Canada

Clark: bashing the last Liberal

Susan Riley January 28 1980
Canada

Clark: bashing the last Liberal

Susan Riley January 28 1980

Clark: bashing the last Liberal

Canada

In a federal election campaign overburdened with careful speeches, artificial excitement and stale rhetoric, the open-line radio show provides a welcome dash of anarchy. Very often unexpected questions from quirky callers jolt politicians out of their tedious role-playing into something approaching normal human behavior. It happened last week in Winnipeg when Prime Minister Joe Clark greeted a woman caller to radio station CJOB’S morning show. "Well," said the woman, hearing his voice, “you are not the prime minister.” "Yes ma’am, I am,” replied Clark, momentarily nonplussed. Before the hour-long show ended it was also revealed that Maureen uses McTeer, not Clark, on her credit cards and Joe has never smoked dope "on these shores or any other.”

After a promising start, Clark’s campaign lost momentum last week in southern Ontario, sputtered through Saskatchewan, picked up again in Winnipeg, then flew unsteadily home to Ottawa for a one-day layover. For some reason—as unclear to Clark himself as to the reporters following him—socialist-bashing is not selling in the Midwest. Certainly Clark’s attacks on the NDP in Regina and the nearby farming community of Southey (population, 700) didn’t strike sparks—not even his rather inflammatory suggestion that the NDP played politics, "leaving this country without a Parliament while the Soviets marched into Afghanistan.”

But the next day, in Winnipeg's urban Winnipeg-Fort Garry riding, now held by reform Liberal Lloyd Axworthy, Clark’s shots at Pierre Trudeau’s "palace clique” were right on target. Spurred on to a fine performance by a heckler whom Clark called the "last Liberal in Weston Canada,” he blistered Trudeau for perverting the original philosophy of the Liberal party, much to the delight of a lively crowd.

Meanwhile, his aides were downplaying apparent contradictions within Tory ranks, particularly long-distance disagreement between Clark and his popular finance minister, John Crosbie, over the effects of the increased cost of imported oil on Canada’s domestic prices. The issue finally disappeared after a few speedy phone calls between Clark and Crosbie, leaving Clark face-to-face with the real issue in this campaign: his personal credibility. Clark has no trouble establishing himself as a nice guy, but no number of shiny black three-piece suits—like the one he wore to a Regina rally—will make him look prime ministerial.

In a punchy warm-up speech to the Winnipeg-Fort Garry rally, Jake Epp, minister of Indian affairs and northern development, complained that Clark has been more badly "maligned and abused” than any other leader. "Well, Joe Clark has a responsible track record," shouted Epp defiantly, as a mild but distinct ripple of laughter rolled across the crowded hall.

Susan Riley