The eight youth delegates were earnest and cocky as they grilled former leader Joe Clark for more than an hour in a Prince Edward Island hotel room. The candidate finally broke from that private session to attend a pressing meeting with James Lee, the Island’s Conservative premier. Undeterred, the eight youths continued to quiz a Clark backer, Ontario MP Flora MacDonald. Later they filed gravely from the room to pass judgment on this pitch for their support at the Ottawa Tory leadership convention, which opens next week. Gary Fraser speculated that two of his colleagues are probably leaning toward Clark because he is a better leader than they realized. Nearby, delegate Mitchell Tweel listened to Fraser, already a Clark supporter, and then insisted that the undecided are still undecided. “You can’t,” he warned, “count your chickens before they’re hatched.”
For Clark, the future now depends on the nerve-racking vagaries of rounding up his chickens. More than 3,100 delegates are eligible to attend the convention. Clark needs a majority of 51 per cent to win. And campaign manager
William McAleer estimates that Clark will get 1,050 to 1,100 votes as the frontrunner on the first ballot. That means that Clark has to keep what he has and pick up 450 to 500 votes on the next ballots. As the campaign moves to its conclusion, his pace is relentless. The push for second-ballot support has become the central concern of the remaining weeks of the Clark drive. He is on the road now propounding the message that only he as national leader could heal the country and the party.
The assertion of a cross-Canada appeal is the main theme of the Clark campaign. And he warns that the party will be taking a great risk if it changes leaders because a new man probably will not be able to maintain the Tories’ current high standings in the polls. “I have always had my ego very much under control and I have never been driven by any of the dark or bright spirits that are supposed to drive political leaders,” Clark told Maclean's. “But I have begun to believe that I’m quite important to the country—I’m in a position now that I can help the country feel whole. The country needs an understanding and a trustable leader, and I believe myself to be both.”
Despite his conviction that he is the
man for the times, Clark says that he had to put his job on the line after a third of the delegates voted for a leadership convention at the party’s general meeting in Winnipeg last January.
Clark is asking for a second chance with a carrot and stick appeal: he wants to silence his critics and preserve the party’s new supporters—or else the Tories may lose votes in the next general election. In an eloquent moment in Saint John, Clark mused that his 1979 government foundered because people voted for him merely to remove the Liberals. “[Now] we have established a reputation for integrity which enables us to act with authority after we get in,” Clark insists. “I believe I’m the only leader of this party who can trigger that kind of reaction.” He also warns, however, that the Liberals may call a snap election if he loses and the party is seen as right wing or anti-Quebec. Those subtle barbs were aimed at John Crosbie, Clark’s former finance minister, and the Newfoundland candidate who has shown surprising strength in the past few weeks. Crosbie’s inability to speak French, however, continued to hound him last week as he campaigned in Prince Edward Island and Quebec. In Longueuil, south of Montreal, his
temper flared in response to reporters’ questions: “I am not a criminal,” he said. “Just because I’m not fluent in French doesn’t mean a disaster is going to occur.” Toronto candidate David Crombie also took a swipe at Crosbie in a populist speech to his home-town delegates. After defining himself as the party’s moderate hope, he attacked the right-wing policies of his rivals Crosbie, Michael Wilson and Brian Mulroney. Crombie stopped short of criticizing Clark, with whom he shares middleground party support.
Clark turns 44 this weekend. His hair is sprinkled with grey now, his expensive suits fall from his squared shoulders, and he struts with a confident air befitting the country’s only living former prime minister. On the road his schedule is gruelling. He drinks Coke, sips the occasional beer and indulges in an infrequent Dubonnet or Drambuie because he likes the sweetness. He rarely notices what he eats, and his wife, Maureen McTeer, jokes that when he comes home she does not know whether to let him sleep or wake him up and feed him. And he keeps going with a tenacity that exhausts his aides.
Says Clark: “I don’t think I have been regarded as being tough in the country before—I am by the people who work with me, but I hadn’t been by the public generally, and that had been a major problem.”
On the road his answers are direct, short on specifics, and there is often something for everyone. He promises to increase defence spending, to test the cruise missile if the Geneva disarmament talks fail and to modify the Foreign Investment Review Agency to emphasize major investment in areas “sensitive to Canadian control.” He wants extra tax breaks for winning industries and more money for job training. He wants to preserve universal social programs and soften the National Energy Program. When disgruntled Tories mutter about the government they had, and lost, Clark says: “I’m human; my mistakes are behind us. We won’t run into those kinds of problems again.” That remark always provokes long, cool stares from the delegates. And when they mention his opponents, Clark heaps praise on them all— he even calls Peter Pocklington’s notions “intriguing”—and then he insists that “the level of civility among the candidates is as high as it has ever been.” This spirit of brotherly love is novel. But Clark strategists are looking for second-ballot support— and it’s not going to come if Clark has offended delegates by insulting their candidate. Clark has also left the unfortunate im£ pression that he will purge 5 the party of malcontents « after a victory—and he is I scrambling to correct that i problem. “Joe has a core of
very strong supporters, but the major problem is that he has really offended a lot of people while trying to play hardball,” says a senior—and a decided— Conservative insider who claims that many delegates were horrified by Clark’s nonchalant attitude toward the dirty tricks played during the delegate selection process. “He’s not building bridges, and that’s bad, bad politics. To be honest, I don’t know where they’re going to find growth potential.”
Clark strategists counter that the delegates are there to be wooed. They are pinning high hopes on the theory that Brian Mulroney’s Quebec delegates may switch to Clark if Mulroney falters, to ensure that a bilingual candidate is selected. And they are hoping that many of Ontario’s 893 delegates will switch to Clark because he is close to them philosophically. In particular, they hope to attract supporters of Michael Wilson, David Crombie and Tories who would have backed Ontario Premier William Davis. Davis, however, has ordered his cabinet ministers and a handful of high-profile advisers to keep a low profile. Former senior aide Hugh Segal, for example, is backing Clark but keeping his head down. Insiders say that Davis has not forgiven Clark for branding him “a regional candidate,” and the Ontario machine has been idling in low gear. Last week Davis delivered an apparent snub when the premier failed to meet Clark when he was campaigning at the Ontario legislature. However, despite their philosophical closeness, it seems unlikely that Wilson and Crombie supporters will stampede to Clark.
Meanwhile, the Clark campaign will head into the homestretch this week with visits through Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The candidate is in good spirits—he talks about the convention as the “victory.” His fund-raising efforts mean that he will likely cover his $500,000 expenses. In recent weeks an unusual personal written appeal to his friends and supporters netted $100,000, although the letter was also mailed to people who had never voted PC in their lives. Clark says that if he loses, he will run again as an MP and try to bring the party together. If he wins, he says, the caucus “will enforce what we have to enforce”—but he expects only a handful of Tories to quit the fold. The campaign has given him a sense that he is carrying the party with him and that the delegates approve of his policies. Most of all he talks about how much he has learned about the party and the land. Oscar Wilde once quipped that “experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.” Clark must prove that his seven years of onthe-job training are a plus—and that none of his rivals can do it better.
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