Living up to the Tory syndrome

Carol Goar February 7 1983

Living up to the Tory syndrome

Carol Goar February 7 1983

Living up to the Tory syndrome


Carol Goar

In the manager’s office of the Winnipeg Convention Centre, Joe Clark and Maureen McTeer shared a buoyant sense of fun with their closest friends and advisers. Out on the floor, 2,406 Conservative delegates were lined up to vote on the subject of the Tory leadership review—and, indirectly, on the future of Joe Clark. The early omens were promising. Clark had just addressed the convention, and the speech went well. The crowd had interrupted him with 31 bursts of applause, and CBC television had aired a straw poll indicating that Clark had the backing of 78 per cent of the delegates. Then, at 9:30 p.m. central standard time on Friday, Jan. 28, a messenger handed Clark a plain white envelope with his personal preview of the results of the ballot. The contents were devastating. Clark had captured only 66.9 per cent of the delegates’ support—a scant .5-percent increase from two years ago. In the agonizing moments that followed, McTeer maintained a disciplined composure, managing to look elegant in a white, highnecked dress. Clark was ice cool. But the expectation of victory was shattered. Said David MacDonald, a former United Church minister and MP who is now a Clark speech writer and was in the room at the time: “Everybody was shocked. We weren’t expecting a runaway victory, but we thought we were safe.”

Manitoba MP Jake Epp, Clark’s chief organizer in caucus, was the first to enter the room. He was as stunned by the count as the others already in the room—Peter Harder, Clark’s boyishlooking principal secretary, Finlay MacDonald, his white-haired senior adviser, Senator Lowell Murray, his national campaign chairman, Terry Yates, the party’s chief fund raiser, and MacDonald. Clark sent messengers to summon three more trusted MPs: William Jarvis from Perth, Ont., House Leader

Erik Nielsen and Alberta MP Don Mazankowski. As the raucous dance music outside reached fever pitch, the 10 people explored Clark’s options. But the discussion was halfhearted. Mazankowski suggested that Clark should not make up his mind too quickly, and several others argued that he could still hang on. Finlay MacDonald, however, was firm: Clark, he said, had no choice but to call a leadership convention— and to do it soon. Clark had also been advised earlier to take such a step by

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed. The discussion was also academic. It soon became clear that he had already made up his mind. “He knew What he wanted to do,” said Harder. In the end, the 10 old colleagues produced one of the strongest and most memorable speeches of Clark’s roller-coaster career.

Clark began his second speech in an unfaltering voice at 10:50 p.m. “My friends,” he said, “I have been struggling to hold this party together for the last two years. We have done very well in establishing ourselves as a fighting Opposition but until we silence all the serious critics in our ranks, we will not prove our capacity to form a government to the people of this country, and consequently . . . .” His words were drowned out by agonizing groans. He

smiled weakly. “Consequently,” he repeated, “I will be recommending to the national executive that they call a convention.” Again he was drowned out by an urgent chorus of “No, No, No,” but he persisted: “... at the earliest possible time.”

That declaration profoundly altered the contours of Canada’s political landscape. The 43-year-old Albertan threw his own party into leaderless disarray, prompted the governing Liberals to quiet glee, and left the nation wonder-

ing when—if ever—the Conservatives will be able to provide a credible alternative to Liberal government. Suddenly Clark was just one candidate in a wideopen leadership race. And the party machinery is now in the hands of newly elected PC President Peter Elzinga, an Alberta MP who is a prominent Clark foe. As David MacDonald observed: “We’re between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.”

Only one prediction seemed entirely secure. The next few weeks will provide Canadians with a rapidly unfolding drama as one leadership aspirant after another enters the race. Most of the obvious contenders were either coy or cautious in the immediate wake of Clark’s unexpected announcement. Former Toronto mayor and Rosedale MP David Crombie, for one, commented: “I

came here fully expecting that Joe Clark would be confirmed. I haven’t made any decision. I don’t have any plans.” But friends of the so-called “tiny, perfect mayor” of the 1970s made it clear that they are waiting for Crombie to toss his hat into the ring as soon as politeness permits. Already, close associates have established a network of workers, funds and supporters.

One by one, the pretenders to the throne made perfunctory denials of their leadership ambitions—tentative and temporary though they were. Ebullient John Crosbie of Newfoundland hosted a boisterous party into the early hours of the morning after the vote. Although he insisted on Saturday that he had not decided whether to be a candidate—“It’s far too early to say”—at least one of the Newfoundland delegates at the party left with the impression that it was time to start campaigning. Crosbie had been travelling across the country for months drumming up interest, the delegate explained. “Do you think he will sell in the West?” the eager booster asked. Crosbie would say only that he thought an open leadership race would be healthy and helpful for the party and that he looked forward to it.

Montreal’s Brian Mulroney, the 43year-old president of the Iron Ore Co. of Canada, whom many people regard as the Conservative party’s prince-inwaiting, made no official comment. But in a suite a few floors below Clark’s delegation, Mulroney was eager to talk. In fact, he kept his wife, Mila, waiting in the hotel bar for more than 30 minutes

while he chatted, off the record, with two reporters about his career plans and the Conservative party’s future in his home province of Quebec. Finally, Mila grew impatient, called back to the hotel suite, and instructed an aide to tell her loquacious husband to come downstairs. Mulroney left little doubt that he was poised to jump into the ring. Lougheed, too, cast a large shadow on the Winnipeg drama. He told Clark before leaving for Hawaii that unless he could secure more than 66 per cent in the leadership review vote, Clark’s proper course of action was to call for a convention.

Ontario Premier William Davis was quick to make a public denial of federal ambitions. But in the chaotic, rumorridden atmosphere of the convention centre, many delegates refused to take his words at face value. “My commitment to our leader remains unchanged,” he told Ontario Tories at a regional meeting Saturday morning after the vote. As for his Ontario duties, Davis added, “I have no intention of being distracted.” At the same time, however, several influential Davis loyalists, including advisers Hugh Segal, Norm Atkins and John Tory, are pushing the premier to take the federal plunge. Worried Clark strategists desperately want to believe that Davis is sincere in his protestations of disinterest. Said one Clark staffer hopefully: “He’s such a Boy Scout that I don’t think he would stick his neck out if he meant to go back on his words.” The remark sounded more like a wish than a statement.

Flamboyant Edmonton multimillionaire Peter Pocklington was emboldened

to promise a statement shortly on his leadership ambitions. Although last summer, during a cross-country tour, he announced his intention to be a candidate at a convention, Pocklington did not show up in Winnipeg.

Lougheed, vacationing in Hawaii since early January, returned this week for a meeting of western provincial premiers in Swift Current, Sask., on Tuesday and Wednesday, only to be faced with a barrage of questions about his position on the Tory leadership. Although Lougheed has said that he supports Clark’s leadership, he has never completely dismissed the notion of seeking the federal leadership in the right circumstances. The premier, however, would set stringent terms. He would want a “draft Lougheed” movement that was broadly based in the country and he would want a virtual assurance that he would become leader of a party that had a good chance of winning the next federal election. And, although Lougheed likely will continue to profess support for Clark, the strong draft that began almost as soon as the leadership was declared open will force him into serious reconsideration. The premier has frequently intimated to close associates that he would rather leave politics entirely. Indeed, he has indicated that there are others in the party whom he would support for the leadership. Still, the tilt of other candidates who enter the race and regional considerations will be factors in his decision.

The West will long resent the fact that Davis sided with the federal government during the energy talks and on the Constitution. Easterners, in turn,

remember Lougheed as the man who symbolically turned off the taps. If he does, in fact, declare, Lougheed likely will be the last to enter the race. If he decides not to run, he will probably act as he did at the 1976 leadership convention. Then, largely for family considerations, he turned down a strong draft, centred in Metro Toronto and with links to smaller camps across the country, and attended the convention without publicly throwing his support to any candidate.

Other potential contenders also thrust their way onto the stage. The party’s public service critic, Toronto MP Sinclair Stevens, said he might run, although in 1976 he was eliminated after the first of four ballots. Party president Peter Blaikie, a tall, selfconfident Montreal lawyer, brushed reporters away with the statement: “Don’t even bother to turn on your tape recorders. All I’ll say is ‘no comment.’ ”

There were even suggestions that Vancouver MP Pat Carney might stand to ensure that a woman is in the race, if Flora MacDonald does not run.

The party’s finance spokesman, Michael Wilson, said he was so shocked by Clark’s decision that he had given no consideration to his own future plans in the party.

But he has a following in the business community and among some parliamentarians. Everyone seemed to have a favorite would-be contender. The only ingredient missing initially was someone with the daring to become Clark’s first formal challenger.

For his part, Clark made it clear when he opened the starting gate that he was in the leadership race to win. “I will be a candidate,” he assured his disappointed supporters, who were still wiping away tears as he climbed down from the podium after his historic announcement. The next morning, in quick succession, he announced that he was resigning as both leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada—decisions that effectively will deny him access to the party’s flush bank account. Clark had no choice under party rules. But his decision still left delegates reeling. On Saturday, af-

ter a few hours’ sleep and a meeting with Alberta Tories, Clark said, “I intend to resign so that I can become an unfettered candidate for the leadership.”

In the chilly concrete convention centre the night before, Clark was the object of warmth. His foes were as laudatory as his friends. No one, it seemed, was left unimpressed by Clark’s gritty decision to step down from the $105,600a-year job he fought hard to win seven years ago and which he battled to retain in the tumultuous six years since. No one outside Clark’s innermost circle really knew the agony he suffered in Winnipeg. He moved in a protective casing of aides, friends and security men.

When the inner circle came to comfort Clark in his Holiday Inn suite after the vote, there were hugs and tears. The atmosphere reminded one supporter of a funeral gathering. Neither Clark nor his workers quite knew what to say to each other, and there was really nothing to be said.

Earlier in the week Clark set a brisk, confident pace. Limousines whisked him from a $470-a-night suite on the 20th floor of the Westin Hotel through a series of carefully spaced and selected events at the convention centre. As he swept in and out of receptions and speeches, he occasionally stopped to shake hands with delegates. But under the insistent glare of the television lights, conversation was all but impossible.

The embattled leader arrived in Winnipeg late Wednesday on a flight so jammed with young Tory delegates that two passengers were bumped off in Toronto. He was greeted in the convention city by a beaming Jake Epp, who had arranged for a five-piece band and an embarrassed gaggle of teenagers in bikini tops and grass skirts. Clark opened the convention the next morning with a low-key, 10-minute speech; then he rushed off to meet the top journalists of the Winnipeg Free Press, which had given him a glowing editorial endorsement the previous day. Clark was surprisingly relaxed during the 90-minute meeting. He leaned back in his chair with his hands clasped behind his head, chatting comfortably about topics ranging from the need to allow the testing of cruise missiles in Alberta to the possibility of working with the Parti Québécois government in Quebec.

He lunched in his hotel room, working on the speech he would deliver at a PC youth federation dinner later that day and spent part of the afternoon munching canapes and cheese at a friendly reception for delegates from his home riding of Yellowhead. His dinner speech confirmed one of Clark’s well-known character traits. He began by reading his prepared text in stentorian, emotionless tones. Then a young heckler interrupted, boasting that he—unlike Clark—had I managed to finish law z school (Clark dropped out of law at Dalhousie University after one unhappy year). The challenge brought Clark to life. He replied curtly—and with an indulgent smile at lawyer wife Maureen—that, useful as a law degree might be, it was no guarantee of good judgment. He finished the speech with a spirited appeal to the young Tories to use their energy to fight the Liberals, not squabble among themselves.

The next morning Clark sailed through a supportive breakfast at the women’s caucus, then retired to his hotel room, where he met briefly with a few advisers. After they left, Clark donned a maroon cardigan, ordered a bottle of Perrier water from room service, and began the last revisions to his speech. An aide asked a hotel staffer in the hallway to turn off his vacuum cleaner so Clark could concentrate. His


mood, according to principal secretary Peter Harder, was almost unnaturally calm and fatalistic. “I think he’s eager to have the vote and get it over with,” Harder told Clark’s assistant, Finlay MacDonald, as the two rode down on the elevator. MacDonald, 60, a veteran of many conventions, grunted skeptically.

There was never a moment of doubt that Clark’s Friday night speech was the crucial one. The Tory leader had been toying with phrases and ideas since Jan. 9, when he returned from his Christmas vacation in the Bahamas. But the serious writing began two weeks before the convention. The speech was a composite of the ideas and suggestions of no fewer than 25 key officials and advisers, including Finlay MacDonald, national campaign chairman and longtime friend Lowell Murray, House Leader Erik Nielsen, Clark’s 25-year-old speech writer, Ian Shugart, and his francophone counterpart, JeanClaude Danis. Another contributor was the Tory leader’s former chief of staff, William Neville, now a vice-president of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. But Clark himself, with foolscap and a tape recorder, perfected the final phrases just hours before the vote.

He had learned the hard way to ac-

cept advice about crucial speeches. Two years ago, at the last leadership review vote, Clark rejected a barn burner of a text written by the politically astute Neville, complaining that it was too tough and that it sounded too strident. Instead, Clark sat down at the typewriter himself, as the hour of decision neared, and composed his own text—a softer, more statesmanlike address. Virtually every delegate at the 1981 convention complained that the speech was flat and uninspiring. In Winnipeg, he realized, there could be no such restraint. Clark knew he had to deliver with all guns blazing.

And he did. Clark dealt with the leadership issue boldly and directly. “My friends,” he declared, “either we clear the air tonight or we set aside another year for Conservatives fighting Conservatives instead of fighting the Liberals and the NDP.” Shouting to make himself heard over the applause and chants, Clark declared that he deserved to be confirmed as leader. He had managed to keep his fractious party together for seven years—“most of the time”—and he had been an effective Opposition leader, despite having to deal with constant closet mutinies and internal squabbles.

The atmosphere in the convention hall was so electric that Clark’s words almost did not matter. Young Clark loy-

alists filled the front rows and, clenched fists in the air, their ranks erupted with thunderous, rhythmic cheers of “Joe, Joe, Joe.” Anti-Clark delegates, seated in a cluster just to the right of the stage, were drowned out each time they began to jeer and hiss. After a quiet, agonizingly intense two days of soul-searching, the repressed emotion of the convention finally burst out. Clark’s supporters raved about the speech, and even his critics conceded that he had hit all the right—and raw—nerves. He promised to take a tough line with caucus and its tradition of backroom rebellions. He frankly admitted that he had made mistakes in the past—“I’ve pulled some real clangers”—but reminded his critics that he had been a prime minister, unlike all but one Conservative prelender to the top job in his lifetime. “It vas a good speech. It addressed all the issues,” said top Liberal strategist Gordon Ashworth, who attended the convention as a guest. “It was a super effort,” insisted a chief Clark lieutenant, Calgary MP Harvie Andre.

But at times the party seemed to have more fire in its belly than the leader. Still, as Ashworth noted, the Winnipeg meeting hall is such an acoustical and architectural challenge that he would never allow Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to deliver a crucial leadership speech there. “So I would say Clark did

pretty well,” Ashworth mitted. “I’d give him a seven coincidentally the rating Clark’s people assigned to his harshest opponents in their computerized delegate profile.

What went wrong? Clark rightly had nothing but praise for his 250-member network of convention strategists. “They did almost everything right in terms of organizing a convention,” said Liberal Ashworth.

“Mr. Clark deserves great marks for building the best political party in the country.”

But there were flaws in the master plan. One was the treatment of Quebec delegates. Party functionaries set up a formidable series of obstacles for the 200 anti-Clark voters that disaffected national vice-president Jean-Yves Lortie brought to Winnipeg. First, their names somehow could not be found in the computers. Then, records of their convention fee payments mysteriously were not available. In the end, some weary and angry Quebeckers made four trips to the registration desk before they finally received their credentials. Mulroney arrived in the thick of the fray and thundered, “Why ask these delegates to come to Winnipeg in January if

you’re going to treat them like stray dogs?” Mulroney pointedly blamed Clark’s workers, not the leader himself.

The Clark forces may have lacked passion but they were efficient and equipped. The command centre three floors above the convention floor contained an elaborate paging system, charts showing the leanings of every riding and gallons of coffee. A group of

50 national co-ordinators of the Clark team gathered daily for a breakfast meeting, made their reports, then fanned out to talk to delegates. One top organizer, communications specialist Jodi White, approached a “soft” delegate and commented casually, “I hear you haven’t made up your mind about the leadership question.” The delegate, shocked that his leanings were known, asked White the source of her information. “I haven’t been doing this for eight months for nothing,” she replied.

The tactics did not always succeed. A youth delegate from London reported that members S of his group had their arms Ï twisted instead of their ears =, bent. Bruce Levitt and 25 friends were invited up to the Clark team’s command centre, where Calgary MP James Hawkes told them that, if they would not rally round the leader, they could “find another party.” Hawkes, said Levitt, warned that their leanings would be remembered long after the convention. Levitt said Hawkes told him that if he voted against Clark, and if the party found out about it, “he would come after me with a baseball bat.” The anti-Clark forces, in contrast,

relied on posters, public relations gimmicks and mysterious bulletins slipped under hotel room doors. One of their more subtle symbols was the button bearing the numeral 7—the worst loyalty rating in the Clark team’s computerized system.

The review forces started forming last May. Right-leaning members made contact across the country to voice frustrations about the direction of the party. They were also disgruntled by Clark’s leadership and they doubted that the PCs could win the next federal election with Clark at the helm. In June Pocklington started to vocalize their concerns. In July he announced plans for a countrywide, $50,000 speaking tour covering more than 20 cities. While Pocklington garnered attention at Chamber of Commerce meetings, his director of corporate planning, William Campbell, 31, measured the depth of dissatisfaction within Tory ranks. Campbell, who was an alternate delegate, accurately predicted the outcome.

Toronto public relations consultant John Morrison opened his campaign for a leadership review in August. He sent fund-raising letters to businessmen in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. The scattered opposition forces drew heft from the public utterances of such rebellious caucus members as Otto Jelinek and Elmer MacKay.

But long after the event and far beyond the reaches of either Winnipeg or the Progressive Conservative party, last weekend’s drama will change the political landscape. Ashworth said it is a “reasonable assumption” that Prime Minister Trudeau will postpone his already long-delayed retirement plans until the Tories resolve their leadership dilemma. And at least two provincial governments—Ontario and Alberta—could be plunged into uncertainty if their leaders decide to set their sights on Ottawa. Meanwhile, Parliament faces at least four or five months of halfhearted opposition as the Tories search for their 16th leader.

After Clark stepped off the podium at the conclusion of Friday night’s trauma, he entered the party at the Holiday Inn, smiling bravely, but Maureen was fighting back the tears.

By morning the mood had changed. The agony of indecision was gone. Campaign plans were being devised, and the air was full of speculation and dreams of a new, perfect leader. And Maureen had regained her fighting spirit. “I have no more tears left,” she said simply.

With Ian Anderson, Gordon Legye, Jane O'Hara and Peter Carlyle-Gordye in Winnipeg, Mary Janigan in Ottawa, Gillian MacKay and Barbara Righton in Toronto.