The olive branches were extended quickly and decisively last week when Brian Mulroney, the new Conservative leader, began the onerous task of uniting the traditionally faction-ridden Tory party. Mulroney wooed and won over the caucus’ 125 Conservative MPs and senators during two tough sessions which erupted into giddy fan-club rallies for the fledgling leader. The Conservative caucus, which was bitterly divided during Joe Clark’s seven-year reign, savored the rare taste of unity as Mulroney and his former rivals—including the gracious Clarkvowed peace. “It was a love-in,” declared Clark supporter Perrin Beatty, an Ontario MP. “There was a sense of a great burden being lifted from our shoulders—all the infighting was settled. He sure won me over.”
Mulroney’s triumph in front of the Tory caucus was the highlight in a week of astute public and private peacemaking. Two hours after winning the leadership in a tense four-ballot runoff, Mulroney asked a key aide to set up appointments with the kingpins of his weary party. Then, until he returned to
Montreal for a brief rest with his family at the end of the week, he conducted a dizzying round of private meetings with his rivals, caucus stars, party workers and backroom power brokers. To each of them the leader offered friendship. Invariably, the favor was returned with a grateful declaration of loyalty.
Mulroney’s first priority was to forge a coalition with his rivals’ campaign teams, especially the powerful machines of Clark and former finance minister John Crosbie. The day after the convention, Mulroney met with Norman Atkins, the chief architect of Ontario Premier William Davis’
Big Blue Machine, to offer him the chairmanship of a national election campaign committee. Members of the Big Blue Machine were the key figures in almost all the major leadership camps, and Atkins would be able to unite Mulroney’s convention manager, John Thompson,
Clark campaign manager William McAleer and Crosbie campaign
manager John Laschinger. Meanwhile, the highly respected Laschinger will likely become the secretary of the campaign committee—a full-time job. Mulroney will also enlist the support of Peter Simpson, the chairman of the advertising firm Media Buying Services, to tap his public relations expertise. Key Quebec organizers will also join the all-star group. “The Big Blue Machine is, in many ways, the key to putting together a national coalition, since these are the connectors in every province,” said a Conservative insider. A Mulroney confidant added, however, that Ontario will not have undue influence with the leader. “Brian got a much warmer reception around the premier in Edmonton than in Toronto,” he said.
Mulroney himself privately handled the backroom deals and he also publicly settled his personal political agenda. Four days after the victory last week, Nova Scotia MP Elmer MacKay resigned to clear the way for a byelection and the Commons seat that Mulroney urgently needs. Prime Minister Trudeau promised, in turn, to call the byelection “very soon.” And Senator Keith Davey urged his Liberal party colleagues to let Mulroney run uncontested because “it is to our advantage to get him in as quickly as possible and as easily as possible. Let’s see how he handles himself under fire.” Until he wins a byelection, Mulroney will not move into Stornoway, the Opposition leader’s official residence. Instead, he will run the party from a headquarters at the Château Laurier hotel. And he has been talking daily with Opposition Leader Erik Nielsen and his staff, taking a hand in every major decision. For one thing, Mulroney decided that Nielsen will travel to England this week for an international meeting of Conservative leaders which Clark originally planned to attend.
The trip to England is one of the many losses that Clark handled with grace and dignity. In public and in private, the former leader has insisted that the party must unite behind Mulroney. The day after his win Mulroney made an evening pilgrimage to Clark at Stornoway, during which he asked his predecessor to define the role he wanted to play u within the party. The ? next morning the two 2 men strolled into caucus 2 together. Before the as-
sembled MPs and senators, Mulroney lavished praise on Clark. Then Clark repaid him by insisting that he and his replacement were “old friends.”
The only sour note was sounded by third-place contender Crosbie. In a series of interviews last week, he blamed Clark’s wife, Maureen McTeer, for his loss, saying that she prevented Clark from moving to his camp after the second ballot so that the Newfoundlander could overtake Mulroney. He also called Clark “stupid.” Those remarks annoyed Crosbie’s fellow Tories. Supporters say, however, that Crosbie will probably not carry through with his heated threat to resign when the next election is called. They say that he and his wife, Jane, will probably study French at St-Jean, Que., in August, then holiday in France in September. “He’s battered and bruised but not down,” said a key supporter.
For their part, the Liberals and the New Democrats warily sized up the newcomer. NDP federal secretary Gerald Caplan insisted that Mulroney’s virtues could become liabilities. “He has a capacity to do well but also a capacity to bomb, as the rich Montreal corporation man who is too perfect and too slick,” Caplan said. The NDP has reason to be concerned. Should Mulroney’s popularity remain strong, he will be as much of a threat as Clark was to the NDP’S vital western core. Liberal party president Iona Campagnolo admitted that Mulroney is a formidable opponent. Said Campagnolo: “His win is probably healthy for Canada since it will force us to renew and redouble our efforts to be credible in the rest of the country.” Other key groups were also worried about the new leader. Quebec Premier René Lévesque predicted that his province will pay “a heavy price” for Mulroney’s election. Meanwhile, about 350 Parti Québécois delegates to a policy convention gave a standing ovation to a PQ back-bencher who suggested that the party should be running candidates in the next federal election. Despite this strong show of support, however, Lévesque remained reluctant. “We have more or less gone away from the idea of having direct party candidates,” he insisted. In Ottawa federal public service union representatives were equally worried by Mulroney’s tough talk during the leadership campaign. Jack Donegani, president of the 18,000-member Professional Institute of the Public Service, was particularly concerned about Mulroney’s insistence that senior bureaucrats should be in sympathy with Tory goals. “It may be right for a new government to look at deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers, but loose and ambiguous talk [of going further] could cause fear and concern,” Donegani said. Other union representatives worried about Mulroney’s attack
on their indexed pensions. Daryl Bean, a vice-president of the 185,000-member Public Service Alliance of Canada, charged that the new leader “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
As those concerns were exchanged, a parade of party leaders marched through Mulroney’s suite. He met with such key MPs as Saskatchewan’s Ray Hnatyshyn and Alberta’s Don Mazankowski. He telephoned almost every MP. He met each rival. In an unprecedented gesture, he tugged six of the seven Tory premiers into the federal caucus meeting. He huddled with such key party operatives as Atkins and former national director Paul Curley. Then he appointed a five-man transition team which included veteran political aide Patrick MacAdam and Montreal lawyer Michel Cogger to look into the organization of the party and the leader’s office. The results of those meetings with the party’s who’s who will begin to show in the fall when the Commons resumes and Mulroney presumably takes his seat. For one thing, Senator Arthur Tremblay’s key policymaking committee, a well-rounded group of Tories including former Clark communications director Jodi White and Senator Lowell Murray, will likely lose its job to a group headed by Mulroney loyalist Charles McMillan, a York University professor. Mulroney will probably shuffle his shadow cabinet and reorganize party headquarters to serve the needs of a new campaign committee. Although Terry Yates has offered his resignation as head of the PC Canada Fund, the organization that finances election campaigns, Mulroney will probably ask him to keep the job because Yates is a skilled money raiser.
Meanwhile, MPs left their regular caucus meeting last week issuing glowing comments about Mulroney’s businesslike approach to their usually rambling sessions. They said that already he had managed to forge a consensus on such issues as the Crow rate, western wheat subsidies and the financially strapped Canadair aircraft project. A Clark insider said that when the Albertan was elected leader in 1976, old party hands felt that a “nobody” had won and that Quebec rival Claude Wagner and the francophone wing of the party had been betrayed. “Now one of the three guys who should have won won, and the fight did not divide along linguistic lines,” said Tory insider Harry Near, vice-president of the Ottawa lobbying firm Public Affairs International . “Also, we’re up 20 points in the polls, and everyone wants to stay there,” he said. “Joe has shown class. Mulroney has had every advantage. The ball is in his court.” Now, Mulroney has to capitalize on those advantages by winning a seat.
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.