CANADA

Trudeau leaves the home fires

The travelling salesman had to miss the constitution show back home

Robert Lewis October 5 1981
CANADA

Trudeau leaves the home fires

The travelling salesman had to miss the constitution show back home

Robert Lewis October 5 1981

Trudeau leaves the home fires

CANADA

The travelling salesman had to miss the constitution show back home

Robert Lewis

Is the agreement of the provinces of Canada constitutionally required?

The straightforward, ostensibly simple question lay at the heart of an issue that convulsed the nation for 16 months and was destined to cause further political grief no matter how the Supreme Court answered it this week. And the man who had written, produced, directed and starred in the drama was offstage for the final act. After a hectic week involving a cabinet shuffle and a fight with premiers over the format of an economic summit, Pierre Trudeau flew off to shill for nuclear reactors in authoritarian Korea before moving to the Commonwealth Conference in Melbourne.

The court’s decision—which came 24 hours after Maclean's went to press— inevitably overwhelmed all the salesmanship and statesmanship. The playwright’s first act had been performed back in May, 1980, when, with 10 premiers assailing sovereignty-associa-

tion, Trudeau undertook to repay a wonvictory in Quebec with a new constitutional deal. The question ultimately alienated eight of the 10 provincial leaders, riled great swatches of the citizenry and forced nine inscrutable judges of the high court to agonize for more than four months. At the end of his constitutional judgment day, defendant Trudeau was 11,000 km from Ottawa when, really, he wanted to be at home, if not in bed.

Instead, because of the 13-hour time difference on the other side of the international dateline, the PM planned to sit up until 11:30 p.m. to hear a live feed, by trans-Pacific speaker-phone, of Chief Justice Bora Laskin reading the verdict. Trudeau was then expected to retire, while his lawyers back in Ottawa prepared—and transmitted—a written summary of the decision. Unaccustomed as he is to predawn darkness, Trudeau would rise around 6 a.m. Tuesday to read the files and debrief his experts in Seoul and Ottawa. Then he

would go to a television studio and, before a full day of touring in the countryside south of Seoul, make a statement and take questions for a CBC satellite feed broadcast* back to Canada—in time to make “yesterday’s” newscasts.

Trudeau touched off the court battle last October when, after attempts at consensus with the provinces failed, he opted to press on alone. The dissenters (all but Ontario and New Brunswick) were repelled most by a charter of rights that would restrict the powers of their legislatures and Parliament and a constitutional amendment scheme that would allow future changes by referendums instead of legislative votes. Throughout, the provinces argued that a constitutional convention prevents changes in their powers without their consent. Ottawa disagreed, submitting that the convention issue was a matter for historians and political scientists, not judges.

In February, the Manitoba Appeal Court ruled 3 to 2 in favor of Ottawa, in

*At $2,717.52 for 30 minutes.

March Newfoundland’s Supreme Court went 3 to 0 for the provinces and in April Quebec’s Appeal Court decided 4 to 1 for the feds. The combined appeals went before Laskin’s court later in April. Trudeau aides groused that the final decision, on a matter so crucial to their man’s political and personal future, would be rendered while he was on a long-scheduled foray abroad.

The 14-day trip, ending with a rest stop in Fiji next week, in fact was trimmed from an original three-week jaunt that also was to include the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. With the domestic economic and political scene in tatters, however, Trudeau’s political handlers insisted that he concentrate on fence-mending at home, especially since he has spent 40 days abroad since last January. Before leaving for Seoul, Trudeau and his ministers snapped Ottawa out of its postsummer somnolence with the familiar determination of Grits on the run.

Belatedly, Ambassador Peter Towe in Washington, Energy Minister Marc Lalonde in Calgary and officials in Ottawa told Washington harshly to end the hemorrhage of official and Oil Patch complaints about the nationalist energy plan. Finance Minister Allan MacEachen held talks with bankers (see following story) and scheduled a prebudget session this week with his provincial counterparts. Trudeau, meanwhile, signed a new energy agreement with British Columbia’s Bill Bennett. Later, however, the two leaders, like warriors at Panmunjom, failed to agree on terms

for a proposed first ministers’ conference on the economy—because Trudeau rejected the premier’s bid for televised hearings on grounds that they are a forum for fed-bashing.

There was also a minor shuffle of deck chairs as Trudeau expanded his cabinet to 36, the largest in Canadian history. He put Employment and Immigration Minister Lloyd Axworthy out of his misery on women’s issues by handing that assignment to Mines Minister Judy Eróla. Serge Joyal, the energetic Quebec nationalist and sometime Trudeau critic, was made minister of state, responsible for selling renewed federalism to skeptics in Quebec. Bennett Campbell, a former premier of Prince Edward Island and a teacher, was named minister of veterans affairs. Jack Austin, the ex-Trudeau staff chief, became the fourth senator since last year’s election to pull himself up to the cabinet table as minister of state for B.C. affairs. Toronto’s Charles Caccia, plucked because of his ethnic ties from 13 years of obscurity on the back bench, replaces Gerald Regan as labor minister. Regan moves to the gutted secretary of state, where he will carry the can in the upcoming war with the provinces over revenue sharing.

Ottawa is planning to cut back transfers to the provinces by $2 billion next year, with university spending the prime target. Ottawa aims for a place in the classrooms of the nation: it will make direct payouts to students who enrol in federally approved courses. Trudeau showed no such interventionism on the matter of the human rights record of his hosts in Seoul this week. “I have no plans to raise it,” he said at a

pre-departure press conference Friday. On a tour of archeological digs scheduled for a district south of Seoul, Trudeau would be near the site of the bloody Korean army action at Kwanju against students in May, 1980, in which 189 were killed and thousands injured in Korea’s version of Kent State. The Kwanju region once was the stronghold of Kim Dae Jung, a popular figure who planned to run against military strongman Chun Doo Hwan, the South Korean president. Kim is now in prison, along with a dozen of his key supporters. The New York Times estimates a total of 15,000 prisoners are now being held in army detention camps without trial and with no charges brought against them. According to Western church leaders and activists, torture of political and other prisoners has continued apace since Chun’s embrace by the Reagan administration earlier this year.

Rev. Fred Bayliss of the United Church of Canada’s World Outreach program, and a member of the Washington-based North American Coalition for Human Rights in Korea, submits that Canada is placing commerce over principle in dealings with Korea—particularly in Trudeau’s drive to sell the Koreans more nuclear plants under the federally financed and troubled CANDU program. “If we really have some conviction about human rights,” says Bayliss, “we should not be taking advantage of other people to improve our lot.” United Church Moderator Lois Wilson urged Trudeau not to go to Seoul, but got no substantive response. CanadaKorea trade is approaching the $l-billion level, with next year’s start-up of the first CANDU reactor in Wolsung a symbol of bold hopes for more trade— and a site Trudeau planned to visit this week.

After flying through the night Tuesday, Trudeau was to arrive in Melbourne just in time for the official opening ceremonies of the eight-day Commonwealth conference. The informal agenda is brimming with contentious issues, among them New Zealand’s failure, contrary to a Commonwealth agreement, to prevent the tour of a South African rugby team; Pakistan’s desire for readmission to the club; and the uncertain future of the black majority in the South African-backed, white regime in Namibia (South-West Africa). Host Malcolm Fraser, along with Trudeau and the majority of the diverse leaders, want to make the North-South dialogue the prime focus of the Melbourne talks. The hope is that the Commonwealth can give a positive spin to the drive to improve the lot of poor countries, through concessions by the wealthy, in advance of this month’s North-South conference in Cancún, Mexico. A key question that may be an-

swered at Melbourne is whether Nigeria, an OPEC state, will approve the notion of oil-rich nations funding energy exploration and development in energypoor countries. Like Reagan in Washington, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher favors encouraging the private sector— not governments—to lead the way.

Trudeau, who started out with an insouciant banister slide at Marlborough House in London in 1969 but emerged as a respected force, will likely be attending his last Commonwealth session. The signs will not come at Melbourne, or even around the artificial lake where the leaders will take their weekend retreat in Canberra. The turning point would be the historic, piped-in decision from Ottawa’s Supreme Court of Canada. A negative judgment might prolong the Trudeau era; a positive one could serve him as the crowning achievement of his public life.

With files from John Hay.