TURNER FACES THE FUTURE
The floor of the sweltering arena where John Napier Turner had just been proclaimed Canada’s next Prime Minister was littered with the placards of battle when the Liberal leader climbed to the podium late Saturday night for his first news conference. Already, he had changed. The wooden, nervous candidate of the campaign trail was transformed. Turner the victor was relaxed, friendly and ready to let down his guard and laugh at himself. A reporter with a long memory reminded him that it had taken two tries to win the Liberal leadership— once as a brash young cabinet minister of 38, who told his party that it was “no time for mellow men,” and now as an affluent 55-year-old Toronto lawyer who pledged a new era of harmony and healing. Then, he asked Turner what he had done differently the second time. Replied the new leader: “Well, I guess I was 16 years mellower.”
The Liberal party had changed too. The 1,862 delegates who propelled Turner to an unsuspenseful second-ballot win were looking for a leader who offered predictability and accountability. Sixteen years of Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s stimulating—but often unpopular-leadership had left many of them disillusioned. They were ready for a respite from challenge and confrontation. Still, they wanted their first leadership convention since 1968 to be a contest, not a coronation. And the six-hour competition did turn out to be a genuine, if unevenly matched, showdown.
Jubilation: The favorite was Turner, who to many Liberals became a crown prince in exile after he resigned from Trudeau’s cabinet in 1975, and Parliament in 197f>, to pursue a law career in Toronto. His strongest challenger was Energy Minister Jean Chrétien, the self-styled underdog and champion of the little guy. There was never any real doubt about the outcome of last Saturday’s leadership convention. But even when Turner won, as most Liberals expected, there was little sense of jubilation or wonder. Said Tom Axworthy, Trudeau’s principal secretary: “In 1968 there was a tremendous sense of excitement, the coming of a new era. I don’t get the same sense of urgency in this convention.”
For the seven leadership contenders it was a long day of intense personal drama. A buoyant Turner left the Ot-
tawa Civic Centre for a night of celebration and adulation, but the six defeated cabinet ministers departed exhausted and—in most cases—unsure about what their futures held. Turner made it clear that he would welcome Chrétien into his cabinet, but the 50-year-old Quebec lawyer avoided offering his new boss a firm commitment to join his team.
The only other candidate who can be sure of a place in Turner’s inner circle is Economic Development Minister Donald Johnston, who refused to drop out of the race and finished third. By remaining on the second ballot, he effectively handed Turner the leadership, scuttling any chance of a stop-Turner coalition. But Turner did not give the other five ministers any promises. Justice Minister Mark MacGuigan, the only contender to join the Turner camp at the convention, was told that he, like most of the 20 cabinet ministers who supported the winner, would have to wait and see if there was a place for him. Employment Minister John Roberts, Indian Affairs Minister John Munro and Agriculture. Minister Eugene Whelan face perhaps the most uncertain futures of all.
Exacting: The immediate task facing all of them is to bury their rivalry and prepare for an election that could take place within two months. Turner himself suggested at a late-night victory party on Saturday that he is leaning toward a summer election. “Let’s have fun; let’s take a little rest,” he told campaigners from all the camps. Then he added, “You never know what might happen.” Then, party president Iona Campagnolo added to the mood of expectancy when she grasped his hand and raised it in a display of solidarity. “John and I are going to join hands and go hunting Tories,” she said. “Won’t you join me?”
Turner is also clearly aware that he will be judged by women, young people and the country’s racial minorities on the success of his effort to improve their prospects in the marketplace. And one of his most exacting taskmasters will be his wife, Geills (page 26), who declared: “I’m going to try to influence [him] in whatever areas I feel he is not taking a strong enough position or areas that he is not paying attention to. He said he wanted an open party and he’d best inelude me in that too.”
Turner met Trudeau to discuss the transfer of power Sunday. Now he enters a two-week period in which he will have to make critical decisions in order
to master the job. Before his official swearing-in on June 30 he has to choose a cabinet, appoint a circle of senior advisers and probably decide on the election date. Turner had an early encounter with the difficulties of cabinetmaking three days before he became leader, when an ambitious aide, John Swift of Vancouver, disclosed that the future Prime Minister intended to eliminate 12 cabinet positions. With 19 Trudeau ministers then supporting his leadership, it was clear that some of them would have to be dropped if the report was accurate. For his part, Turner insisted that Swift’s statement was unauthorized and that he had not given any thought to cabinet appointments. In fact, Maclean's learned, strategists within his organization had been examining potential cabinet candidates for weeks and they had already decided that several Trudeau ministers should be dropped and some portfolios eliminated.
The question of when to hold an election, expected this year, may be one of the most difficult for Turner to resolve. The most likely dates are Aug. 20 or 27 if he decides on a summer election and Nov. 12 or 19 if he waits until fall. Currently, the Liberals and Conservatives are so close in the polls that it is unclear
which of the two holds an advantage. The latest Gallup poll, conducted in early May, gave the Liberals a 46-to-40per-cent advantage. But a larger survey, conducted by the Carleton University School of Journalism in early May, gave the Tories a 54-to-43.5 lead.
Launched: At the same time, Turner supporters have set up a special fund to help ease his passage from the boardroom to the Prime Minister’s Office. Early in the campaign fund raisers sent letters to hundreds of corporations and senior executives telling them that Turner would need money—apart from funds used to cover the cost of running—if he won the leadership. Bernard Loiselle, Turner’s chief Quebec fund raiser, told Maclean's that in fact two separate funds had been set up after Turner launched his leadership drive on March 16. One had a limit of $1.6 million—the maximum allowed by the Liberal party to cover campaign costs. The second was a spillover fund, known as the transition fund, and it was used to absorb any donations above the legal limit.
Loiselle denied that any of the money would go to Turner directly. To suggest that, he declared, would be an “insult to John.” Added Loiselle: “Do you think that a man who did well in Toronto for the past eight years would be worried about being out of a salary for a
couple of weeks?” Others take a different view. Michael Scott, vice-chairman of Wood Gundy Ltd. and Turner’s chief Ontario fund raiser, said that the new leader’s personal finances “are a question that we must deal with, of course.” The amount in the transition fund will not be known until the final cheques come in. But Loiselle, for one, said that he had already passed the break-even point in his own province. And if the campaign does not produce a surplus, he added, Turner’s fund-raising team will launch another drive. Added Loiselle: “Our people can’t work for free. They have to buy groceries.”
In his speech to the delegates Turner began with a tribute to Trudeau. “It will not be easy for any of us to succeed Pierre Elliott Trudeau as leader,” he declared. Then he praised the Prime Minister’s patriation of the Constitution and his search for world peace. Across the arena, Trudeau slumped in his seat and nodded his acknowledgement of the praise. Turner went on to reassure women, farmers, young people and ethnic minorities that he would respond to their needs. “Together we will win the next election,” he pledged, adding that he would also revive the party in Western Canada.
Then Chrétien strode onstage. His first salvo was aimed at Tory Leader Brian Mulroney. “Brian, Brian,” Chré-
tien said to Mulroney, who was watching the spectacle at the official Opposition leader’s residence, Stornoway, with a few close friends, “do not adjust your television set. What you see is what you are going to get.” But Chrétien’s familiar plea to delegates to vote “with your hearts” was not as effective as usual, and at times his delivery was flat, disappointing many delegates. The other candidates tried vainly to halt the Turner bandwagon.
The excitement started early. On Friday night, 16 hours before the balloting began, two critical meetings took place. At 10 p.m. EST, while Chrétien was delivering his speech at the Civic Centre, MacGuigan slipped away to meet one of his few prominent supporters, Edmonton Mayor Lawrence Decore. Decore told MacGuigan something that the justice minister already knew: he would desert MacGuigan, taking with him about 30 Alberta delegates after the first ballot, and throw his support to Turner. He urged MacGuigan to consider dropping out of the race and joining the Turner camp. But MacGuigan refused. He said that he could not disappoint his supporters at that late stage and that he did not want to lose his $25,000 deposit by failing to contest the first ballot. But MacGuigan told Decore that if he was weak on the first ballot, he would go to Turner.
Endorse: Later that evening Johnston and Chrétien held a private meeting to discuss the possibility of a stopTurner coalition. Johnston, exhilarated by the enthusiastic response to his speech and confident that he was securely in third place, said that he was not interested in such a deal. The next day, before voting began, Johnston declared, “No deal has been made.”
But when the 3,437 delegates assembled in the muggy arena, the tide was already running strongly in Turner’s favor. Then, just before the voting started, Turner won a powerful endorsement. External Affairs Minister Allan MacEachen, who had told Turner earlier in the week that he would be available to lend last-minute support, solemnly walked to the candidate’s box as Turner’s supporters cheered. The canny Cape Bretoner had kept his counsel to the last minute. At 8 a.m. that morning Patrick Lavelle, one of Chrétien’s key organizers and a former MacEachen aide, called the external affairs minister to solicit his support. When MacEachen declined, Lavelle said later, “I knew the fix was in.” Still, the minister left Lavelle with one faint hope: he said that he might not publicly endorse Turner.
In the end, MacEachen did. As he explained from Turner’s box: “John Turner is the person who can lead the Liberal party to victory. He is the per-
son, as Prime Minister, who can give this country confident and steadfast leadership.” For his part, a beaming Turner described MacEachen’s support as a “very significant addition to the campaign.”
The Turner camp also had another cabinet heavyweight in reserve in case additional help was needed: Finance Minister Marc Lalonde. Earlier in the week a Turner organizer had persuaded Lalonde—he had been quietly helping them in Quebec—to endorse Turner publicly. That plan ran aground the day before the convention opened, when a Turner aide told reporters that Lalonde was one of the few Trudeau ministers who could have virtually any position he wanted in a Turner cabinet. Turner strategists were stunned by the statement. They then became concerned that if Lalonde came out in favor of Turner after the comment, it would look as if they had bought his support. The solution was to have the finance minister remain quietly on the sidelines as the voting took place, ready to go public only if Turner faltered. He never did.
At 2:25 p.m. EST on Saturday, nearly half an hour behind schedule, the balloting began. Although the leadership contenders used computers and sophisticated communications systems in their campaigns, on the convention
floor the actual balloting process was less sophisticated. Delegates formed into 30 lines that snaked across the crowded convention floor. In the voting booths they marked an X beside the candidate of their choice. Then, under the watchful eyes of scrutineers representing all the candidates, party officials counted the votes by hand. It was more than V-k hours before Campagnolo announced the first-ballot results. Lloyd Axworthy took advantage of the delay to meet Edmonton’s Decore in a corridor and cemented the TurnerMacGuigan deal.
Defeat: In the Chrétien camp, the usually irrepressible energy minister was looking tense and strained. When he arrived at the Civic Centre he claimed he had at least 1,000 votes. But MacEachen’s move, Decore’s switch and reports of a shift by young Liberals to the Turner camp from the Roberts delegation were taking their toll. Finally, at 5:07 p.m., Campagnolo went to the podium to read the numbers. With a total of 3,437 votes cast, Turner led with 1,593 (46 per cent)—just 125 short of a majority. Chrétien was second with 1,067 votes (31 per cent), and Johnston was third with 278 (eight per cent). The remaining candidates were effectively out of the running—Roberts with a disappointing 185, MacGuigan with only 135, Munro with a scant 93 and Whelan with
just 84. As the man with the fewest votes, Whelan automatically left the race—although he had more than the minimum 35 votes to save his $25,000 deposit.
The results cast a pall over the Chrétien camp. “We fell 200 short,” said Lavelle grimly. “I cannot see any way we can do it.” Chrétien refused to admit the inevitability of defeat, but the harsh reality was that it was virtually a mathematical impossibility for him to pick up enough delegate votes from other candidates to defeat Turner. Movements on the floor began almost immediately. The first shift came when MacGuigan pushed his way through the crowds and crossed to the Turner box. The move was not a surprise. MacGuigan had offered to play a role in a Turner campaign-after Trudeau’s short-lived retirement in 1979. But Turner decided not to run, and Trudeau returned to fight, and win, the election. Still, the MacGuigan-Turner connection had been established.
MacGuigan began his trek to Turner’s box at 5:18 p.m. It took him five minutes to press his way through throngs of delegates and reporters. Turner’s director of campaign operations, Bill Lee, was elated. He stood be-
side Turner, gleefully passing the candidate’s red-and-yellow buttons over the rail to the arriving converts.
In Munro’s case there was never any doubt that his supporters would go to Chrétien—whatever their leader did. Ontario Liberal MPP Sheila Copps, one of Munro’s most prominent backers, said that “75 per cent of us will go to Chrétien, no matter what John does.” Whelan’s move to Chrétien was also widely expected—particularly after Whelan made his animosity toward Turner’s policies clear during the campaign. Turner organizers had also indicated that Whelan likely would be dropped from the cabinet if their candidate won.
Blamed: In the Roberts box, the decisionmaking after the first ballot was slow and painful. The employment minister knew that his support had slipped in the last two weeks of the campaign. His supporters realized that Johnston had overtaken their candidate in the fight for third place and they blamed the media
for ignoring Roberts. Said one aide: “We were being dismissed too easily.” Within minutes of the first-ballot results, organizers from both the Johnston and Chrétien campaigns telephoned Roberts from their respective boxes, and a Turner emissary appeared in the Roberts delegation. The most difficult decision for Roberts was whether or not to stay in the race on the second ballot. He huddled with his top aides and provincial organizers, while supporters pushed aside intruding microphones. Finally, Roberts confronted the fact that he could not possibly win. He moved to Chrétien.
Perspiring: At the same time, Johnston was under extreme pressure to join the movement to Chrétien. But, like Turner in 1968, he was determined to stay in the race until the end. That effectively guaranteed the leadership to Turner. Later, Turner recalled his own decision in 1968 and declared, “I understand Don Johnston very well indeed.” Johnston, the senior anglophone minister from Montreal, knew that he was destined to play a more prominent role in the new cabinet, regardless of his decision.
The perspiring, shirt-sleeved Johnston smiled as a stream of Chrétien supporters went to his box to plead for his support. “The best thing for me to do,” he said, “is to stay right where I am.” Finally, Chrétien himself went to Johnston’s section to try, with a personal appeal, to convince the economic development minister to move. Johnston’s key supporters—Manitoba Senator Gildas Molgat, MP Bryce Mackasey and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Otto Lang—leaned in to listen to the conversation. But the futile negotiations ended with Johnston flashing a boyish grin and Chrétien visibly crushed. In a conversation outside his trailer a few minutes later, Johnston told Maclean’s that he was aware of the impact of his decision. “I do not expect it to go beyond this ballot,” he said, acknowledging that he had doomed Chrétien’s chances.
By then, the Chrétien box had become the setting for a tragic end to a quixotic campaign. Chrétien’s wife, Aline, absent-mindedly clapped her hands in time to the music blaring in the arena. The candidate himself good-naturedly fielded questions from reporters. Down on the floor, Chrétien’s policy adviser, Eddie Goldenberg, resorted to a base-
ball image: “It’s the bottom of the ninth, and there are two outs.” Evoking Yankee manager Yogi Berra, Sault Ste. Marie MP Ron Irwin declared, “It’s not over till it’s over.” But the fans were leaving the box. Three of Chrétien’s Quebec MPs—Alexandre Cyr, Rosaire Gendron and Rod Blaker—had quietly made their way to Turner.
When second-ballot voting started at 6:30 p.m., the outcome was virtually a foregone conclusion. During the twohour wait for the voting and counting, the convention seemed to be winding down. In corridors and in clear sections of the convention floor, delegates had pitched their worn and broken signs in piles. Finally, Campagnolo announced the result: Turner had won with 1,862 votes. Chrétien had 1,368—a gain of 301, but not enough. Johnston slipped to 192, a loss of 86 votes—and a number reminiscent of the 195 that Turner ended with on the final ballot in 1968.
Fellowship: In the winner’s section, Turner hugged Geills, kissed his daughter, Elizabeth, and pumped the hands of his closest advisers. Chrétien, without hesitation, headed toward the stage to pay tribute to the new leader. Campagnolo probably best captured the mood when she introduced Chrétien as “the man who fought so hard and came second—but first in our hearts.” Then, Chrétien declared, “I will be forever grateful to these hundreds of delegates who worked so hard to try to get me elected.” But the speech left an important question unanswered. Chrétien assured Turner that he could “count on” the Liberal party but he stopped short of offering the new leader his personal pledge that he would stay on the team.
For all its apparent ease, the transfer of power from Trudeau to Turner created strains which are largely foreign to the Liberal party. Unlike the last three Liberal leaders, Turner was not the designated successor of the outgoing Prime Minister. Indeed, in spite of last weekend’s spirit of fellowship, it is clear that the two men dislike each other. Turner loyalists are particularly concerned because Trudeau could undermine their leader again. As he prepares to leave office, the departing Prime Minister might surprise the country by filling all 12 vacancies in the Senate. That would leave the new leader without a way to reward his friends and loyalists with a semblance of honor. But those are tomorrow’s worries—the concerns of a future Prime Minister. And they are clearly overshadowed by the satisfactions of winning the leadership. Said Turner: “The delegates felt that the time was right for me.”