Never in the history of the Progressive Conservative party has anyone catapulted directly from private life into the leader’s office. Brian Mulroney is the first of the party’s 18 leaders to take over without ever contesting a federal election or sitting in a legislature of any kind. Throughout his three-month campaign, the 44-yearold lawyer stoutly maintained that he could become a politician on the job. Now he will have the chance to prove it.
Mulroney needs more than just a Commons seat to establish his credentials. His first challenge is to transform
last weekend’s convention from Brian Mulroney’s personal triumph into a victory for the entire party. That will involve convincing his rivals to come on side. To do that he will have to show the divided Tory caucus that he is indisputably in control and he will have to organize a circle of advisers who are conversant with Ottawa’s corridors of power and who can help him avoid the pitfalls of inexperience. Only when he has overcome those obstacles can Mulroney think about fighting for a seat in Parliament. (All during the convention, the Mulroney camp maintained that two unidentified Conservative MPs had offered their seats in the event of a
Mulroney victory.) He made his first attempt to erase the bitterness of the campaign when he called a Sunday morning meeting of the top workers from the competing camps. Long before the outcome of Saturday’s vote was known, in fact, Mulroney announced to a few trusted insiders that he would launch his career as leader by assuring all his main competitors that there will be room for them, and their best strategists, in his administration.
Mulroney realized the effectiveness of that strategy in 1971, when William Davis was chosen leader of the Ontario Conservative party. Davis’ first move —the day after the convention—was to reach out to the talented workers who had not been part of his campaign and warmly invite them to join him.
Apart from his gesture toward the
vanquished, Mulroney has had little time to plan his future. But it is clear that the events that will dominate his life between now and the next federal election are already taking shape with relentless rapidity. Within two years he has to hire a permanent staff, rally the party around him, get elected and in all likelihood face a new Liberal leader. With such formidable challenges ahead, Mulroney’s most urgent priority is to assemble a team he trusts.
Mulroney’s campaign promise to give his friends all the best jobs in Ottawa makes hiring a staff sound easy. But the
reality is far from simple. Within days of his election as leader, Mulroney knew that he could expect the resignation of the national campaign chairman, Senator Lowell Murray, the man responsible for steering the party through the next election. Murray is an old university chum of Mulroney’s, but he would almost certainly not want to remain in his pivotal role under the new leader— he was Clark’s campaign chairman and remains a staunch loyalist. Mulroney also had to anticipate the resignation of National Director Pierre Fortier, another Clark loyalist, and his staff, the party’s research staff and probably some of its key fund raisers. Mulroney will welcome some of those departures, but they will create huge gaps at party headquarters.
The easy way to deal with the di-
lemma of hiring an instant staff—the route Clark took in 1976—is to fill the critical positions with interim people. That way, any disaster is at least reversible. But that option is closed to Mulroney. With a national election two years away, he has to sign up a staff that will develop with him. “He can’t afford a holding group,” explained one of the chief architects of the Clark administration. “He needs people who can run and manage a campaign.”
Although Mulroney himself gave no hint of the kind of assistants he will seek, it was clear that he is leaning
toward a few key strategists. John Laschinger, John Crosbie’s campaign manager, is certain to be vigorously courted. When Mulroney has selected his people, he will have to widen his scope. His first target will be the 125 MPs and senators who often made Clark’s weekly caucus sessions a nightmare. Mulroney will have to demonstrate to those politicians not just that he is in the driver’s seat but that he knows where to find the ignition.
By the fall Mulroney u will have to think seris ously about fighting the a byelection. That cam£ paign will provide Cana1 dian voters with a fore“ taste of his leadership style in the federal election. One of the annoying
uncertainties of byelections is that the opposition has no control over their timing. Although Mulroney has boldly predicted that the byelection will be declared by Sept. 1 at the latest, he can in fact only hope that is the case. It is up to Pierre Trudeau to set the polling date, and the only rule governing his announcement is that it must be made within six months of a vacancy occurring. As a result, he could keep Mulroney out of the Commons until December—and even then set a date months in the future.
Mulroney smiles expansively when he is asked what he would do if he were running the country. That is not surprising. Being Prime Minister seems almost easier than getting there.
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