided along racial lines, with Italians and other “ethnics” opting en masse for Trudeau and the WASPs backing the Conservatives. Grit youth is pitted against Tory age, Conservative homeowners against Liberal tenants (over the Tory proposal to make mortgage interest payments tax deductible). The NDP is even trying to

divide the province by class as union members man telephones by night to contact fellow workers and make a pitch for a vote against the Liberals and Conservatives.

All that portends a patchwork result when the votes are in May 22—barring a last-minute charge in one direction or the other. Without such a shift, the Conservatives will fall well short of the 60 Ontario seats they feel they need for a national majority and the Liberals won’t come near the 50 seats they think

they have to win. The close race suits the New Democrats just fine, however. They have their eyes on two dozen Ontario seats and may win half of those if the other parties stay about even, as they did in 1972 when the NDP took 11 seats in the province.

The election campaign did not start

out as a close race in Ontario. The Conservatives, riding a wave of antiTrudeau sentiment, were well in the lead. The Liberals’ own polls showed the Conservatives were 10 percentage points ahead and that was probably an understatement. With Premier Bill Davis and much of his provincial election machine backing Clark and the Conservatives, it seemed vie-

tory was assured across Ontario. Toronto, in particular, looked Tory. The Liberal polls showed the Conservatives ahead by 15 percentage points there and the anti-Trudeau feeling—fuelled by the right-wing Toronto Sun— was particularly strong. Early in the campaign, pollster Peter Regenstreif reported: “Antipathy

toward Pierre Trudeau is the most significant fact of this federal election in Toronto, an area that has been crucial to his party’s dominance in federal politics since Lester Pearson became prime minister in 1963. This animosity was apparent during the byelections last fall; it turns up in the public opinion surveys the parties themselves conduct; and in my own limited but in-depth interviewing it equals or surpasses that which accompanied John Diefenbaker’s downfall in the early 1960s.”

But now Joe Clark has become an issue as well, in Toronto and elsewhere in the province, as voters cast a skeptical eye at the putative prime minister

and find him wanting. Conservative support has, accordingly, begun to erode and Liberal fortunes have increased on Clark’s back. Regenstreif says the Liberals are gaining one percentage point a week in Toronto, narrowing the gap between the two parties to five points in a Gallup poll conducted during the last week of April. A private Conservative poll in York East, a Toronto riding the Tories thought they had in the bag, showed the two parties dead even. Another poll showed popular Conservative incumbent Jean Pigott leading Liberal Jean-Luc Pepin by just one point in Ottawa-Carleton, another seat the Tories had considered safe. The Conservatives were still in the lead in Southwestern Ontario, the polls said, but the Liberals were out front in the north. However, the most recent Gallup poll taken in the first week of May and released last weekend, showed that the Liberals trail the Tories by 10 percentage points in Ontario. Still, what began as a triumphal march to power in Ontario has become a desperate struggle for seats. Here is a look at four

representative ridings in the province;

Scarborough West; A largely working-class riding in the Toronto suburbs, Scarborough West offers one of the few real three-way fights in the province. NDP candidate John Harney, 48, a university professor, is running hard to regain the seat he lost to Liberal Alan Martin, 48, an accountant, in the last election, while Conservative Bill Wightman, 50, an industrial relations consultant, hopes to top them both. An ideological conservative (he proudly displayed a letter from Sir Keith Jo-

seph, Margaret Thatcher’s monetarist mentor, in his campaign headquarters), Wightman says capital punishment, which he favors, is a big issue in the riding. “That and the Trudeau-is-a-sonof-a-bitch thing,” he adds.

If the election had been held a month ago, Wightman probably would have ridden the “Trudeau-is-â-son-of-abitch thing” to an easy victory. Now he is encountering antipathy toward Clark and his lead is dwindling. Harney, a laid-back socialist, is a serious threat with a crack organization and a big as-

sist from organized labor’s telephone campaign. Last week Harney got another boost when the Toronto Star, the country’s biggest paper, gave the NDP its endorsement.

For Martin, the election has been an uphill struggle. But he is attaching himself tightly to Trudeau’s coattails (“The voters aren’t focusing on the leadership thing”) and hoping his leader takes off. In a canvass of single-family homes last week, he encountered some anti-Trudeau sentiment and met it head-on with a prepared spiel. Said Martin: “It’s not so much who you like and don’t like but who you think is the best equipped to make the tough decisions we face over the next few years on issues like Quebec and energy.” Surprisingly, some of the voters agreed, responding with “That’s for sure,” or “You’ve got a point there.” Ethnic voters were particularly responsive. When Lila Globocki greeted Martin at the door, she said she was undecided. But when Martin started talking about Trudeau, her eyes lit up and she said: “Yes, yes.” Only one person was openly antagonistic, calling Trudeau

“an overstuffed, nincompoop, pompous ass.” But, in the same breath, she invited Martin in for a Coke on a hot day.

is a straight, twoway fight between the Liberals and Conservatives in this comfortable, middle-class riding in the north end of Metro Toronto. Candidates Bob Jarvis (Conservative),

43, and Jim Peterson (Liberal), 37, are both lawyers on the right side of the political spectrum. Jarvis appeared to have a big lead early in the campaign but now he is clearly worried. He is encountering anti-Clark talk as he canvasses the ridings and it is starting to hurt. At an all-candidates meeting one night last week, he decided to tackle the issue head-on before about 100 people in a school gym. Said Jarvis: “There is one issue that has arisen throughout this campaign and which has come at us in an oblique manner. That is the leadership of Joe Clark and whether Joe Clark is capable of becoming prime minister of Canada. It is asked at many of the doors I have called on during the last six weeks.” Jarvis told his audience he attended the University of Alberta with Clark in the late 1950s and found him a man of “tremendous ability.” He also has the capacity to attract good people to his side, Jarvis said. He allowed that Clark is physically “ungainly,” not as “sexy” as Trudeau and not a particularly good speaker. But, Jarvis concluded, “You will be proud of Joe Clark as your next prime minister.” Peterson then picked up where Jarvis had finished and attacked Clark for constantly changing his mind on issues. “I think making tough decisions and holding to them is the measure of leadership,” argued Peterson.

As the meeting drew to a close, Peterson engaged in a shouting match with Sam Geist, a local sporting-goods dealer who was asking questions from the floor. Said Geist: “I’m a Liberal, but you’ve got to give that other man [Clark] a chance.” But Geist’s friend, Morris Goldstein, a lawyer, disagreed: “It’s time for a change, but I can’t vote for Clark. He contradicts himself every day.”

London West: This affluent, WASP riding in Southwestern Ontario has voted Liberal since it was formed in 1968. The incumbent, Treasury Board President Judd Buchanan, is highly respected locally. But this riding is on the Conservative hit list in Ontario. The Tories believe they can beat Buchanan on the basis of the anti-Trudeau backlash. Buchanan himself discounts that possibility. But, revealingly, one of his campaign pamphlets makes no mention at all of Trudeau and the word “Liberal” ap-

pears only in small print at the bottom.

To oppose Buchanan, 49, the Conservatives have nominated lawyer John McGarry, 40. The New Democrats are running Paddy Musson, 33, a community-college teacher, who is expected to finish third, a good perspective from which to view the battle. Her canvasses tell her Buchanan and McGarry are neck-and-neck, and Trudeau and inflation are two issues that are hurting Buchanan. But she also says voters raise national unity surprisingly often at the doorstep—a development that could help Buchanan—and bring up Joe Clark “over and over and over again.” Says Musson: “They just can’t imagine him as prime minister.”

A morning canvass with McGarry confirmed her observations. Said one woman: “I would vote for Judd, but I don’t want Mr. Trudeau in there.” A man asked McGarry if he was “one of the gutless guys who is against capital punishment.” McGarry pointed to the paragraph endorsing the death penalty in his campaign pamphlet and the man seemed satisfied. But then McGarry knocked on the door of Mrs. R. A. Joselyn, who described herself as “over 70.” Said she to the Conservative candidate: “I’m walking a tightrope. I have voted Liberal before but I think they’ve been in long enough. But I just don’t like the way Joe Clark comes across.” McGarry tried to reassure her, telling her he had had the same doubts until he had met Clark and seen him operate in private meetings. It is a practised response and McGarry would use it again before the day was over. But

Mrs. Joselyn did not look reassured.

St. Catharines: This Niagara peninsula city is a part of the golden horseshoe turned bronze in recent years with plant closings that have driven the unemployment rate above the national average. Traditionally a swing riding, St. Catharines was won by the Conservatives in 1972 and the Liberals in 1974. But redistribution took some Liberal strength away and incumbent Gilbert Parent moved with it to the neighboring riding of Welland. In his place, the Liberals are running Bill Andres, 53, another incumbent who lost his own, rural riding to redistribution. A Ukrainianborn farmer, Andres is making a strong pitch for ethnic votes in St. Catharines. But he seems ill at ease with urban issues and voters in general. His workethic attitude toward the unemployed does not go over especially well with union members in the riding, including the 8,000-odd auto workers employed at the two General Motors plants. Their votes, many of which went to the Liberals in 1974 to keep out the Conservatives and wage-price controls, may go to the NDP this time. The NDP candidate is lawyer Peter Elliott, 31. He says he has moved into second place (the NDP came third in 1974) but concedes it would be a “fluke” if he won. The probable winner? “It will not be the Liberal,” says Elliott. “That I guarantee.”

The acknowledged front-runner is Conservative Joe Reid, 61, the diminutive former mayor of St. Catharines. He

says hanging is the No. 1 issue on the doorstep and, while he calls himself an abolitionist, he is in favor of a national referendum on the subject—a neat way of having your rope and eating it too. Ask Reid about Joe Clark and he changes the subject. Says Reid: “The emphasis of our campaign is that Joe Reid knows St. Catharines best. Will Joe Reid survive Trudeau or will he not? That is the question. The only way we can win is to get people to switch votes [from Liberal to Conservative]. They are making the switch because of me.”

To tip the balance in those and other ridings where the race is close, the three parties were pouring their money and their leaders into Ontario in the closing weeks of the campaign. For television advertising alone, the Conservatives plan to spend about $500,000, the Liberals about $450,000 in the province and the NDP $250,000. The itineraries of the three leaders also had a distinct Ontario bias in the final weeks as the parties grasped desperately for votes.

But all the fuss and fury may not matter. Bill Saunderson, head of the Conservative campaign in Ontario, sees the contest in Ontario as essentially 95 byelections. “In an election like this,” he says, “it all boils down to the foot soldiers.” The two leaders, he believes, “cancel each other out.” Senator Royce Frith, his Liberal counterpart, does not agree. Says Frith: “The final decision is going to be based on whom the voters think will be the next prime minister. And I don’t think Clark has caught on as a potential prime minister.”^