An uncertain opposition

Mary Janigan October 1 1984

An uncertain opposition

Mary Janigan October 1 1984

An uncertain opposition


Mary Janigan

In revealing ways, the leaders of Parliament’s two opposition parties last week fired the opening salvos in a battle to see which will be the most effective opponent of Brian Mulroney’s new Conservative government. The New Democrat’s Ed Broadbent wanted to appear restrained, dignified—and fair. So 90 minutes after Mulroney unveiled his bulky, 40-member cabinet,

Broadbent told a press conference that the number of ministers the Prime Minister appointed was “not necessarily bad.”

New ministers need time to adjust, added Broadbent. In contrast, former prime minister John Turner attempted to appear upbeat, aggressive —but fair. After Broadbent’s gentlemanly remarks, Turner went before the cameras to declare that Mulroney had broken his promise to give Canadians less government and, instead, had “given us more government.” Then Turner also vowed to “await their performance” before passing judgment.

Strategies: The two cautious openers pointed to the strategies for what could develop into a fascinating parliamentary tussle this fall. In one corner is Liberal Leader Turner, toppled from power and left leading a shellshocked, 40-member caucus that is completely unaccustomed to opposition. Turner and his party face the task of rebuilding the party and its political philosophy—and must make difficult decisions about how far to the left the party should move. In the other corner is Broadbent—a man whose party faced the prospect of political oblivion on Sept. 4 but rebounded to win 30 parliamentary seats. With the Liberals in disarray and ideologically adrift, NDPers for the first time in decades believe they have a real chance of supplanting the Liberals as the official opposition in the next Parliament. That

enticing possibility has set off a debate within the party over what it has to do to win—and how badly it wants to do it. In the months ahead both parties will be engaged in behind-the-scenes debates and organizational challenges while struggling for advantage on the Commons floor.

The problems are more pressing for the beleaguered Liberals because their change in fortune was so swift and so complete. Despite those woes, almost all Liberal factions have agreed that there will be no vendetta against Turner. Under the party’s constitution, a general meeting with a leadership vote does not have to be held until 1986—and although many Liberals harbor doubts about Turner’s leadership ability, most have resolved to give him a chance. “When the leadership vote comes up, Turner’s position will be defined from this point onward instead of the last

four months,” said a key Liberal organizer who opposed the Turner leadership. “We lost because we deserved to lose. Over the past few years the party had become fat and sleazy and ugly.” Said another senior Liberal organizer who backed Turner: “There is no faction developing to oust Turner, but he knows he has to maintain the initiative in the party, to make it clear that he is in charge—or that faction may develop.”

Vacation: Despite the hazards, Turner, his wife, Geills, and daughter, Elizabeth, left last week for a 10-day vacation in Bermuda—the first since those heady days last March when Turner returned from a Jamaican holiday to run for the party leadership. A friend said that despite his woes Turner is “in amazingly good form.” He is far more at ease with himself now, and relishing the challenge. In Bermuda the Liberal leader must decide on parliamentary roles for his 40-member caucus. One important decision will be selecting which of two prominent Quebec MPs —Donald Johnston or Raymond Garneau—should have the job as designated critic of the government’s economic performance, u Meanwhile, more than I 50 reform-minded Liber1 als met last weekend at an 2 isolated resort on Grindstone Island, on Big Rideau Lake, about 90 km

southwest of Ottawa, to discuss ways of reviving the party. Those attending included Johnston, defeated employment and immigration minister John Roberts and Turner’s chief of staff, John Swift. Many argued that the party must lean to the left, if only to avoid being relegated to the right by Mulroney. And there was general agreement that the party has been espousing out-of-date solutions to problems. Participants pointed out that the preoccupation with the universality of social programs was actually blocking Liberal goals to redistribute income among Canadians—and they agreed to


re-examine ideas such as a guaranteed annual income to find practical ways of achieving that goal. “If Mulroney manages to straddle the centre,” said a senior Liberal who attended the Grindstone meeting, “there is no question that the Liberal party faces the possibility of becoming extinct.” Another warned that the Liberal party cannot fall back on “knee-jerk” left-wing calls to spend more money. “If the party does move to the left it has to be creative about its policies.”

Problems: The Grindstone meeting also probed the party’s festering organizational problems. Coming out of this summer’s election campaign, the party is nearly $2 million in debt. Last year, when the Liberals were in power, the Tories raised $14.1 million, the NDP collected $8.6 million, and the Grits took in only $7.3 million. Out of power the party faces disaster. Although there are an estimated 200,000 card-carrying Liberals, the lists belong to local riding and provincial associations—and they have refused to give them to the national organization, which they mistrust. As a result, the central party organization has a partial list of 20,000 Liberals to call on for funds.

Some changes already have begun. After questions were raised during the election campaign about the use of party funds (Maclean’s, Aug. 27, 1984), party president Iona Campagnolo ordered a full audit of Red Leaf Communications, the party’s advertising arm. And some veteran Liberals who played pivotal roles in the past are likely to exert far less influence. According to party executives, Senators Jerry Grafstein and Keith Davey, who ran Red Leaf during past elections, are unlikely to do so again, and pollster Martin Goldfarb will probably not be used by the Liberals in the future. Meanwhile, both reformers and Turner loyalists are planning to build from the ground up by filling membership roles in riding associations and winning posts on provincial party executives. In some cases, the two teams will work together—but there is also the possibility of conflicts between the two camps within the party.

Bankrupt: Many Liberals inside and outside the reform movement view the party’s organizational problems as far more pressing than the formulation of policy. “You cannot play in this game unless you have enough money to buy the basics,” said one member of the Grindstone group. “If, 18 months from now, the party is bankrupt, if it has not started and paid for a healthy round of policy discussions, if it has not got thousands interested in fund raising, if it has not started a healthy internal communications system, if it is not attracting

new members, then Campagnolo and Turner are really in the soup.”

For its part, the NDP is in the paradoxical position of paying for its success with its own round of searching internal debates. In a brilliantly successful election strategy, devised by Broadbent and federal secretary Gerald Caplan, the party downplayed its ties with the labor

movement and concentrated on such middle-class issues as women’s rights and tax equality. Now, some political observers believe that the party can only replace the Liberals as the official opposition if it severs its link with unions, gains a following in Quebec and abandons such basic socialist stands as the party’s call for the nationalization of one of Canada’s chartered banks.

On the other hand, some strategists

within the party believe the NDP must move even further to the left in its policies. Saskatchewan MP Lome Nystrom argues that if the NDP shifts toward the political centre, “it will get into the mushy middle where the Liberals are. We are only going to make an impression if we are distinctly different, so it is important to turn to the left.” In contrast to that, Toronto MP Neil Young argues that the party should stay left of centre on social issues such as pension reform but closer to the centre on economic issues such as the role of Crown corporations. “This is a mixed economy—there is no sense in running around trying to nationalize Inco when it is going down the tubes,” he said. “But at the same time there would not be any sense in playing too much of a centrist role if it was dishonest to ourselves.” (Inco reported losses of $50 million for the first half of 1984.)

Opposition: While his party wrestles with those issues, Broadbent can at least be comfortable on one score: he has saved his once-imperilled leadership and can now decide how he wants to conduct the party in opposition and when he wants to leave. This week, at a two-day caucus, Broadbent will scrutinize his mps—and especially the seven newly elected caucus members—to decide who gets the senior roles as critics of government policy. He has already decided to abandon his scrappy, often harsh denunciations of the Tories. Said Caplan: “We have to be seen to be giving the new government a chance except in certain areas such as women’s equality, where we have clearly established the right to be outspoken. It has to be a vigorous but fair opposition.”

In the parliamentary struggles that lie ahead, the NDP has one clear advantage over the Liberals: it is accustomed to being in opposition. With one fewer MP than in the last House, the NDP will receive public funding of $274,000 for its research staff while Broadbent’s office will have a staff budget of $548,000. Both figures are roughly the same as before the election, and last week Broadbent asked Mulroney to consider increasing the amount. Turner’s Liberals, who are used to the affluence of power, will receive $384,000 for caucus research staff and $760,000 for the leader’s office staff, and Turner’s office staff will be halved to 25 members from the 50 he had as Prime Minister. “Our guys are chippy and cheeky and expecting to do well,” said a key NDP official. “We expect the Grits to be demoralized—they will not know how to cope.” Senior Liberals counter that they will perform well because their survival is on the line. As a result, when Parliament resumes in early November the opposition parties will be watching each other just as carefully as they watch the government.«^