EDITORIAL

The growing loneliness of the short-distance leader

Peter C. Newman June 22 1981
EDITORIAL

The growing loneliness of the short-distance leader

Peter C. Newman June 22 1981

The growing loneliness of the short-distance leader

EDITORIAL

Peter C. Newman

In the 16 weeks since the Progressive Conservative convention, disillusionment with Joe Clark’s leadership has translated itself into ever-wider waves of abandonment. Not even when John Diefenbaker was pulling everything down around him like a gooseberryeyed Samson has the party been so devoid of competent advisers and fresh ideas.

Bill Neville, who served as Clark’s chief of staff for five years, left his post June 1. The PC leader has approached at least three candidates for the job— Hugh Segal, a senior adviser to Ontario’s Premier Bill Davis, Michael Meighen, former president of the PC Association, and Claude Dupras, chief PC organizer in Quebec—and all turned him down flat. Over at party headquarters, the outlook is even gloomier. Paul Curley, on leave from Imperial Oil since 1979 to become national director, last week returned to the pumps. Jodi White, now acting director, is expected to move away from Ottawa this fall. The party organization will then have five senior vacancies, all in the $40,000 to $70,000 range, that it can’t fill. When Clark’s Quebec adviser, Donald Doyle, departed, his place had to be filled by Denis Beaudoin, a Social Créditer.

A fund raising dinner usually held in Vancouver had to be postponed for lack of interest. While no one is out to bell the chipmunk, Tory whisper-circuits are busy. The idea that the PC party might possess a future apart from Clark is beginning to take hold.

The Tories aren’t known for their consensus-achieving abilities. But agreement is forming around two main propositions. First, that nothing has happened since the Clark government’s defeat to make Joe any more electable or to lead anyone to expect that the next Clark administration would be any better at sidestepping avoidable disasters than the last go-round. At the same time, everyone wants to avoid the kind of bloodbath that characterized the four-year battle to slay Dief the Chief between his electoral debacle in 1963 and his defeat at a party convention in 1967.

Clark himself still believes he can hang in, though he occasionally asks visitors to his office for their advice, hinting that he might leave. Those who know him— and especially those who know Maureen McTeer— claim that such banter is meant more as test of loyalty than as statement of intent.

For democracy to function properly in this country, there must be at least two national parties in realistic contention for office. As things stand, there is nothing much left in Joe Clark’s cause worth the sacrifice of keeping it alive. His prospects can be compared to the life span of a picked flower: the bloom is still there, but the roots that must nourish it have been cut.