Robert Lewis February 25 1980


Robert Lewis February 25 1980



Robert Lewis

For his fifth national campaign, the gunslinger transformed himself into a monk with a mask and he walked mostly in an 18-cent shadow. He rose like Lazarus from a political grave to claim the most resounding parliamentary victory of his career.

Along the way he invoked the spirits from his past, including Mackenzie King and even John Diefenbaker. But at the finish, in solemn counterpoint to a boisterous Ottawa victory bash, he besought the creator: “May God help us all in the decade that’s beginning.”

Pierre Trudeau’s plea—and a muted acceptance of the mantle as Canada’s born-again prime minister—was not simply a manifestation of bone-weariness at the end of the trail. Heaven knows, he got plenty of rest, a fact that prompted him to wonder during one of the frequent lulls in his campaign on an Atlantic swing: “What am I supposed to do now—go back to sleep?” Nor had he yet put his shoulder to the weight of three volumes of transition documents awaiting him on the problems in the months ahead. The real burden was in the distribution of the 146 Liberal seats, all but two east of Manitoba (see box page 20). Trudeau’s victory pledge this week was a brave new one: “We will govern for every part of the country.” But the nature of his base was sobering, extending only from Bonavista to Lake of the Woods, and but a single provincial Liberal seat in the West.

“The party,” sighs B.C. Liberal Senator Ray Perrault, “is viewed by many in B.C. as some alien force anchored in the East. The election came too soon for the four western Liberal parties.” Adds Art Phillips, who ran third in Vancouver Centre: “I tried to tell them [not to defeat the government] but they chose

not to listen.” In Assiniboia, Saskatchewan, PC Len Gustafson survived with a reduced plurality but was bitter about the national result. “Eastern Canada wanted cheap oil from the West and Trudeau convinced them that he could supply it.” In private, over drinks, there

was more extreme talk about the prospects of western separatism.

Little wonder that Trudeau was strangely flat amidst the euphoria in Ottawa or that he expressed “grudging admiration” for Clark, whose concession was as graceful as the pain in his wife’s tearful eyes. Trudeau, master of a commanding majority, promised to consult with the mainly western-based Conservatives and NDP. But first there was the matter of communing with his inner circle.

Mindful of Clark’s slow start in office

last year, Trudeau planned to summon Parliament in April after a short vacation. His immediate priority, according to the title of one transition book prepared by the cabinet office, is “government organization and structures.” Officials reckon that there is “a threeday window” for a new PM to decide on the nature of his ministry before sharing power with its members. Trudeau is expected to retain the PCs’ new expenditure control system, but to scrap the inner cabinetknown mainly for the ministers excluded from the weekly meeting— and to re-establish an inner council of heavies (Priorities and Planning Committee, whose names will be unlisted). “Trudeau,” says one senior official, “is an institutionalist. He’ll go back to what he’s familiar with.” Whether that means many of the same old faces is another matter, since the big majority affords Trudeau an opportunity to risk defections of veterans by striking a team of fresh faces (see story page 22).

Trudeau also has a two-inch-thick volume on pressing issues, ranging from the pending decision on fighter aircraft to the issue of a Moscow Olympics boycott. Trudeau’s two prime areas of concentration will be energy and— he can now admit it—constitutional reform.

The government has until July to hammer out a new oil pricing formula— and hammer may be the mot juste. At issue is Trudeau’s determination to reduce the take from higher prices going to producing provinces and the companies. In the heart of the oil patch this month, he told a Calgary audience: “We can’t keep Canada strong by making Manitoba or Ontario or the Atlantic area weak.” This, predicts one Trudeau staffer, means “there will be fights” with Alberta and the multinationals, especially since one of Trudeau’s few

specific undertakings—along with ditching the 18-cent gas tax increase— was to moderate increases in the price of fuel.

Trudeau’s concentration on the constitution-intensified by the looming referendum in Quebec—is expected to lead to a first ministers’ conference in the fall and a proposal for proportional representation—that is, adding unelected members to an expanded House on the basis of the popular vote. (In Western Canada, for example, the Liberals took 24 per cent of the popular vote but only 2.6 per cent of the seats. The PCs, meanwhile, had 12.7 per cent of the Quebec vote but a scant 1.3 per cent of the ridings.)

In addition to fleshing out its vague election platform (see box, page 19), the new government will have to face some old business—“stuff,” says one official, “that was left over from the last couple of governments.” Among these items: approval of $53.1 billion in spending for the 1979-80 fiscal year which ends in March, tax measures from Jean Chrétien’s November, 1978, budget and passage of a new Bank Act. “Well,” as Trudeau put it, “welcome to the ’80s.”

For bruised and battered Tories on Feb. 18, the number that lodged in the craw was 272—the totality of their days in power. In his first inaugural address,

Abe Lincoln asserted that “no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.” There was, in retrospect, one—Clark’s law that he would govern in the manner of a majority. “I expect,” he said the day after his election last May, “that the Opposition parties will all want to give a new government a chance to present our program to Parliament.”

They certainly did—seven long months. The trouble was that the customary period of on-the-job training for a new government turned into an uneasy apprenticeship because of the 16 consecutive years the Tories had spent in Opposition. Like Clark himself, the government vacillated between bouts of firm conviction and indecisiveness. Matters like the Jerusalem embassy move, Clark said at his first Ottawa

press conference, “are now beyond discussion as to their appropriateness.” At the same time, John Crosbie was off on a rocky course with his cavalier suggestions that the new team might not be able to meet all its promises. Out went the promised personal tax cut. In came a revised mortgage and tax credit scheme for which Crosbie evinced no particular relish. Robert Stanfield was dispatched to the Middle East to pull a Persian carpet out from under the Jerusalem embassy stand. A study was launched to review the proposal to sell Petro-Canada to the private sector.

Ironically, a party with a very sophisticated polling system did not bother to sample the mood of the citizenry until

August, on the eve of the cabinet’s retreat to the pines of Jasper for a presession skull session. The shocking news in the poll was that while voters had high expectations that the Tories could handle major problems, few people believed they would keep their word. Prodded by Clark intimate Lowell Murray, later to be made a senator, the cabinet renewed its commitment to campaign undertakings.

There also arose a bloody-minded attitude about facing the people with harsh economic medicine in the form of stiff tariffs on gasoline and diesel fuel. As a diverting travelling sideshow, Clark also made good on his promise to turn more power over to the provinces in the form of ownership of off-shore resources and to consult with premiers of nonproducing provinces on a new price for oil and gas. This admirable act of openness caused Clark nothing but grief from his political friends. First, Ontario Premier Bill Davis dumped on the proposed hike in prices and Alberta’s Peter Lougheed kept shifting ground on an energy deal. By the time Clark’s government met Parliament, as one federal official involved put it, “the offer to purchase was there, but we couldn’t get a signature.” Nor any firm revenue numbers for the Crosbie budget.

Quite understandably, the PCs also miscalculated the mood in Liberal ranks after Trudeau announced his retirement in November. The Tories assumed they could get the budget through while the Grits searched for a new leader. What they had forgotten already was the Liberal party’s penchant for responding to polls—namely a 20point lead. Even after the surprise defeat in the House on Dec. 13, and Trudeau’s mysterious return, the Tories still were convinced of the rightness of their mission and their ability to win on Crosbie’s budget. “They wanted to govern well too badly,” says one party adviser. “But the first rule of governing well is governing politically—getting public opinion on their side.” Immigration Minister Ron Atkey, defeated by Liberal John Roberts in Toronto’s bellwether St. Paul’s, agrees: “We tried to go from point A to point C, and we should have gone through point B.”

Says Dartmouth Tory MP Mike Forestall, re-elected with a reduced margin: “When you have a national policy you have to explain, you’re in trouble.” Other party members predicted the end of straight-talking campaigns. “Maybe,” Nova Scotia campaign manager Jerry Redmond reflected bitterly, “Canadians have set a precedent: in fu-

ture elections, you don’t level with them; you say nothing.”

The most dramatic indication of the result came early with the defeat of Secretary of State David MacDonald in Prince Edward Island. Throughout farm and fishing areas of Eastern Canada, Liberals picked up seats on the energy issue, especially the gas and diesel tax. In Quebec, Trudeau’s popularity chez lui eradicated Fabien Roy and his four-member Social Credit rump and, with the defeat of Heward Grafftey in a rural seat, reduced the PCs to one riding. In Ontario, 19 PC seats turned Liberal red because of concern about the excise tax and a more generalized fear in cities about Peter Lougheed and higher costs of western crude. Joe Clark’s image was another negative factor.

On the Prairies, the gas tax turned voters to the only official Opposition, the NDP, which helped Broadbent’s party offset two losses in Atlantic Canada and three in Northern Ontario to the Liberals. In British Columbia the reviving

popularity of NDP leader David Barrett helped the NDP gain four seats—and to withstand the usual squeeze that afflicts the party when majority tides are running (see story page 24).

In the end, the Tories went down in the finest Canadian government tradition—they defeated themselves, and in roughly the time it takes to have a baby. The major miscalculation was convincing themselves that the Liberal party couldn’t get its act together. Clark ran a flawless campaign under intense pressure, but the outcome was determined before the race began. Against Clark’s detailed plans and schemes for change, Trudeau appealed to the dreams in the country, not the realities. It was a calculated, at times cynical campaign—but it worked. For the next five years, as political savant Dalton Camp observes, “we’re a captive audience.”

With files from John Hay, Susan Riley, Ian Ander son, David Thomas, Roy MacGregor, Cheryl Hawkes, Thomas Hopkins, Bruce Little and Dale Eisler.