Canada

ONCE MORE FROM THE TOP

Robert Lewis March 17 1980
Canada

ONCE MORE FROM THE TOP

Robert Lewis March 17 1980

ONCE MORE FROM THE TOP

Canada

Robert Lewis

Two days after his latest government was sworn in, Pierre Trudeau—a notoriously slow morning-starter—arrived at his office shortly before 9 to find the door locked. There ensued an anxious scurry of commissionaires for keys and an urgent roundup of tardy aides. Like a cast of world-weary actors in rumpled costumes, Canada’s natural governing troupe—46 years in the past 58—was back on the boards to play it again after nine short months of rehearsal.

The manner of the opening suggested that the chastened Liberal company was intent on mending its reputation for tired, listless productions. Even the timing of Parliament’s opening April 14 had a touch of show biz: the start was to be advanced to 11 a.m. from afternoon so as not to compete with the nationally televised home opener of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Trudeau struck a note of urgency at the first meeting of cabinet. He laid out the priorities for the near-term—a budget from Finance Minister Allan MacEachen, an agreement on oil pricing by Energy Minister Marc Lalonde and an opening session devoted to cleaning up lingering business caused by two elec-

tions in the past year. While the list of Liberal election promises was skimpy by design, the government spared no efforts in demonstrating its attempt to honor its whispers. Lalonde was dispatched to announce cabinet approval of an auditing agency that will recommend a new price for oil and gas and how to split up the petrodollar windfall. Lalonde scheduled meetings next week with the producing provinces and the companies, vowing: “I’ll either succeed or go out with a big bang.” As for confusion about Liberal pricing policy, at week’s end Lalonde told Maclean's the government stands by Trudeau’s campaign statement that a “Made-in-Canada price will result in a lower price to consumers than the one proposed for the next four years in the Clark budget.” Earlier in the week Lalonde sent shivers of broken promises through Liberal ranks when he suggested that the commitment was only for one year.

Over at the C.D. Howe Building, of all places, economic nationalist Herb Gray’s first act as minister of industry, trade and commerce was to start work on a deal to bail out troubled Chrysler Canada in his home riding of Windsor, in return for so-far-unspecified benefits to the Canadian economy. Agriculture Minister Eugene Whelan flew off to a

meeting in Paris; Mark MacGuigan in External Affairs was planning a round of his own travel; and Communications Minister Francis Fox was before the McDonald inquiry on RCMP misdeeds.

Having twice before blown majority government situations—1968-72 and 1974-79—the Liberals were understandably repentant. Trudeau set the tone in the closing days of the last campaign when he dismissed the Clark government as a bad flick: “We have seen a couple of reels of the late show and we know it’s a punk show.” The desire to remain in prime time naturally animates the new regime. “We did not misuse our time in Opposition,” enthuses Ed Lumley, minister responsible for international trade. “We’ve learned a lot from our mistakes.” Adds a senior Trudeau adviser: “Mistakes can do you in, but we know that lethargy can defeat you too.”

For another opening Trudeau picked his leads from some old shows. Joe Clark slipped away mutely on a Hawaii vacation and it was left to his former solicitor-general, Allan Lawrence, to rail bitterly that the cabinet was “the same old crew of tired has-beens.” At 58, MacEachen is the oldest minister of finance in half a century and probably the craftiest parliamentarian. His ele-

vation caps a painful and little-known exercise in personal and political restoration (see profile, page 24). It symbolized, also, the ascendancy of the loyalists and sloggers who rolled up their sleeves when the going got rough in defeat—and the zapping of those who didn’t (see box ).

MacEachen and Lalonde only happen to be two of the leading members who now sit with Trudeau in cabinet’s nonsmoking section. Actually, they are really the co-equals who helped Trudeau design the cabinet along with principal secretary Jim Coutts and longtime confidant Michael Pitfield. At week’s end cabinet secretary Marcel Massé announced to a hushed meeting of the senior Privy Council staff that Pitfield would be taking back the post he lost to Massé when Joe Clark took over last year. Trudeau now will run the affairs of the nation with this trusted supergroup of four. Says one Trudeau associate: “He only has to talk to the people he

likes.” With two sturdy deputies slogging in Finance and Energy, the PM is also liberated to concentrate on federalprovincial relations, international affairs—and his place in history.

Fully 18 of Trudeau’s 32-member cabinet served him before in some 30 portfolios. Six of them are back at stands they operated before. True to form, 14 ministers are lawyers and only two— Monique Bégin in Health and Northern Ontario newcomer Judy Eróla in Mines—are women (former Communications minister, Jeanne Sauvé, is Commons Speaker). Sixty per cent of the cabinet happens to be Catholic and there are eight educators, four farmers, three broadcasters and three businessmen. The average age is 47.

Aides say it was an accident, but Trudeau clearly fashioned a cabinet for the referendum in Quebec. Among the 11 ministers from the province, wellknown francophones occupy crucial federalist posts: Jean Chrétien in Justice,

Francis Fox in Communications and Gilles Lamontagne in Defence. Jean Marchand, Trudeau’s battle-worn colleague, becomes Senate Speaker. As Trudeau explained: “Quebeckers are very faithful supporters of the Liberal party.” For the West, where the Liberals elected only two MPs, Trudeau put Winnipeg’s Lloyd Axworthy in an unlikely spot as minister of employment and immigration, skipped over St. Boniface’s Robert Bockstael and tapped the Senate for the old and the borrowed: Ray Perrault as Senate leader from British Columbia; former Alberta Socred Bud Olson in Economic Development; and ex-Saskatchewan CCFer Hazen Argue for the Canadian Wheat Board. In the Atlantic region, Trudeau turned to five men including former Nova Scotia premier Gerald Regan for Labor and Roméo LeBlanc for Fisheries. Ontario got 12 spots, including Pepin from Ottawa in Transport, Robert Kaplan as solicitor-general and John

Munro from Hamilton in Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

There is a decided leftward lean to the group. MacEachen was intimately involved in the establishment of the Canada Pension Plan and medicare and, along with Pepin and Chrétien, was part of the small-1 liberal wing of Lester Pearson’s cabinet. One of the few rightof-centre economic ministers is the treasury board president, Donald Johnston, from Montreal. Gray, ditched by Trudeau in 1974 because he wasn’t considered flashy enough, is the author of the report that led to the creation of the Foreign Investment Review Agency (FIRA). But the government backed off from most of Gray’s recommendations—and now he is back, responsible for FIRA, with a new mandate from Trudeau to increase Canadian ownership.

Gray’s success in dealing with foreign investment will be a key test of the depths of the Liberal renewal. “The important thing,” he says, “is that you see people with a small-1 liberal inclination in the top economic portfolios.” If there is time left over after running the post office, André Ouellet in Consumer Affairs will get a second chance to display his activist bent. But William Stanbury, a combines expert with the Institute for Research on Public Policy, doubts that Ouellet will ever deliver Stage 2 of the Liberals’ competition act—legislation that is almost 10 years old and that has been consistently quashed by big business because of its anti-merger and anti-monopoly provisions. “The Liberals’ affection for their Stage 2,” says Stanbury, “is that of a man holding a rattlesnake on a very short stick.” As for Liberal pledges to increase Canadian ownership, NDP MP Bob Rae scoffs: “I’ve seen that movie before.” Retorts a defiant Gray: “But you haven’t seen me in charge of this before.” Time will tell if delivery comes only in the eye of the projectionist.