Mulroney’s machine rolls on

Robert Miller August 20 1984

Mulroney’s machine rolls on

Robert Miller August 20 1984

Mulroney’s machine rolls on


Robert Miller

Smooth-talking Brian Mulroney and his smooth-running Progressive Conservative election machine were on a roll as Canada’s late-summer federal campaign moved into its final three weeks and the three party leaders prepared for another televised encounter, this time exclusively devoted to women’s issues (page 18). A Carleton journalism school poll appearing in Southam newspapers last week indicated that the Conservatives stand to command majorities in all parts of the country, including Quebec (p. 16). Discounting the 25 per cent who are undecided, the results of the survey, taken after last month’s televised debates, gave the Conservatives 51 per cent, the Liberals 32 and the New Democrats 15.5.

At the same time, a new Gallup poll showed the Tories marginally ahead of the Liberals—39.1 to 37.8 per cent—among decided voters in Ontario.

While Prime Minister John Turner desperately tried to switch tactics, several of his prominent candidates advocated a departure from government policy by calling for a freeze on nuclear weapons. NDP Leader Ed Broadbent continued to pursue the interests and votes of his self-proclaimed constituency of “ordinary Canadians” by proposing that interest rates be pegged at two per cent above the rate of inflation. And an increasingly confident Mulroney last week began a five-day swing through crucial southern Ontario with an important friend: Ontario Premier William Davis, who has evidently decided to play the role of Tory godfather in the federal race.

The Prime Minister and his party completed their first week under the overall tutelage of Senator Keith Davey, the born-again “rainmaker” and mastermind of four Liberal election victories who assumed the duties of campaign director after the Aug. 4 resignation of William Lee. Davey’s in-

fluence was immediately apparent as Turner began avoiding uncontrolled exposure to the media, a “low bridging” style that Davey urged on former prime minister Pierre Trudeau during the 1980 election. Turner also sought to inherit Trudeau’s self-assumed role as a global peacemaker, vowing to continue Trudeau’s crusade for superpower disarmament.

But a private split that has existed in the Liberal party for at least a year became public when Liberal candidates

Iona Campagnolo in British Columbia and Lucie Pépin in Quebec endorsed the nuclear freeze. Turner, whose government formally backs NATO’s “two track” policy of building the West’s arsenal while negotiating reductions, noted that he will have to “reconcile” the freeze positions “with the objectives of our allies around the world.”

Well-placed Liberal officials told Maclean's that Campagnolo was simply laying the groundwork for a change in course for Turner. Indeed, sources within the Turner camp said a speech was ready for the Prime Minister to deliver early this week, calling for a“negotiated, verifiable arms freeze.” Officials at External Affairs, however, are opposed to the change.

The freeze debate served to take the focus off Turner’s attacks earlier in the week on Mulroney on such issues as uncosted Tory promises and his support of three PC candidates, each of whom supported the Parti Québécois position in the 1980 Quebec referendum on sovereignty-association. But Mulroney effectively replied to Turner’s attack by recalling his own efforts to help defeat the referendum, saying, “When the battle for the soul of Canada was under way, I was there in the trenches, fighting for

Canada, and I didn’t see John Turner around.” Turner then recalled that in 1969 he had shepherded the Official Languages Act through Parliament and he added, “I need no lessons on national unity from Brian Mulroney.”

As all parties began their advertising blitz on television and radio and in print, Turner’s organizers continued to believe that he could reverse the Liberal slide. In Kingston, Turner revealed more details of his programs for unemployed youth and small businesses, announcing a $10-million Young Entrepreneurs Development Program. But Turner’s promise sounds remarkably like a program announced last May by Employment Minister John Roberts. However, there was near unanimity on Turner’s

tour and at his Ottawa headquarters that the Prime Minister needed a triumph in this week’s nationally televised debate on women’s issues. And a Turner triumph against the same formidable opponents he faced in last month’s debates was by no means certain.

Broadbent, in particular, was looking forward to another chance to appear on the same stage as the leaders of the two larger parties. After the earlier debates, Broadbent’s party began to make a recovery from a 21-year low in popular support. When the election was called, only 10 per cent of decided voters backed the NDP. But the Southam poll put NDP strength at 15.5 per cent of decided voters, while a CTV television network poll, also conducted after the debates, gave the party 17 per cent. More significantly, according to both surveys, the lead that the Liberals took into the campaign had disappeared.

Aside from Turner’s problems and Mulroney’s slick campaign performance, the Tory surge owed much to the party’s organization, headed by longtime Davis adviser Norman Atkins, a Toronto advertising executive. Atkins has been in charge of the PC election effort for almost a year and he has been one of the chief engineers on the Ontario Tories’ vaunted Big Blue Machine ever since Davis became premier in 1971. As Terry Hargreaves of Maclean's Ottawa bureau reported from southern Ontario, “Mulroney’s tour runs as smoothly as an expensive watch. His appeal is a panCanadian one, long on vision, short on specifics, and it is redolent of the late John Diefenbaker in his prime.” Frank Moores, the former Newfoundland premier who is now a Montreal businessman and a key Mulroney worker, told Maclean's Montreal bureau chief Anthony Wilson-Smith, “Everything I ever heard about the efficiency of the Big Blue Machine turns out to be true.”

After the debate it is expected that Turner will concentrate on Ontario in an attempt to repeat the Liberals’ 1980 performance during which they won 52 of the province’s 95 seats. But during that campaign the Big Blue Machine was barely in evidence. And then-Liberal Leader Pierre Trudeau was not dogged by bad luck and self-inflicted wounds. Reported Maclean's Mary Janigan: “For Turner, it has been a strange campaign. Last week at some stops, including Sherbrooke, Que., and Sudbury, Ont., he was in good form. In other places, especially throughout the Gaspé peninsula, he was subdued or fell short of his potential. In his entourage, the big question was, why? It is a riddle that Turner must quickly solve. His campaign is running out of time.”

With Carol Goar in Ottawa and Jane 0 'Hara in Vancouver.

Carol Goar

Jane O'Hara