A key figure in the federal government’s slick Six-and-Five restraint program suddenly began to waver last week, and Liberal strategists scrambled to save their economic master plan. At the centre of the carefully hushed-up controversy was Ian Sinclair, the powerful 68-year-old chairman of Canadian Pacific Enterprises Ltd. and the chief corporate defender of Ottawa’s restraint strategy. Sinclair was outraged over a government plan to give retired civil servants pension increases of 6.5 per cent and 5.5 per cent while the rest of the country is being urged to adhere strictly to the Six-and-Five dictum. He told Maclean's that he objected violently to the generous formula the government was using to calculate the indexing of its workers’ pensions. He does like the principle of indexing civil service pensions, Sinclair said, but what caused last week’s eruption was Treasury Board President Herb Gray’s fancy financial footwork.
“He certainly was unhappy,” acknowledged Liberal Senator Keith Davey, who is in charge of the Six-and-Five program. But the senator denied that Sinclair had even hinted that he might abandon his support role as chairman of a blue-chip committee of business backers of restraint. Still, other members of Davey’s sales team were less certain of Sinclair’s continued backing. And one committee member said that the CP chairman was indeed on the verge of walking out on the government.
Only a few Ottawa insiders learned of last week’s confrontation. In fact, most MPs were unaware of the behind-thescenes dispute as they entered the Commons for a late-night vote on acceptance in principle of the 6.5 and 5.5 plan. The measure passed 128 to 114, but the dilemma remains. If the government proceeds to relax its guidelines to 6.5 and 5.5 for its own pensioners, Sinclair will be furious. But, if it forces its 190,000 retired employees to live by the letter of the Six-and-Five program, it will risk losing the support of between three and 12 wavering Liberal backbenchers—possibly enough to topple the Trudeau administration—when the legislation is presented in the Commons for final approval.
For public consumption, Ottawa continues to boast that its restraint program is a stunning success. But on Parliament Hill lights are burning late into the night just to keep the project alive.
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