CANADA

The new Liberal spirit

ROY MACGREGOR November 25 1985
CANADA

The new Liberal spirit

ROY MACGREGOR November 25 1985

The new Liberal spirit

CANADA

Lauris Talmey says that she was exhausted when she returned home to Vancouver early last week. As president of the federal Liberal party’s women’s commission, she had taken a midnight flight east the previous Wednesday, and since then had gone virtually without sleep as she fought unsuccessfully to win a more prominent role for women at the party’s Halifax reform convention. Still, within hours of her return Talmey was again working for the party that had

rebuffed her arguments in Halifax. She was trying to ensure success for a fund-raising dinner for party leader John Turner this week during a visit to the West Coast with his caucus. “We owe that guy,” said Talmey. “For him to stick in through all that terrible, terrible period after our election thumping—my God, but we owe him.” A week after the convention, Liberals hailed it as a turning point in the party’s fortunes following its worst election defeat in history 14 months ago. According to Newfoundland MP Brian Tobin, the party leader’s assured performance in Halifax and the 25 minutes of cheering that followed his keynote speech indicated that, for the

first time, “Turner has the affection of his party.” Added Liberal Senator Michael Kirby: “There is no longer the defeatist, chin-on-the-floor attitude that prevailed a year ago.”

Recent opinion polls have also shown significant popularity gains for the Liberals. Two weeks ago the Gallup poll—reflecting a series of political setbacks and ministerial resignations suffered by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s government—indicated that the Liberals had reduced the gap between them and the Conservatives.

The poll of 1,020 voters, conducted early in October, showed the Liberals trailing by just eight percentage points—compared with 22 points at the election on Sept. 4, 1984. A national poll taken earlier this month by former Liberal pollster Angus Reid Associates of Winnipeg showed that 28 per cent of the 1,018 polled think that Turner is doing a good job of leading his party, compared with 27 per cent who approved of Mulroney’s leadership. Declared Talmey: “We are on the way up—it is very, very definite.” Underlying the revival of Liberal spirits is a strong sense that Turner’s performance in Halifax—as well as his increasingly confident performance in

the Commons—has settled the Liberal leadership issue a year before the party meets in Ottawa for a formal review. Even Jean Chrétien, who was runner-up at the party’s 1984 leadership convention and is still regarded as a serious rival, told friends last week that Turner’s speech and its reception had been impressive. In his speech Turner accused Mulroney of being a “weathervane leader.” Afterward, most of the Liberal caucus—including Chrétien—joined him onstage. “What else could he do?” noted a friend of Chrétien’s. That the moment was Turner’s was beyond doubt.

At the same time, the Halifax meeting did little to advance party reform. A hard-fought campaign to give women numerical parity with men in the party organization foundered when a motion backed by Talmey failed to gain approval. Instead, the meeting approved a vague commitment to work toward parity “to the greatest extent possible.” The meeting also demonstrated the lack of a clear direction on the vital issue of free g trade with the United I States. One problem, ac^ cording to a senior LibI eral strategist, is that the party has been so obsessed with reducing its debt—believed to be in excess of $3.5 million—that after 14 months in opposition the Liberals have not carried out any polling to determine the public mood on key issues.

But pressure is increasing for the Liberals to get a firm hold on policy. Turner acknowledged that last week during a dinner for his senior staff at Stornoway, his official Ottawa residence. The toasts to success in Halifax had barely been completed when the leader called for his guests’ attention. Then Turner announced what will become phase 2 of his party’s rebirth: “Let us now move on policy.”

ROY MACGREGOR