CANADA

Mulroney’s rough ride

MARK NICHOLS April 9 1984
CANADA

Mulroney’s rough ride

MARK NICHOLS April 9 1984

Mulroney’s rough ride

CANADA

Over the past six months, an angry split has developed between Brian Mulroney’s federal Conservatives and Tories in Manitoba over the province’s bitter dispute about French-language rights. Last week, in an attempt to repair the damage, Mulroney flew to Winnipeg and, in the face of booing and heckling from an angry and disruptive audience, acknowledged that western Canadians are entitled to their own, unilingual view of Canada. But he stood by his defence of minority language rights. “The Canadian challenge,” he declared, “is to allay the fear that acceptance of linguistic duality means the rejection of cultural diversi-

ty—to find common ground between the two great visions of our country.” Mulroney’s attempt at fence mending, which left many Manitoba Tories confused and even angry, came at a time when passions are still running high in the province following the attempt by Premier Howard Pawley’s New Democratic Party government to extend language rights to Manitoba’s 50,000 francophones. After a furious six-month battle in the legislature with the opposition Conservatives, who increasingly found themselves at odds with Mulroney over the issue, the Pawley government abandoned its legislation at the end of February. The issue now is headed for the Supreme Court of Canada, which will consider arguments on the complex historical question of fran-

cophone rights in Manitoba. After listening to Mulroney last week, Marilyn Woloshyn, a schoolteacher of Ukrainian descent, from Lakeport, Man., near Winnipeg, admitted that she was not“totally satisfied. I’m not sure where Mulroney is going,” she said. “But to feed us the statement that there are two founding races on the Prairies—I cannot buy that.” Said Douglas Wade, a retired Winnipeg businessman: “Quite frankly, Mulroney lost points tonight. People expected better answers than they got.”

There was hostility in the air when Mulroney appeared before the crowd of more than 2,000 disgruntled Manitobans at Winnipeg’s downtown Holiday Inn. He began by acknowledging that there is a different view of Confederation in Western Canada, which was settled by waves of immigrants for whom English “became the quasi-universal instrument of communication.” While language “is a gift meant to bring people together,” declared Mulroney, the Liberal government in Ottawa, because of the way it imposed official bilingualism at the federal level, had “exploited our differences and drawn us apart.” When the Tory leader tried to explain the founding of Canada as a compact between two linguistic groups, the heckling began. “How about the rest of Canu ada?” yelled a man. When MulI roney explained, “I’m getting § there,” hecklers responded, a “We’re waiting, Brian, we’re ° waiting.”

As the interruptions and booing mounted, tension began to show on Mulroney’s face and that of his wife, Mila. He declared that his fundamental belief is that “real national unity will never be achieved until Frenchspeaking Canadians living outside Quebec enjoy no fewer rights than Englishspeaking Canadians.” In an effort to show that he was not trying to interfere in Manitoba’s affairs, Mulroney added, “I am not here to order or direct anyone along this road.” A heckler responded loudly, “You’re sure as hell not.” The language debate, declared Mulroney, “is a complex and emotional issue. There is no painless way to proceed .... But you would have had no respect for me had I tried to come down on both sides of the issue at once.”

Mulroney’s brave attempt at peacemaking won varying degrees of ap-

proval from Conservative members of the Manitoba legislature and from western Tory MPs, who have opposed Mulroney’s defence of francophone rights. Because of his differences with Mulroney over the language issue, Bud Sherman, deputy leader of the Manitoba Conservatives, had held off declaring his candidacy for the Tory nomination in the Winnipeg-Fort Garry seat held by Transport Minister Lloyd Axworthy. But he interpreted Mulroney’s speech as indicating that their views were now compatible, and he will probably declare his candidacy this week. Mulroney, conceded Sherman, said “things that will open doors and windows and help accommodate western Canadian ideas and feelings.”

Dan McKenzie, a Tory MP for Winnipeg whom Mulroney rebuked last February for supporting the battle against the NDP’S language legislation, said that Mulroney had “made it plainly clear that he is not going to force [bilingualism] on the province at all.” But Dave Blake, leader of the Conservative caucus in the Manitoba legislature, was less enthusiastic. He felt that Mulroney had made a good speech but doubted that “it was the message all Manitobans were looking for.”

For his part, Mulroney professed to be “delighted” by the response to his speech. In Calgary the next day, where a friendly audience, which included Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed and former Conservative leader Joe Clark, applauded Mulroney’s insistence that French-speaking Canadians must be able to feel at home in all parts of the country, he jokingly referred to his reception in Winnipeg as being “so warm it scorched my suit.”

Meanwhile, in a Quebec City speech billed as his last political testament, Pierre Trudeau advanced a surprisingly low-key and unemotional defence of bilingualism. In a speech to a black-tie audience at Laval university, Trudeau recounted the efforts made under his leadership to extend bilingualism in Canadian life, noting that the reforms “sometimes ran up against certain established customs, and even deeprooted prejudices.” Despite that, he said, linguistic, cultural and legal reforms had been enacted in recent years so that “Quebecers, and all Canadians, will once again feel that they are playing a full part in Canadian life and will once again be proud to call themselves Canadians.” Even Trudeau, who spoke in a flat and unenthusiastic monotone, may have felt that, in the light of the bitter language deadlock in Manitoba, his words constituted at best a noble hope. -MARK NICHOLS,

Andrew Nikiforuk

Gordon Legge

Anthony Wilson-Smith

with Andrew Nikiforuk in Winnipeg, Gordon Legge in Calgary and Anthony Wilson-Smith in Quebec City.