The race for the Progressive Conservative party leadership will break into the open this weekend. Shortly after noon Saturday, newly elected Tory President Peter Elzinga, a gangly Alberta rancher-turned-politician, is expected to emerge from an allday meeting of the party’s executive committee to announce a date and location for the much-awaited convention to replace—or reconfirm—the already campaigning Joe Clark as Conservative leader. Elzinga’s announcement will end three weeks of uncertainty and is likely to prompt a series of declarations by other candidates. “Once the contest is official, the announcements will start coming fast,” predicted an eager lieutenant of Montreal businessman Brian Mulroney, a much-rumored contender.
So far politics, not politeness, has kept ambitions in check. No one wants to make the first public grab for the job that the beleaguered Clark has held for seven years. But that problem could be overcome if two or more of his potential challengers quietly agree to enter the race on the same day, a plan now being worked out. “The idea is to be friends for a day then come out fighting,” said the instigator of the plan—a key Mulroney lieutenant. The second reason for reticence in the party ranks was the fear that the 30-member executive committee might schedule a fall convention to give Ontario Premier William Davis and Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed time to extricate themselves from their provincial duties. A nine-month leadership campaign would be difficult and expensive to sustain. But that worry too has subsided. The reason, quite simply, is money. According to Calgary MP Jim Hawkes, a Clark loyalist, the Tories could fall as much as $200,000 to $250,000 into debt every month between now and the convention. Senior party officials are convinced that, for everyone’s good, the convention has to be held by the end of June—and Ottawa is the favored location.
As this weekend’s crucial conventionsetting meeting approached, the undeclared leadership candidates casually hovered around the starting gate. St. John’s MP John Crosbie and Toronto’s David Crombie lambasted the government in the Commons with more fervor than usual. Mulroney was in Schefferville, in his capacity as president of the Iron Ore Co. of Canada. Only Clark was oblivious to the preening and posturing. He fled to Florida for a vacation.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.