Turner’s muted accession

Carol Goar,Mary Janigan July 9 1984

Turner’s muted accession

Carol Goar,Mary Janigan July 9 1984

Turner’s muted accession


Carol Goar

Mary Janigan

In the end, at the climactic moment of John Napier Turner’s political life last week, it took him only 30 seconds to swear the oath of office making him Canada’s 17th Prime Minister. It was the crowning career achievement for which he had waited all his political life, and his wife Geills, for one, had expected a more elaborate ceremony. Indeed, the new Prime Minister himself admitted that the swearing in at historical Rideau Hall did not inspire him to metaphors, nor wipe out the painful memories of his battle to wrest power from his longtime rival, Pierre Trudeau. His only reaction to finally ascending to the most powerful job in the land was clichéd but heartfelt. Declared Turner: “I felt both humble and proud at the same time.”

The understatement effectively captured the mood of Turner’s swearing in on a cool and sunny morning in Ottawa last weekend. He arrived at the Governor General’s stately residence accompanied by Geills and his four children, his sister Brenda Norris of Montreal

and her four children, as well as a contingent of aides and plainclothes Mounties. It was exactly 10 minutes after Trudeau had finished saying goodbye to Gov. Gen. Jeanne Sauvé. Wearing a blue suit, blue shirt and red tie, Turner took his oath on a Roman Catholic Bible, then unveiled a cabinet designed chiefly to hold the line until the next election. The team clearly did not measure up to the new leader’s ambitious plan to provide fresh faces indicative of a new sense of direction in the nation’s affairs. But the makeup of the interim cabinet did serve to heal the rift between Turner and his principal leadership rival, the popular Jean Chrétien. It also provided some evidence that Turner is serious about reducing the size of cabinet. But the Prime Minister himself acknowledged that the cabinet was only a first step. “This is a phase 1 cabinet reorganization only,” he declared. “I would need a larger mandate from the people of Canada to move farther than I have today.” For all his brave talk of a slim new cabinet packed with fresh talent, the 29-member Turner team looked remarkably similar to Trudeau’s outgoing one.

A total of 14 ministers—including Finance Minister Marc Lalonde, Transport Minister Lloyd Axworthy and Health Minister Monique Bégin —stayed on in their old portfolios, and there will be no fewer than 23 ministers from Trudeau’s government around the new cabinet table. Turner reduced its overall size by eight ministers, but despite his pledge during the leadership campaign to recruit high-profile westerners and bring them into the cabinet, he did not appoint any outsiders—and three Senators from the West who held cabinet portfolios under Trudeau were dropped. Still, Turner announced at a news conference following his swearing in that he will run in a British Columbia riding in the next election. Among the cabinet holdovers no fewer than 16 of 21 ministers supported the new Prime Minister in his leadership campaign. “I am worried,” acknowledged a senior Turner adviser. “There are too many of the same faces in the same portfolios.” Added Opposition Leader Brian Mulroney: “What has happened is that the old bunch went out one door and came right back in the other.”

The Turner cabinet is, in fact, a caretaker administration. Lalonde retained the finance portfolio to grapple with rising interest rates and a plummeting dollar (page 26), and leadership runner-up Jean Chrétien—who waged a fierce behind-the-scenes battle with Turner over what cabinet positions he would have—will serve as deputy prime minister and secretary of state for external affairs. Other prominent Trudeau ministers who remained in the cabinet included Treasury Board President Herb Gray, Government House Leader André Ouellet, Industry Minister Ed Lumley and Consumer and Corporate Affairs Minister Judy Eróla, who will also be minister of state for social development. Missing from the cabinet were three of Turner’s leadership rivals—former justice minister Mark MacGuigan, who last week was appointed a Federal Court judge as the departing Trudeau handed out rewards to his followers (page 9); Indian affairs minister John Munro; and agriculture minister Eugene Whelan. One of the main beneficiaries of the shuffle was Nova Scotia’s Gerald Regan, elevated from the junior international trade post to the key energy portfolio. But Donald Johnston, who won widespread respect for his third-place finish at the leadership convention, was relegated to the justice portfolio—a major setback to a man who had hoped for a key economic role in the Turner government.

The new cabinet contained only five

newly elevated MPS, none of them well-known. Jean Lapierre, a 28-yearold lawyer from Granby, Que., was named minister of youth and amateur sport, and Herb Breau, a New Brunswick businessman who served on the Liberal back-benches for 16 years, became fisheries minister. Rémi Bujold, a lawyer from Quebec’s disadvantaged Gaspé region, will be responsible for regional development. Doug Frith, a Sudbury pharmacist, takes over at Indian affairs, and Ralph Ferguson, a southern Ontario farmer, succeeded Whelan as agriculture minister.

The ministers dropped from the cabinet included the western senators—British Columbia’s Jack Austin, Saskatchewan’s Hazen Argue and Alberta’s Bud Olson bitterness —and one of Trudeau’s

three women cabinet

ministers, Céline Hervieux-Payette, who held the youth portfolio, as well as his newest minister, Quebecer Jacques Olivier, who was responsible for the government’s illstarred sports pool (page 15). The other victims of Turner’s

cabinet cutting included two ministers who supported Jean Chrétien’s leadership bid: former revenue minister Pierre Bussières and former fisheries minister Pierre De Bañé.

It had taken 12 tension-filled days for Turner to make peace with Chrétien. Acting against the advice of his strategists, Turner began negotiating by making his best—and supposedly finalcabinet offer: the deputy prime ministership along with the prestigious external affairs portfolio. But Chrétien was adamant: he would settle for nothing less than also being Turner’s Quebec lieutenant—a post that would have given Chrétien control over patronage in his home province, but a position which Turner wanted to reserve for Ouellet, his chief Quebec organizer. After a week of inconclusive bargaining, Chrétien left for his cottage near Shawinigan, Que. Turner and his advisers were despondent: they needed Chrétien in the cabinet to avoid a potentially dangerous division within the party. “Before he [Chrétien] went fishing, it was 50-50 as to whether he would go or stay,” said a top Turner aide.

The struggle continued until the morning of Thursday, June 28, when Turner finally told Chrétien: “The bottom line is, look, you have to remember that I won the leadership and I won Quebec.” Then, the prime minister designate offered a final compromise: there would be no Quebec lieutenant. He would do the job himself, with the aid of a committee of three Quebec ministers:

Chrétien as chairman, plus Ouellet and Charles Lapointe. Finally, Chrétien relented and told the Liberal caucus that he was “going to fight Tories, not Grits” and that he would remain in the cabinet. But potentially serious problems remained. There is concern that the uneasy partnership between Chrétien and his new boss will not last, and some Liberal insiders said privately that the rivalry between the two men may already have damaged the party. Added one cabinet minister: “It’s a more serious rift than anything we have ever had in the Liberal party before.”

The final resolution of the Chrétien dilemma marked the end of an emotionally draining week for the new leader. “This,” said a Turner confidant, “has been one of the most gruesome things he has had to go through in his political or business career.” Turner’s week of decision began with an informal meeting of six key ministers at his Toronto home on Monday, June 25. The so-called “kitchen cabinet” consisted of Regan, Gray, Axworthy and Ouellet, along with two other cabinet czars, Lalonde and Lumley. All six men had supported Turner’s leadership bid—and all six received the portfolios they wanted. By the end of that day, the inner circle had agreed on a plan to restructure the cabinet. On Tuesday morning in Ottawa, the dismissals began. One by one, Turner summoned the losers to his fourth-floor suite at the Château Laurier hotel. At the same time, Turner kept track of his appointments by taping cards to a bedroom lampshade. First came De Bañé and Bussières. Next in line were two of Turner’s leadership rivals—Munro and Whelan. Some of the victims were bit-

ter. But others were impressed by Turner’s sensitivity. “He was very frank and honest,” said one ex-minister. “You know, I almost enjoyed the conversation.” The most painful firings took place on Wednesday when Turner had to eliminate five of his supporters in the leadership race from the inner circle. The most difficult moment was when he visited his old friend Jean-Luc Pepin, who was recovering from heart surgery at Ottawa’s National Defence Medical Centre, to formally tell him that he was out of cabinet.

Turner also agonized over the exclusion from the cabinet of a prominent leadership rival, Trudeau’s justice minister, MacGuigan—who threw his support to Turner at the convention. Nor was there a significant job for Allan MacEachen, even though Trudeau’s external affairs minister and deputy

prime minister had _

fought hard to hang on to his powerful cabinet posts. In the end, MacEachen was named to the Senate, where he will serve as government leader, a position that will give him a role in the Turner cabinet. A final difficulty for Turner involved Johnston, who had wanted a senior economic role. Turner offered his former Montreal law associate the post of justice along with responsibility for the cabinet’s social development committee. Johnston reluctantly accepted—only

to receive another blow when, at the last minute, Turner withdrew the committee chairmanship on the advice of aides who were worried that Johnston would make good his campaign pledge to reassess the universality of some social programs. The only thing that made Johnston’s fate acceptable was the strong possibility of receiving finance after the next election, when Lalonde is expected to retire.

With the cabinet in place, Turner’s next major task will be to decide on an election date—with Aug. 27 or Sept. 4 the likeliest dates. His decision to present a cabinet dominated by recycled ministers may not improve the Liberals’ appeal. Still, the results of polls last week conducted for the Liberals by Toronto’s Martin Goldfarb and Winnipegger Angus Reid—both showing the party leading the Tories nationally by more than five percentage points—buttressed the position of party strategists favoring an early election.

Turner’s election options are limited by the scheduled visit of the Queen in July—which some Liberals are reluctant to see cancelled for an election —and the tour by Pope John Paul n scheduled for September. If an election has not been held before the Pope arrives, protocol would require Turner to delay launching a campaign until after the pontiff departs on Sept. 19. The tricky question of timing clearly preoccupies Liberal thinking. “If he makes the wrong decision, he could be an asterisk in history—the two-month Prime Minister,” mused one senior Liberal.

In the meantime, the advent of the Turner era was unfolding with little public drama. As the new men moved into their offices on Parliament Hill and the Turners prepared to take up residence at 24 Sussex Drive, Pierre Trudeau, who apparently did not have a new job lined up, bade his official farewell to Sauvé and jumped into a black Cadillac to a smattering of applause from on-

_ lookers. The controlled

Trudeau may have felt more regret at stepping down than he was prepared to show. At a final party for his staff, Trudeau was told by a reporter that he would be missed. “Yes—for a day or two,” replied Trudeau, with what appeared to be some bitterness. That remark could serve as a timely reminder of the transient nature of political power to the man who is taking his place at 24 Sussex Drive.

With John Hay and Susan Riley in Ottawa.