A QUESTION OF TRUST
By Carol Goar and Mary Janigan
As an enduring enigma, Pierre Trudeau has no match. But the prime minister left Canadians more bewildered than usual last week by staring into the nation’s living rooms in the combined guise of philosopherking and economic faith healer. On three consecutive nights of prime-time television he pleaded with Canadians to “pull together” to bring the nation through the bitter winter ahead. But, for all his idealistic musings on co-operation and his warnings about a “decisive winter,” he offered neither a hint of new policies nor suggestions of any economic cures to come. The issue was trust—in Trudeau and the nation itself.
Although millions of Canadians watched the prime ministerial mini-series—the request for TV time created a political storm for new CBC President Pierre Juneau—Trudeau’s electronic evangelism was strangely out of sync with the harsh economic realities of the country. The prime minister talked of trust, but among those adjusting their sets for more concrete solutions to the economic crisis were the increasing ranks of unemployed, the victims of epidemic layoffs and plant shutdowns. Trudeau discerned a renewed sense of togetherness, but across the country rumblings grew about the government’s very right to stay in office. In Ottawa concerned parliamentarians of all parties feared an angry and divisive resumption of Parliament this week. Said New Democratic MP Lome Nystrom, who returned to the capital from the doorsteps and street corners of his Saskatchewan riding: “People are saying we all have a lack of vision of where we want to take the country. They are collectively frustrated with the whole lot of us.”
Few Canadians were more conscious of the collective angst than Senator Keith Davey, the Liberals’ backroom Svengali who devised the idea of the TV mini-series. With fears mounting that the four-month-old Six-and-Five restraint program had run out of steam, Davey prodded Trudeau into the limelight, to push Phase n of the plan. But the prime minister’s trilogy was only part of Davey’s original plans for promoting the package. The publicity-conscious senator hoped to enlist the Consumers Association of Canada to help the government show that Ottawa was
serious in its war against rising prices. That scheme fizzled when the CAC insisted that it was more interested in exposing examples of price gouging than in focusing public attention on restrained prices. After jettisoning that plan Davey decided to bank on a personal appeal from the prime minister, in the manner of his previous and more celebrated televised interventions on national affairs.
But Trudeau’s charismatic coinage has been devalued after 14 years in office—particularly after his one-finger salute during his western train ride this
summer. Still, the prime minister apparently welcomed the plan. According to Liberal insiders, Trudeau has become gripped by the notion that, as Canada’s leader, he can still rally the national will with verbal prowess and determination. Said Davey: “If you are to fashion an economic recovery—and I guess it applies equally to a political recovery—you lead with your strength. I have always wanted him to talk directly to the people.”
The question was: who heeded—or grasped—the message? Compared with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who has
used TV effectively to sell his policies, Trudeau’s messages seemed to do little more than convince the country that, belatedly, his mind was on economic matters.
Nationalism: Further evidence of his growing interest came early last week when he spent more than an hour with 23 high-powered U.S. businessmen who came to Ottawa for freewheeling discussions with senior ministers and mandarins. Although the seminar was hosted by the independent Niagara Institute think tank, Trudeau turned up because he wanted to ease cross-border tensions. To that end, he patiently explained the ways in which Canada is different from the United States—its regionalism, its powerful provincial governments and its foreign-dominated economy. Adopting a conciliatory tone, he assured the Americans that he has never been an advocate of unbridled economic nationalism. (Coincidentally,
many businessmen welcomed last week’s announcement that Marshall (Mickey) Cohen, a taxation lawyer, will be the new deputy minister of finance. He replaces Ian Stewart, who requested a move from the economic hot seat.)
While Trudeau’s personal touch comforted the corporate moguls, his broadcasts opened on an ominous note. In the first of three addresses, all of which were filmed in his office on the prime minister’s 63rd birthday last Monday (page 20), Trudeau warned: “I must say in all frankness that a difficult winter lies ahead. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but reality is there for all of us to see. I believe, however, that it can also be a decisive winter for our economy and for our country.” Admitting that there were no quick or easy solutionsbut discounting the reinstatement of wage and price controls—he then pointed out that inflation was easing and interest rates were dropping. “Here
we are, all in the same boat, and we are all beginning to pull in the same direction and, suddenly, we know that we are all pulling in the same direction,” the prime minister declared. Angrily rowing against the tide of Trudeau’s hopes, however, were the federal opposition party leaders, Joe Clark and Ed Broadbent. Although both leaders will use their own allotment of CBC TV and radio time to respond in the next few weeks, NDP chief Broadbent called the PM’s broadcasts a “three-part farce.”
It is too early to say whether Davey’s Madison Avenue techniques and the prime minister’s pitch could work to cure the national mood of deep disenchantment. But the prognosis does not look good. Last week Statistics Canada put a few more brushstrokes on an already dismal economic portrait. Business demand for products continued to decline by two per cent, Statistics Canada reported. At the same time, the manufacturing, mining and forestry industries have slashed plans this year for capital investment, and Canadianowned manufacturing firms, which originally planned to increase investment by 15 per cent, have instead reduced spending by seven per cent.
In some circles, disfavor runs so deep it has provoked some inventive prescriptions and some exotic tonics. Flamboyant Peter Pocklington, owner of the Edmonton Oilers hockey team, is so disgruntled that he has taken a run at the leadership of the Conservative party. Although Pocklington’s well-known grandstanding and his lack of political experience may trip him up, the 40-year-old millionaire recently swung into a $150,000 cross-country odyssey to convince Tories that he is “better prepared than any politician in the country today” (page 21).
Backbone: In parts of the country many Canadians thought they were already ahead of Pocklington and the politicians in their frustration with current policies. In Sydney, N.S., businessman Mack Reed opined: “Trudeau says we have to tighten our belts. My God, I have tightened my belt so much I have a ring around my backbone.” Added Lloyd Larsen, president of Nechako Lumber in Vanderhoof, B.C.: “It’s up to the people now. Trudeau is not saying anything he hasn’t said before—he hasn’t got any ideas. It’s up to the people.”
The antigovernment outcry reached its zenith when Tory Leader Clark confirmed last week that he is now prepared to undertake the rare tactic of trying to topple a majority government before its term is up. Said Clark: “We are going to do everything we can [to
accomplish] that because I think it is such a dangerous government for the country.” Although Clark withheld a formal reaction to the mini-series, he justified his novel parliamentary game plan with the argument that the Trudeau government has “lost the moral authority to lead the country.” A senior Clark aide suggested that the Tories have the right to pursue the Liberals because the polls indicate that Clark would easily win an election now. The Liberals still have a legal right to govern, the aide concedes, but their continued rule cannot be justified on legal grounds alone.
That reasoning deeply disturbs some of the country’s most respected political thinkers. “I’m sorry, but we don’t run this government by Gallup poll,” snapped political science professor Roman March of McMaster University in Hamilton. “They are preaching a form
of insurrection—it is sloppy and malicious and confusing to the public. It is very dangerous and it’s irresponsible. Governments do not govern on moral authority, but legal, constitutional authority.” John Stewart, a St. Francis Xavier University political scientist and former Liberal MP, said Clark’s call for the government’s removal is a timehonored opposition tactic. “It’s fair ball for an opposition to say that there should be an election, but it’s also fair ball for the government to say that it was elected for a fouror five-year term to deal with whatever issues come up,” he said. “But how do you measure moral authority? What counts is ballots, not polls.”
The resumption of the 32nd Parliament this week—which has already lasted a record 395 days—is unlikely to soothe the unease. Before MPs
can tackle the pressing problems of job creation and relief for those who have run out of unemployment insurance benefits, they will have to clear away a large backlog of leftover legislation, some of which originated with last November’s budget. A new session—with a fresh agenda—cannot get under way for at least a month.
Against that backdrop of stale legislation, the cabinet is grappling with immediate and agonizing problems. Pressure from the nation’s 1.4 million unemployed is mounting. About 50,000 people a month are exhausting their unemployment insurance benefits. That forces them onto the already overburdened welfare rolls of municipalities across the country. For his part, Employment Minister Lloyd Axworthy is working on a scheme to extend unemployment benefits. He has apparently devised a formula that would offer the most generous extensions to areas in which the job crisis is most severe. He is
also toying with a plan to fund some job creation measures by boosting the unemployment insurance premiums paid by working Canadians and their employers.
Scuttled: The government also has to tacjde the difficult problem of paying for the plans. Earlier this month, cabinet’s powerful inner circle, known as the priorities and planning committee, resolved to trim existing programs, such as the Canadian Home Insulation Program, to find money for job creation. Members of the committee agreed that the deficit—now estimated at between $22 billion and $23 billion—would not be allowed to increase. Rather than allowing the federal debt to rise, Finance Minister Marc Lalonde suggested that money could be raised by ending the universal access of Canadians to family allowance benefits and old age
pensions. But party strategists and Liberal MPs scuttled Lalonde’s suggestion on the grounds that it was political suicide. As a result, the cabinet faces a dilemma: how to help the jobless and keep some ceiling on its burgeoning deficit. Insiders say that a resigned Lalonde is now on the verge of letting the deficit increase.
If life around the cabinet table is strained, life in the Liberal party is even more disagreeable. A contest for the party presidency between incumbent Norman MacLeod, a 55-year-old finance company executive, and Iona Campagnolo, a 50-year-old former cabinet minister, has erupted into a preview of the eventual leadership struggle to succeed Trudeau (page 22 ). Meanwhile, at next week’s Liberal party general meeting, some 2,500 delegates will be asked to debate two amendments to the party constitution, which, in effect, challenge the current leadership. B.C. delegate Elbert Paul says that the party should be given a chance to decide if it wants a leadership convention now. Ontario delegate AÍ Barnhill has suggested that there should be a leadership review every two years, instead of once between elections. Top Liberal officials do not take the proposals particularly seriously but they will push the leadership question out of the corridors and back rooms onto the convention floor.
Impasse: While the Liberals confront their demons, both opposition parties have their own divisions. The lingering dissatisfaction over Clark’s leadership of the Conservative party still threatens to undermine his performance. Clark’s future will only be settled when delegates are asked if they want a leadership convention at the party’s general meeting in Winnipeg in January. With just 33 members in the 282seat House of Commons, the New Democratic Party’s internal troubles often get lost in the Ottawa shuffle. But last week even that party joined the public display of internecine bitterness. The NDP’s problems crystallized around the apparently routine selection of a new national secretary, the party’s top executive. The NDP’s ruling federal council was split over the two leading candidates. The impasse was resolved only after western favorite and party veteran Cliff Scotton withdrew from the race, leaving the job to Toronto backroom strategist Gerry Caplan. The East-West split reopened old wounds from a battle that began two years ago after leader Ed Broadbent supported the Liberals on the Constitution issue, despite opposition from the party’s powerful western wing.
The bickering was not restricted to internal party politics. It also erupted in a bizarre exchange of letters between CBC President Pierre Juneau and strate-
gists for the two opposition parties. Both Clark and Broadbent insisted that Juneau, a onetime Liberal candidate, should not have allowed the prime minister three nights’ access to the airwaves. And they demanded Juneau’s resignation. The battle was actually welcomed by Liberal strategists. They knew that Trudeau’s motherhood-andapple-pie lectures contained nothing that the opposition could possibly denounce.
Trudeau may be forced out of his statesmanlike role this week in the sometimes nasty cut-and-thrust of parliamentary debate. Both opposition house leaders are predicting a fractious, difficult session. “I can’t see them being terribly co-operative,” said the NDP’s Ian Deans of his Conservative and Liberal colleagues. Tory House Leader Erik
Nielsen was equally pessimistic. “Givens; the mentality of a pretty damned arro-£ gant government, it’s difficult to see g how this session could be different the last one,” he said. Nielsen acknowledged that voters would probably like to see more courtesy and co-operation in the Commons. But he said his party will not alter its conduct until the Liberals promise to change their approach to the economy.
But, for the next couple of weeks at least, most attention is likely to be focused not on Parliament but on the country’s TV screens. There, Clark and Broadbent will pit their communications skills and personal appeal against Trudeau’s when they deliver their replies in the mini-series soap. Stay tuned.
With John Hay in Ottawa, Diane Luckow in Vancouver, Gordon Legge in Calgary and Michael Clugston in Halifax.