The Liberal numbers game

Malcolm Gray May 7 1984

The Liberal numbers game

Malcolm Gray May 7 1984

The Liberal numbers game


Malcolm Gray

Organizers for Liberal leadership candidate John Turner exuded confidence last week before a delegate selection meeting in the federal riding of Vancouver Centre. Key members of his campaign had worked to sign up more than 200 new Liberals. But as the meeting began in a plush ballroom of the Hyatt Regency hotel, the Turner team’s optimism began to slip. Only about half of the 480 eligible voters showed up, and supporters of Energy Minister Jean Chrétien had a slate of nominated delegates to rival the Turner choices. The outcome, after four hours of speeches and hotly contested voting: five delegates for Chrétien and two for Turner. The Vancouver Centre results and the outcome of delegate selection meetings across the country concerned the Turner forces. The reason was that, in British Columbia, Metro Toronto and Quebec, some of his rivals have linked up informally to elect anybody but

Turner slates of delegates.

Despite those setbacks, the former finance minister still enjoyed a comfortable lead in his bid to succeed Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. After three weeks of meetings Turner has won the support of 450 of roughly 1,250 delegates already chosen to vote at the party’s June convention in Ottawa. Chrétien is in second place with approximately 250 delegates, leaving Economic Development Minister Donald Johnston and Justice Minis-

ter Mark MacGuigan fighting with Employment Minister John Roberts for third position. But the favorite’s lacklustre showing in British ColumbiaChrétien so far has won the support of 17 delegates to 16 for Turner—and Metro Toronto will likely cause further changes at his headquarters. Bill Lee, a veteran Liberal strategist who planned Paul Hellyer’s leadership bid in 1968, signed on recently as director of the campaign organization, but the Turner forces are still losing in ridings they were expected to win. “No one has overall control of the campaign,” declared one aide before a weekend meeting called in hopes of tightening the organization.

Turner’s slower pace was clearly evident in Toronto. Twenty of the 23 ridings have already

chosen the delegates

(seven elected from each constituency) who they will send to Ottawa. A stop-Turner movement worked successfully in two ridings last week as

workers for Chrétien and Roberts formed a suc-

cessful coalition. In weal-

thy Rosedale, now represented by Conservative David Crombie, a former Toronto mayor, Turner managed to win only one of the seven delegates. Recruiting drives by the candidates in the past month swelled the membership in the riding to 1,300 from 300. But when 500 people turned up to vote, they chose a mixed slate which gave three delegates to Chrétien, two to Roberts and one to Johnston.

And in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, a riding with a mixture of upper-middle-class executives and blue-collar immigrants, Turner failed to gain a single delegate. Instead, a membership drive by Roberts boosters produced a slate of seven people pledged to support the employment minister. Said Jan Innes, a worker in Turner’s campaign headquarters: “It’s a very worrisome situation for the Turner camp.”

A strong Toronto showing was crucial for both Chrétien and Roberts. Chrétien organizers expressed delight at outhustling Turner forces on their own territory, and Roberts, who represents St. Paul’s riding, claimed that the results strengthened his hold on third place (page 22 ). In British Columbia, Shaun Sullivan, the provincial co-chairman of the Turner campaign, seemed to agree. “There was a bit of ganging up in some ridings,” he said. “I was a bit mystified by some of the results. We expected to do better.”

Equally unsettling for some Liberals was the emergence of slates of uncommitted delegates in several ridings. In Kitchener, Ont., last week five elected delegates described themselves as an uncommitted “ethnic” slate, representing the Portuguese, Greek, Italian and East Indian communities. Frank Silva, who worked for James Coutts when the former Trudeau aide tried to win the Toronto riding of Spadina in 1981, acknowledged that he had helped recruit some of the new PortugueseCanadian members among the 450 people at the meeting.

The riding’s MP, Peter Lang, who backs Turner, charged that Coutts was attempting to become a power broker at the convention. But Silva argued in turn that the new members simply reflected the Portuguese community’s desire for political representation in Ottawa. “Coutts is up to his manipulative backroom politics again,” Lang declared. “It is exactly what the party has condemned.” But some party members attempted to play down the Coutts connection, suggesting that Silva had worked the riding on behalf of Roberts. Earlier, however, Coutts associates added 400 names to the membership in Toronto’s Trinity riding. The new members disappointed veteran constituency workers by claiming delegate badges.

Not all attempts to pack meetings “across the country have succeeded. At a Liberal delegate selection meeting in the riding of Winnipeg-St. James last week, Gipsy Villas, one of Roberts’s Manitoba organizers, managed to sign up about 100 new members. But the chairman disqualified the Roberts slate of candidates because they failed to meet a requirement that they live in the riding and be members of the association for at least two months before the convention. In protest the frustrated Roberts supporters walked out of the meeting. Crying with frustration, Villas said: “We made a mistake with the membership.” He explained that, although the Roberts supporters had been recruited months in advance to run as

delegates, they had not turned in their membership cards until last week. The outcome: five Turner delegates and two for Chrétien.

One of the worst procedural disputes occurred in Alberta, where the Calgary Women’s Liberal Club became so bogged down in arguments that chairman Wayne Peterson had to suspend a testy meeting one hour after it began. The club’s executive had ruled prior to the meeting that 40 prospective members (potential Turner supporters and half the women at the meeting) were ineligible to vote. Membership secretary Laura Hamilton said that all had been improperly signed up, and that some had missed the deadline for new members by seven minutes. But when one of the accredited members insisted that the executive had advertised two different registration deadlines, the meeting ended with arguments raging on the floor and no delegates selected. The club now must hold a meeting be-

fore the May 10 deadline for choosing delegates.

But infighting at a Liberal women’s club was a far cry from the embarrassments that plagued the Conservative leadership campaign last year when Tory organizers enlisted derelicts and children to support their candidate. Liberal party members in the Montreal riding of St. Jacques, where pro-Mulroney forces recruited at least 20 men from the Old Brewery Mission, held their delegate selection meeting last week, drawing fewer than 100 voters on a night when the Montreal Canadiens were not playing in the Stanley Cup hockey semifinals. The result indicated that the battle for Quebec is largely between two men: Turner gained five of

the delegates compared to two for Chrétien. But the first phase of the campaign, during which the candidates could only guess which Liberals they were addressing would have the power to elect them leader, will end next week. And last Sunday about 1,000 Liberals from Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan were in Saskatoon for the first of five policy debates featuring all of the candidates. Billed as a seminar with the theme “regionalism and national strength,” it was an appropriate focus for the three Prairie provinces, which reduced their Liberal representation from 11 MPs in 1968 to two in the last election. With the head-hunting of delegates at an end, the policy sessions offer the hope of injecting some substance instead of scheming into the race.

With Arthur Johnson and Shona McKay, Ja ne O 'Hara and John Faustman in Vancouver, Gordon Legge in Calgary, Carol Goar in Saskatoon, Andrew Nikiforuk in Winnipeg and Bruce Wallace in Montreal.

Arthur Johnson

Shona McKay

Jane O'Hara

John Faustman

Gordon Legge

Carol Goar

Andrew Nikiforuk

Bruce Wallace