Through 10 glasses darkly

John Hay January 11 1982

Through 10 glasses darkly

John Hay January 11 1982

Through 10 glasses darkly


John Hay

Before the age of television and the federal-provincial conference, provincial premiers inhabited an obscurity only rarely interrupted by national attention. Now, none is a stranger to the TV makeup lady and the Ottawa press corps—their considerable powers as well as their pretensions on view for all their countrymen. A decade of telecast conferences in Ottawa’s old Union Station has had its impact, and the nation is learning to tell the characters apart: the pompous, the maudlin, the bright and the shrill and the silly.

In 1982, however, most of the premiers (and their opponents) must attend to their own provinces and the politics of survival.

True, they will gather again with Pierre Trudeau next month to talk economics; and their ministers will argue on with Ottawa about transfer payments and the rest. But even a premier as secure in office as Alberta’s Peter Lougheed can sense when it’s time to stir the political compost in which a career will thrive or decay.

In three provinces—British Columbia, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick— the premiers are approaching' the day when each must call an election.

In Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, the major opposition parties face the divisions and risks of choosing new leaders. (Even in the roads-and-welfare politics of traditional campaigns, having a telegenic leader can make a party’s fortunes or wreck them.) Elsewhere, premiers are preparing for other struggles: the bitter resurgence of government-labor conflict in Nova Scotia, the infighting over offshore oil in Newfoundland, or the rumored federal ambitions of Ontario’s smart, smooth Bill Davis.

From the 10 provincial capitals, Maclean's has gathered the partisan tittletattle and political intelligence that foretell the premiers’ years ahead.

British Columbia. It should have been such a good New Year for Bill Bennett. His Socreds beat the New Democrats in an upset byelection in Kamloops last

May, and then Bennett himself shot to federal prominence as the premiers’ chairman in the last of the constitutional bargaining in the fall. But B.C.’s resource economy is in a terrible slump, and 1982 hardly looks brighter. The slack in tax revenues caused by the slowdown threatens to leave the government with a deficit this year—still anathema among Social Credit co-religionists. That means higher taxes or reduced public services. Bennett also faces tough contract talks with hospital workers and 40,000 civil servants. Last elected three years ago in May, he confronts an unhappy choice: go to the polls

before things get worse or ride out the storm and hope the economy improves, always risking the batty blunders that decorate B.C. politics. While he makes up his mind, Bennett has imported top operatives from the Ontario Tories. Among them: Pat Kinsella, one of Bill Davis’ campaign bosses last spring, now Bennett’s own deputy minister. The only serious opposition is the NDP, but ex-premier Dave Barrett has his own worries. Already beaten in two consecutive elections, he cannot afford a third strike.

Alberta. His energy and constitutional fights settled with Ottawa, Peter Lougheed has declared he will spend the year ministering within his own prov-


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ince. His Tories smashed the opposition in 1979, winning 74 of the 79 seats in the legislature, so there is little point in a snap election. Better to spend the year fence-mending—and explaining to debt-burdened farmers and others why they aren’t getting more relief from the fortunes being salted away in the Heritage Fund.

Saskatchewan. Allan Blakeney’s New Democrats passed the three-year mark of their current term in October, and most signs now point to an election this year—not least because the NDP is riding high in the polls. The opposition Tories (now with 15 of 61 seats) are led by

Grant Devine, a rather pedantic economist who has twice tried and failed to win a seat in the legislature. The Conservatives’ favored issue is the province’s 26 Crown corporations. Saskatchewan Government Insurance is scolded for losing money, Saskatchewan Power for making it. Blakeney will be faulted for investing in a uranium industry that is now in depression, but will boast of a beef stabilization plan that takes effect this month, and a popular new antiforeclosure law protecting homeowners and pitting the NDP against the big, bad banks. The Grits, without a seat, can become a force only after the unloved Trudeau quits.

Manitoba. New Democrat Howard Pawley will be called to deliver on some election promises when he meets the

legislature for the first time as premier, likely in February. Among them: rent controls and day-care legislation. Since beating Sterling Lyon’s Tories Nov. 17, Pawley has at least been sprightly in the matter of patronage. Saul Cherniak, a minister in Ed Schreyer’s cabinet, has been given the non-onerous, part-time chairmanship of Manitoba Hydro, at $35,000 a year. Saul Miller, another Schreyer minister, will be paid the same to be part-time chairman of Manitoba Telephone.

Ontario. Even by the bland standards of Ontario politics, the election last March was soporifically dull. It induced the lowest voter turnout since 1934, and it also put paid to the leaderships of

both Liberal Stuart Smith and New Democrat Michael Cassidy. Davis dubbed psychiatrist Smith “Dr. Negative” for saying depressing things about Ontario’s once-cheerful economy, while Liberal Senator Keith Davey credited Cassidy with “amsirahc—reverse charisma.” Both opposition parties will take corrective action at leadership conventions next month. Ahead in the NDP race, with heavy union support, is Bright Young Thing Bob Rae, who has won a national reputation as NDP finance critic in the Commons. In what appears to be a tighter five-way Liberal race, rich businessman-lawyer David Peterson, a London MPP, seems ahead.

Quebec. Parti Québécois headquar-

ters was rushing last week to mail out 300,000 ballots to party members before Jan. 1—to avoid the new high cost of federal stamps. The three-part question asks members to reject the separatist thrust already adopted at the PQ convention last month and to endorse, instead, René Lévesque’s softer line of sovereignty-association. With Lévesque expected to win, his next step is likely to be a purge of the openly separatist element within the PQ, which gained strength after Lévesque himself was left in the lurch at the final constitutional conference in November. Expunging the indépendantiste taint, the Lévesque cabinet is also preparing a four-year economic plan—nicely taking it up to the next election. The PQ malaise would be a tonic for the Liberals if their own sickness weren’t so serious. Leader Claude Ryan, loser in the election last April, shows no signs of departing gracefully at the party convention next fall. Among possible successors: Raymond Garneau, finance minister to Robert Bourassa, and Bourassa himself.

New Brunswick. The Liberal caucus having deposed leader Joe Daigle in November, the party is to convene next month to pick a replacement. Leading the four-way contest is bilingual lawyer Doug Young, though he is thought by some New Brunswickers to display far more ambition than is considered polite. But the dominating political question is when Premier Richard Hatfield

will call an election this year. In office since 1970 and last elected in 1978, he has always gone to the polls every four years. This year he can take his constitutional credits to the hustings, along with the completion, finally, of the much-maligned Point Lepreau nuclear power station.

Prince Edward Island. The new premier, Jim Lee, has just taken over from Angus MacLean and is under some pressure to seek a fresh mandate of his own. No need, says Lee, because he plans to follow the Tory line approved in the 1979 election. The new Liberal leader, lawyer Joe Ghiz, aches for an election so he can run for a seat in the legislature.

Nova Scotia. Having just won re-election in October, John Buchanan’s Tories this year are heading for another nasty conflict with organized labor. The hostility arose in 1979 with the Buchanan law preventing Michelin tire plant workers from unionizing. Now the government is threatening legislation to ban strikes among public servants in essential services. The Nova Scotia Federation of Labour is already plotting strategy.

Newfoundland. The NDP is almost unheard-from, and the Liberals are reposing under the indifferent leadership of Leonard Stirling—which might be temptation enough for Brian Peckford to call an election this year. But Peckford has had troubles himself and will try to labor another year before facing voters. Having given up his earlier brave talk of claiming provincial ownership of offshore oil, he will have to do well in current negotiations with Ottawa over offshore revenue-sharing and management in order to save face.

Finally, it must be said that at least two premiers might not be content forever with provincial ambitions. Lougheed has already been courted by rightwingish Conservatives from the East who want him to replace Joe Clark. He has decided that as long as the federal party emits the noise and smells of an abattoir he will stay where he is. Ontario’s Davis, on the other hand, has certainly turned his nose into the wind for a careful sniff—though he would make no move to overturn Clark. Davis is not adored in the West. But all those former retainers now working for Bennett would prove useful should Davis ever need a national organization for a Tory leadership campaign. For now, both men know that they have vastly more powers as premiers than any federal opposition leader; it is Trudeau, not Clark, who has the job they would want.

With files from Malcolm Gray, Gordon Leyye, Dale Eisler, Peter Carlyle-Gordye, Val Ross, Anne Beirne, David Folster, Kennedy Wells, Stephen Kimher and Randolph Joyce.