Turner’s days of decision

Mary Janigan June 25 1984

Turner’s days of decision

Mary Janigan June 25 1984

Turner’s days of decision


Mary Janigan

The dream endured for at least 20 years, even though for much of that time it seemed impossible to achieve. But now John Turner is leader of the federal Liberal party and in less than two weeks he will become Canada’s 17th Prime Minister. Before he is sworn in on June 30, Turner will have begun to put his personal stamp on the party that chose him to keep it in power. During the next two weeks, with the help of a small political braintrust, Turner will pick a new and smaller cabinet, select the key members of his personal permanent staff and assemble the skeleton of a new national election machine. His schedule will be hectic, but Turner has been preparing for it since March 16, when he entered the leadership race as the clear favorite. As he said, shortly after his return to public

life from eight years in the affluent wilderness of corporate law: “I have to show that I am newer than [Conservative Leader Brian] Mulroney. I have to convince people that I can manage change better.”

Action: Even before his second-ballot victory over Energy Minister Jean Chrétien and five other members of Pierre Trudeau’s government, Turner and his team were planning a series of bold strokes designed to persuade Canadians that it is possible to change governments without changing governing parties. From his command post in Ottawa’s Château Laurier hotel, Turner and his senior political advisers—veteran Ottawa business consultant William Lee, Montreal consultant and political analyst John deB. Payne, Vancouver lawyer Michael Hunter and dynamic Heather Peterson, 42—mapped out two weeks of action for the prime


Before he is sworn in, Turner will attempt to put a new face on the Liberal government by building a cabinet without such senior portfolios as economic and social development, as well as most of the junior ministries of state. He will drop a number of veteran Trudeau ministers, including as many as four of his leadership rivals. He will also reach outside the Commons and the Senate for as many as six new ministers—mainly from Western Canada— who will be appointed on their promise to seek election. Maclean's has learned that party president Iona Campagnolo and Douglas Richardson, a 34-year-old Saskatoon lawyer and Liberal party organizer, will be among those approached first.

As well, Turner is likely to start all over again in his search for a principal secretary, a post he originally planned

to offer 35-year-old Vancouver lawyer John Swift. Before the convention Swift was blamed for embarrassing the Turner campaign with an unauthorized reference to Finance Minister Marc Lalonde’s future under Turner. The reference, although positive, precluded any possibility of Lalonde joining External Affairs Minister Allan MacEachen as an eleventh-hour convert to the Turner cause. But Turner was expected to offer former CBC reporter Dennis Baxter the important post of prime ministerial press secretary. Baxter joined Turner’s campaign team in March. As Turner fills senior staff positions, his two senior transition-team members—Simon Reisman, a former deputy finance minister, and James Grandy, a former deputy trade minister, now both Ottawabased business consultants—will begin the crucial chore of orchestrating the changeover from Trudeau’s administration.

Before July 1, Turner will receive and study two brand-new opinion polls, to be taken immediately by Martin Goldfarb Consultants of Toronto and Angus Reid of Winnipeg, before reopening a debate within his advisory team on whether to call a summer election or wait until later in the year. Most of his senior people are known to want a quick election, if the polls are favorable. They

hope the Liberals, under Turner, will be able to carry their convention-related momentum through a national campaign against the well-organized— but apparently fading—Conservatives under Mulroney. A minority counsels patience, arguing that Canadians are weary of politics. For his part, Lee— who will be offered the post of national Liberal campaign chairman—has already begun recruiting an election team. Even before Saturday’s balloting, the Turner organization was offering key positions to senior members of the other leadership camps.

Clearly, Turner’s approach to governing will be dramatically different from the style set by his predecessor, who routinely brought briefing boxes home so that he could study often bewildering policy options. Turner demands concise summaries of issues. Business associates and political supporters say that he absorbs information quickly, focusing almost immediately on a course of action. Large, poorly organized meetings annoy Turner, and he has privately promised to cut back the number of meetings bureaucrats and ministers attended during the Trudeau years.

Caution: Despite his vaunted toughmindedness, Turner often appeared cautious during the campaign, unwilling to risk his position as favorite. One early mistake forced him to “clarify” his stand on minority language rights— an experience that rattled him—and he subsequently adopted a bland style that left many Liberals wondering what had happened to his reputed charisma. And as he struggled to adjust to politics in 1984, he occasionally slipped into dated slang and even attitudes. His aides cringed earlier this month when, during an interview with Maclean's, Turner drawled “Down girl” at one female editor who was attempting to ask him a question. Still, those close to Turner insist that he is a quick study—a man who landed on his feet when he jumped back into the political world. They say that his management style requires fast decisions and predict he will quickly move to reform many government practices. But Turner will not try to do everything himself. He surrounded himself with strong aides during his earlier political career and doubtless will do the same as Prime Minister.

Altogether, 20 ministers—more than half the cabinet—supported him in his campaign, and, although Turner claims he made no commitments, his supporters hope he will repay them by keeping them in office. Certainly, Turner cannot ignore some of them— simply because of their clout. In Quebec, for example, Turner owes much of his support to Labour Minister André Ouellet, as well as behind-the-scenes work by Lalonde. Similarly, Transport Minis-

ter Lloyd Axworthy—who helped deliver western delegates to Turner while working as co-chairman of the campaign-will almost certainly retain his portfolio.

But party insiders say Turner is prepared to jettison such familiar figures from the Trudeau era as Senator Hazen Argue, the minister responsible for the wheat board, which is expected to be returned to the agriculture department. Among back-benchers due for promotion: Ontario’s Doug Frith of Sudbury and Herb Breau, the New Brunswick member for Gloucester, both of whom are talented Turner loyalists.

At the same time, the political careers of several veteran Liberals, including some of Turner’s rivals in the leadership race, appear to be over. Agriculture Minister Eugene Whelan, Indian Affairs Minister John Munro, Justice Minister Mark MacGuigan and Employment Minister John Roberts are four ministers insiders say may not make Turner’s team. On the other hand, Turner wants Chrétien fighting the next election with him. And Donald Johnston, whose thoughtful campaign earned wide respect, will probably stay in cabinet.

But Turner’s goal of producing a leaner, more efficient government could alienate influential politicians dropped from power or denied rewards for helping Turner win. Ironically, Trudeau retained the power to solve, at least partially, this potential Turner problem. Trudeau can still fill 12 vacant senate seats, as well as make senior appointments to government boards and agencies, before he retires.

Turner is also eager to halve the 90member staff list and $4.2-million annual budget of the Prime Minister’s Office, but again he must consider the needs of the party he will lead into the next election. Two successive Gallup polls showing increased public support for the Liberals have restored morale, and the leadership contest drew volunteers across the country. Said one Turner strategist: “We have an enormous machine in place now [the volunteers who worked on the seven leadership teams]. If we wait to call an election until the spring of 1985, that talent bank will have dissipated. Even keeping it going throughout the summer for a fall call will be difficult.”

Only Turner, who has proved to himself that he made the right decision in reaching for Trudeau’s crown, can make the election date decision. And only Turner can carry the Liberals’ case for a new mandate to the people. Lee, for one, has no doubts about Turner’s ability to meet the challenge. Said Lee: “Turner is one of the most decisive people that I have ever met. He is going to be a strong Prime Minister.”