CANADA

Getting away from accidents

Michael Rose July 15 1985
CANADA

Getting away from accidents

Michael Rose July 15 1985

Getting away from accidents

CANADA

Michael Rose

Relays of government executive jets ferried the 14 members of the federal inner cabinet and its staff about 700 km northeast from Ottawa

late last week to Brian Mulroney’s old home town of Baie Comeau, Que., for 48 hours of self-appraisal, planning and

publicity. On the 20-km route into town from the airport, the Prime Minister and his cabinet priorities and planning committee passed a highway sign that warned, “Major accident zone ahead —drive carefully.” It was an admonition that Mulroney and his most powerful elected colleagues clearly had in mind as they planned administrative changes and strategy in the aftermath of several political accidents, including forced retreats on social welfare policies, during their first 10 months in office.

Outside their private sessions in Le Manoir hotel and the Baie Comeau city hall, a bustle of announcements and camera opportunities for the news media was designed to portray a briskly businesslike government that is eager to

live up to its election pledges and to learn from earlier errors. Some, if not all, of the announcements had clearly been brought along in the cabinet baggage from Ottawa. Among them:

• Revival of a cabinet committee on foreign affairs and defence under External Affairs Minister Joe Clark—a policy body that Mulroney had abolished last September—to relieve the workload on

the priorities and planning committee;

•Tightening of commercial sanctions against South Africa to reflect disapproval of that country’s racial policies;

•Establishment of a promised public inquiry into the unemployment insurance system led by former Quebec social affairs minister Claude Forget;

•Confirmation of six new ambassadors, including the Paris posting for lawyer Lucien Bouchard, 46, a Mulroney friend from student days who helped him campaign in Quebec.

The decision to re-establish the cabinet committee on foreign and defence policy reflected concern within the Mulroney government over the centralization of administrative and planning control within the Prime Minister’s Of-

fice and the inner cabinet. Mulroney told reporters that the change would “unfetter” the priorities and planning committee, “so that we’ll have more thinking time, more time to reflect upon some of the very serious matters that are brought to our attention.” Mulroney further diverted pressure on the inner cabinet by assigning a new cabinet subcommittee to examine proposals for parliamentary reform from an earlier study by James McGrath, Tory MP for St. John’s East, Nfld.

The revival of a cabinet group on foreign affairs and defence also was viewed as restoring to the external affairs minister the traditional powers within the cabinet that Mulroney had withdrawn last fall. That action had been seen at the time as curbing the power of Clark, Mulroney’s former leadership rival. Now, the committee vicechairman will be Defence Minister Erik Nielsen, who is also the deputy prime minister, and when Clark was asked by reporters whether he saw the revived committee as a possible dilution of his own power to directly influence foreign policy, he replied, “I would almost say the contrary.”

In one break from the inner cabinet’s weekend meetings, Mulroney dispatched the members—many of whom speak little or no French—throughout the French-speaking Baie Comeau community to meet his constituents. Finance Minister Michael Wilson dined with the local Chamber of Commerce, House Leader Ray Hnatyshyn attended a French play, Justice Minister John Crosbie met the North Shore Bar Association and Joe Clark visited an aluminum recycling plant.

Mulroney held a private meeting with his riding executive after an afternoon visit to the Canadian destroyer Algonquin, moored in Baie Comeau harbor. After a demonstration of how the sailors prepare one of the ship’s 22 Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missiles for launching, Mulroney delivered a speech from the foredeck in praise of the navy’s courage and dedication. The speech was greeted with the traditional chorus of three cheers by the assembled crew of 258 men. It was a response that Mulroney and his team hoped to generate in the nation at large as a result of strategies prepared in Baie Comeau for the resumption of Parliament and the start of his second year in power in September.^