Canada after Trudeau

Carol Goar March 12 1984

Canada after Trudeau

Carol Goar March 12 1984

Canada after Trudeau


Carol Goar

Pierre Elliott Trudeau felt that he was losing control of his destiny, and the thought tormented him. Against his will, a country and a press corps hungry for change were forcing him into the role of the faintly pathetic hero of a maudlin farewell drama. But the 64-year-old prime minister was determined to break free of their suffocat-

ing expectations and he set last Tuesday night as his hour of decision. He put his three sons to bed after their judo class, then waited for a crucial phone call from Toronto. Martin Goldfarb, the Liberal party’s private pollster for the past 11 years, was scheduled to phone that night with his latest reading on Trudeau’s public profile. He called at 8:30 p.m. The conversation, about Trudeau’s peace initiative, his performance in Parliament and the issues that were I

on voters’ minds, was long and relaxed. But Goldfarb emphasized one critical point—Trudeau had never rated higher in public respect, and still the country wanted a change. When he hung up the phone, the pollster was convinced that the troubled prime minister was not going to step down. Recalled Goldfarb: “I felt he was still in doubt.”

But Trudeau went out into Ottawa’s worst blizzard in four years and took a long walk to consider the information

he had just received. Goldfarb had not provided him with any convincing reason to delay his resignation. The timing was propitious—with Parliament on its winter break, speculation about his future largely suspended and his would-be successors scattered across the globe— for a clean, calm resignation. Recalling his solitary walk later Trudeau said, “I went out to see if there were any signs of my destiny in the sky, but there I weren’t—there was nothing but snow-

flakes.” At midnight he returned home, took a 90-minute sauna and went to bed. The next morning he announced to his staff and to the country that he was stepping down after dominating the nation’s politics for more than 16 years. With that, an era quietly passed.

Trudeau’s long-awaited, but still unexpected, resignation set the stage for a major shift in the political contours of the nation as attention quickly focused on the choice of a new Liberal leader and a possible fall election. At a weekend meeting the Liberal party’s national executive set June 14 as the date for a four-day convention in Ottawa’s Civic Centre, formally launching the leadership race. But, in fact, preparations for a transfer of power have been in progress for almost two years.

Mobilizing: Indeed, the day Trudeau resigned, most of the pretenders to his job were surreptitiously campaigning. Justice Minister Mark MacGuigan was in Calgary raising his western profile; Employment Minister John Roberts was travelling to Montreal to make a speech to a Liberal riding association; and Economic Development Minister Donald Johnston was subtly reminding students at his alma mater, McGill University, that he was a gold medallist of the law school 25 years ago. The most eagerly awaited of the likely contenders, Bay Street lawyer John Turner, was enjoying the Caribbean surf at a private beach in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. But within four hours of Trudeau’s departure he had instructed his old friend, Montreal lawyer John de B. Payne, to issue a statement saying that he would declare his intentions next Friday—an announcement that his extensive network of workers took as the signal to begin mobilizing across the country.

Turner’s announcement in effect set the agenda for the race and flushed would-be candidates out into the open sooner than some of them may have anticipated. Energy Minister Jean Chrétien, for one, was quick off the mark. Last weekend his key organizers met in the minister’s office on the 21st floor of the energy building in Ottawa. Under the direction of longtime Chrétien senior policy adviser Eddie Goldenberg, a fund-raising drive began. Other cabinet ministers such as Johnston and MacGuigan were poised to announce in an attempt to offset some of the publicity surrounding Turner. And some possibles, such as former finance minister

Donald Macdonald and Transport Minister Lloyd Axworthy, ruled themselves out as contenders.

In the rush to find a replacement for Trudeau, the man himself, who had for so long dominated the Canadian political landscape, was almost forgotten. The man who never failed to bring out the drama of the moment had chosen a particularly self-effacing way of retiring, saying goodbye in a short, bland letter sent to party president Iona Campagnolo at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 29. “I would like to ask you to take all the necessary steps to arrange a national convention at the appropriate time and place,” Trudeau wrote. “Until that convention has chosen my successor, I will, of course, continue to serve as leader of the party.” It was a strangely insensitive farewell which hurt and puzzled his followers, but it released the rest of the population from any obligation to mourn.

Passionate: Indeed, Trudeau’s curiously private farewell was greeted largely with equanimity even though he, more than most previous prime ministers, had taught Canadians to feel passionate about their politics. The business community showed its elation at the passing of a leader whom many of its members considered to be a dangerous and inconsistent socialist—the Toronto Stock Exchange soared on the day of his resignation. In Calgary, where Trudeau was distrusted because of his nationalistic energy program, free champagne flowed in the Petroleum Club. Both opposition leaders, caught by surprise as they vacationed in Florida, arrived back in Canada ahead of

schedule to add their voices to the mixed testimonials. Said Conservative Leader Brian Mulroney: “He will be sorely missed.” NDP Leader Ed Broadbent added that Trudeau’s departure offers “a new beginning for Canadians.” The Prime Minister’s estranged wife, Margaret, was at an Ottawa TV studio waiting to tape her talk show when she heard the news. She said in a television interview that she was having “a hard time” getting used to the idea that the children—Justin, 12, Sasha, 10, and Michel, 8—would be moving in a few months to Trudeau’s fashionable heritage home on Pine Avenue in Montreal.

Around the world, leaders and former leaders noted the end of a career that had outlasted many others. Former West German chancellor Willy Brandt described Trudeau as “one of those remarkable personalities, who brought Canada into the centre of world affairs.” Former U.S. president Richard Nixon called him “one of the ablest leaders in the Western world.” But the coolness between Trudeau and the Ronald Reagan administration was evident in a minor protocol lapse—the state department issued a short tribute to Trudeau while the White House remained silent. As one Reagan administration official put it, “Trudeau has been far too far to the left for this administration.”

Within Canada most provincial pre-

miers had only muted praise. It was left to an old enemy, René Lévesque, to deliver one of the most poignant and sincere tributes to his arch adversary. “To be frank—yes, I’m sorry,” the Quebec premier told reporters. “He sure made things more interesting—not necessarily more appealing, but more interesting.”

The eulogies were still arriving when the pre-campaign began in earnest. No fewer than seven of the probable contenders—including Johnston, MacGuigan, Roberts, Treasury Board President Herb Gray, Trade Minister Gerald Regan, Indian Affairs Minister John Munro and former Trudeau aide James Coutts—converged in Halifax last weekend for a meeting of the Nova Scotia provincial Liberals. “We have not had this much excitement at a Liberal meeting for years,” said provincial delegate Dr. William Gorman, watching a battery of television cameras in operation. The crush of the national media was so great that it took Johnston 25 minutes to work his way past the microphones and television cameras along the 100 feet from the entrance of the hotel to the desk where he got his nametag pin.

Butterflies: Although Turner was not present, he still figured prominently in the speculation. If Turner enters the race next week, he will begin with such a formidable lead that many Liberals would consider him unassailable. But at least two powerful factors are at work to prevent a coronation of the classically handsome former finance minister. One is that his network, although it is large and well-financed, is made up of many Liberals whose only contact with Turner has been on a television screen. About 27 per cent of the Canadian electorate was not eligible to vote when the silverhaired, 56-year-old business leader last sat in the House of Commons. The young Liberals, who were solidly behind him in his last bid for the Liberal leadership in 1968, are now declaring fervently that they do not want Turner to have an easy runaway victory.

Another major liability, one that Turner privately acknowledges, is that he is uninformed on many current issues. “The party has serious butterflies,” said one highly placed Liberal who considered joining the Turner team and ultimately decided against it. “It was all supposed to be so certain and it does not feel that way.” Still, Turner is well positioned for an early-ballot victo-

ry. He has a coast-to-coast organization of loyalists, led by Vancouver lawyer John Swift, who is in Toronto this week to begin preparing the campaign (page 36). Liberal insiders say that Turner has budgeted $2 million on his campaign, and there is little doubt that he can raise at least that amount.

Turner’s most serious challenger, in the early days of the race, will probably be 50-year-old Jean Chrétien. Although convential wisdom dictates that the Liberal party has always alternated between a francophone and an anglophone leader, the petit gars from Shawinigan is quick to point out that linguistic background did not stop anglophones Robert Winters, Mitchell Sharp (whom Chrétien supported) or John Turner from entering the 1968 contest to succeed Lester Pearson.

Chrétien’s strongest asset is also his worst handicap. He is extremely likable, but many of his biggest fans add that personality is simply not enough to qualify a man for the party’s, and possibly the

country’s, top job. Chrétien will try to emerge as the populist, left-of-centre candidate whom the Liberals need as an alternative to Turner’s Bay Street image. His organizers estimate that the campaign will cost almost $1 million. One obvious source of funds is Power Corp. Chairman Paul Desmarais, whose son is married to Chrétien’s daughter, France. But Chrétien’s advisers insist that their candidate will not tap into family money. “He is a proud man,” said one confidant. “He does not want to be dependent on Paul Desmarais.” Chrétien’s promoters are already looking for second-ballot support. They are counting on their candidate’s tremendous personal popularity to translate into delegate strength late in the convention. Chrétien has an impressive campaign team, which includes Northern Ontario MPs Keith Penner and Ron Irwin, Toronto lawyers Pierre Genest and Robert Wright, Montreal lawyer Michel Vennat, Toronto lobbyist Patrick Lavelle, president of the M Automotive Parts Manu| facturers’ Association of 5 Canada, and Montrealer £ John Rae, a vice-presi5 dent of Power Corp. and

brother of Ontario NDP Leader Bob Rae, who will likely be the chief fund raiser.

One of the major uncertainties of Chrétien’s candidacy is the level of support he could win in his home province. Quebecers often find Chrétien’s “I’m just a pea-souper” protestations in English Canada to be both patronizing and embarrassing. Said Parti Québécois minister Gerald Godin: “They like Chrétien out west because he fits all the stereotypes they have grown up believing about us frogs in Quebec.”

Deceptively prim: The candidate who has done the most legwork so far is 53year-old Mark MacGuigan. For the past two years, almost unnoticed, he has been touring the country, building an organization of loyal workers and meeting Liberals in small groups in their living rooms. “He is going to be the surprise of the campaign,” said MacGuigan’s campaign manager and close friend, Jim McDonald, an Ottawa consultant who worked in the Prime Minister’s press office in the late 1970s.

The former dean of law at the University of Windsor has a deceptively prim image on Parliament Hill. His official biography in the Parliamentary Guide describes the 16-year parliamentary veteran as a father of three, married since 1961. But MacGuigan, recently divorced, lives with a former aide in Ottawa’s trendy Glebe district. He has an almost photographic memory for details and a quick grasp of issues. But, like Trudeau, he often buries his emotions under coolly reasoned arguments.

The timing of the leadership race is particularly bad for 50-year-old John

Roberts. After grooming himself for a run at the party’s top job since the late 1970s, he enters the contest after mishandling a major Commons dispute, in the opinion of most MPs and of large sections of his own party. Since early February he has been under nonstop fire from the opposition parties over charges that his department pumped government money into Liberal ridings and all but ignored Tory ridings. According to senior bureaucrats, Roberts was not so much devious as neglectful in his administration. The blatant favoritism that shows up in the pattern of job creation grants was not his plan, they insist. But neither was he sufficiently aware of what his own officials were doing to stop the handouts.

Donald Johnston picked the key players on his campaign team only last week. It is made up largely of aggressive young people, led by Richard Anderson, 28, a bright, reform-minded Ottawa business consultant. Johnston’s followers expect to raise $2 million on behalf of their candidate.

The Montreal tax lawyer’s main drawback is that he has virtually no public profile. As minister of state for economic development, he is known in corporate boardrooms but not among the party’s grassroots members. The 47year-old father of four is a personal friend of the Prime Minister and is known as a warm, engaging host among close friends. But outsiders find him intimidatingly bright and intensely serious. Also, within the party it is believed that he is more of a small-c conservative than an old-style Liberal.

Along with the most favored contenders are a number of second-rank possibilities who yearn no less strongly for Trudeau’s job. They include 52-year-old John Munro, who had been discreetly but vigorously planning a run for the leadership even before Trudeau’s announcement. By running, he will try to commit the party to a leftist course. Less well-known nationally is Herb Gray, 52, the earnest Windsor lawyer who, like Munro, won his first Commons seat in 1962 and who is known as a strong economic nationalist; Eugene Whelan, agriculture minister in every Trudeau cabinet since 1972, has said he would run for the leadership if nobody else advances the kind of liberal philosophy that can serve “ordinary people’’;

Ed Lumley, the minister for regional industrial expansion; and Gerald Regan.

Peak: James Coutts, the former Trudeau aide, also might run. But until now he has insisted that his ambition rises no higher than to win the downtown Toronto riding of Spadina. Coutts,

45, grew up in Alberta and knew former Tory prime minister Joe Clark at university before go-

ing to work for Lester Pearson when he was prime minister in 1963. He reached the peak of his power as principal secretary to Trudeau. But he also attracted resentment from party regulars and MPs because of the way he centralized power in the Prime Minister’s Office. Coutts left Ottawa and fought a 1981 byelection in Spadina. He lost that election and has spent the years since then preparing for the next one. But for all his credits and contacts, he appears to have little chance of winning the leadership.

About 3,500 Liberal delegates and 1,700 alternates will converge on Ottawa to make their crucial choice. With them will be 2,000 members of the media, 500 ex officio members of the party and from 2,000 to 10,000 observers. The delegates may pay as much as $650 to attend, although some of the expense will be covered by riding associations. The convention will be the largest of its kind ever held in Canada. A fierce behind-the-scenes battle erupted last week over its timing. The Turner camp was eager to have the showdown as soon as practicable—May, if facilities could be found

and arrangements could be made. But the weaker candidates in the race argued that a short campaign and an early convention would allow the favorite to capture the leadership without seriously addressing either the issues or the future of the party.

The party executive did decide to hold five policy rallies before the convention. All candidates are expected to attend and be grilled by party members in five cities. As for the convention itself, it will probably resemble both the last Liberal leadership convention in 1968 and the Tory leadership convention in Ottawa last June: two days of policy workshops in which candidates circulate from meeting room to meeting room; Friday night speeches; a vote; and back-to-back partying in between.

Cheerleader: The convention will give Trudeau the thunderous emotional farewell that was so strikingly absent from last week’s events. Trudeau consulted only a handful of trusted advisers before making his decision. He telephoned a few close friends in Montreal over the Feb. 25 weekend. On Monday, Feb. 27, he told his principal secretary, Tom Axworthy, that he was considering stepping down. That same night, he called Senator Keith Davey, his most active promoter and cheerleader over the past 16 years. “We talked about everything,” Davey told Maclean’s. The 57-year-old “rainmaker,” as he is called because of his alleged ability to produce Liberal electoral wins like the mysterious men of old produced rain, went to bed that night convinced that he had persuaded Trudeau to stay. “I wanted him to stay so badly that I was not even allowing myself to think

about a [leadership] convention,” he said.

Tuesday, Feb. 28, was outwardly a normal day for the Prime Minister. He arrived at his Parliament Hill office at 9:15 a.m. and worked with officials to plan this week’s first minister’s constitutional conference on aboriginal rights. He went home at noon for lunch with his sons as he almost always does, stayed at his desk all afternoon and returned to 24 Sussex Drive for dinner at 6 p.m. That was the fateful night.

On Wednesday morning he arrived at his office in high spirits, his mind made up. He held his usual morning briefing with legislative aide Joyce Fairbairn, one of his longest-serving and most loyal assistants. He told her nothing. Fifteen minutes later he called Axworthy into his Parliament Hill office from the administrative nerve centre across the street. Trudeau confirmed what Axworthy suspected. The 36-year-old for-

mer political science professor felt “a confused mixture of tremendous regret and sadness.” The two men began drafting Trudeau’s resignation letter, and all that remained was to make the announcement public. Shortly after 10 a.m. Trudeau phoned Campagnolo at Liberal headquarters several blocks away, who, as usual, answered her own phone. She said later that she was surprised by the timing of the announcement, but not its content.

At 11:45 a.m. Trudeau called a meeting of all the staff in the Langevin block office. “We got everyone we could round up in 15 minutes,” said press aide Ralph Coleman. Then, flanked by Axworthy and Fairbairn, Trudeau told the 50 employees his news. “His motto has always been reason above passion,” said Coleman. “He was very composed, although I think I detected some emotion.” Trudeau’s announcement met with sur-

prised silence, a few misty eyes but no racking sobs. “It was very straightforward,” said one staffer. “He said he did not want it to be an emotional farewell.”

Unfinished: In fact, it was no farewell at all. Trudeau will be leading the country for 3^2 more months. He will have to keep the government running while a Liberal leadership race is in progress. Beyond the day-to-day chores of keeping an administration operating and a safe number of Liberals in the House, Trudeau faces several unfinished tasks. The bitter debate over francophone rights in Manitoba remains unresolved. Although the issue is likely to be decided in the Supreme Court—not the legislature—Trudeau’s moral support for the province’s francophone minority will continue to be crucial, and his commitment to provide the country’s native people with their own special place in Confederation remains unfulfilled. The First Ministers’ meeting this week is part of a continuing effort to provide native self-government and to try to define what rights Canada’s original people have over the nation’s lands and resources.

The day after Trudeau shocked the country by announcing his departure, he called an old friend to chat. “The years melted away,” the confidant recalled. “His role as prime minister no longer isolated him. We were friends again.” After 16 years, while others scrambled to fill his shoes, Pierre Trudeau was enjoying his first taste of a new freedom.

With John Hay and Susan Riley in Ottawa, Michael Clugston in Halifax, Anthony Wilson-Smith in Montreal and Arthur Johnson, Patricia Hluchy and Ann MacGregor in Toronto.

John Hay

Susan Riley

Michael Clugston

Anthony Wilson-Smith

Arthur Johnson

Patricia Hluchy

Ann MacGregor