CANADA

The PM’s ‘retirement speech’

CAROL GOAR December 26 1983
CANADA

The PM’s ‘retirement speech’

CAROL GOAR December 26 1983

The PM’s ‘retirement speech’

The suspense lasted a mere 25 seconds. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau rose, faced his audience of 4,000 and said: “I may as well say it right up front. I am sorry that this will be the last supper—for some of you. I will miss you next year and the year after that.” With one weak joke, Trudeau turned the most anxiously awaited political event of the season into just another big, splashy Liberal fund raiser. Ironically, however, the rest of his speech reinforced a growing conviction within the party that his days as leader are rapidly nearing an end. “That was a retirement speech if I ever heard one,” observed one senior Liberal afterward.

In fact, Trudeau’s week was full of subtle signals that the Prime Minister was paying old debts and tidying loose ends. He renamed Toronto International Airport Pearson International Airport in honor of his predecessor, Lester Pearson, who died in December, 1972. He moved his old friend Jean Marchand from his $83,300 job as Speaker of the Senate, where he was clearly bored, to the $100,000 post as chairman of the Canadian Transport Commission. That allowed Trudeau to award the Speaker’s chair to Maurice Riel, an old law school classmate. Surveying the changes, Opposition Leader Brian Mulroney commented, “The Canadian people don’t need me to tell them that those are the sounds of the end of an era.”

In fact, the string of awards and ap-

pointments may continue. There are now 21 vacancies in the Senate, a situation that Riel predicted would quickly be remedied. “There will probably be more appointed soon,” he said, within hours of his own promotion. The Governor General’s term also expires next month, and Trudeau may want to personally select Edward Schreyer’s successor.

In Toronto, Trudeau spent practically his entire half-hour defending past accomplishments, ranging from extending diplomatic recognition to the Vatican to abolishing capital punishment. At the same time, he barely mentioned the government’s agenda for the future, its Dec. 7 throne speech.

But in financial terms, at least, the evening was a success, even though scavengers made off with most of the wine left over from the party. According to early estimates, the dinner of roast beef and apple pie at $250 per plate brought in $880,000, of which $220,000 went to cover expenses, $165,000 went to the Ontario branch of the federal Liberals and a much-needed $495,000 flowed into the national headquarters in Ottawa.

Throughout the meal and Trudeau’s speech, one guest sat quietly near the head table watching the crowd watch him. Everyone knew that former finance minister John Turner, Trudeau’s widely named heir apparent, was in their midst. He smiled engagingly, shook hundreds of hands and, like the Prime Minister, kept his future plans to himself. —CAROL GOAR in Toronto.

CAROL GOAR