When Prime Minister Brian Mulroney arrived last week in the isolated fishing community of Havre St. Pierre in his home riding of Manicouagan, he was accompanied by an entourage of more than 50 reporters, cameramen, aides and RCMP bodyguards. As the official motorcade pulled up at the dock, hardware store owner Michel Elias stood watching in the
chilly drizzle along with about 200 other townspeople. But Elias was soon back at work as rain-drenched members of the national news media descended on his shop to severely deplete the available stock of rain slickers, woolen socks and rubber boots. That infusion of cash into the local economy was a telling illustration of what happens when the local member of Parliament also happens to be the Prime Minister.
Mulroney’s latest visit to his sprawling riding on the North Shore of the St. Lawrence River was his fourth since the Sept. 4 federal election. The trip, which included a tour of remote communities accessible only by plane or boat, was his latest attempt to honor election pledges to visit the riding often and reward voters for ousting Liberal incumbent André Maltais, who won Manicouagan by a 16,655-vote margin in 1980 and lost it to Mulroney by 20,657 votes last year. Since then Mulroney, who grew up in the riding in the city of Baie Comeau, has made certain that almost $100 million in federal projects—including a
maximum-security prison and harbor and airport improvement projects —have been directed to the riding.
The cash flow is continuing. The Prime Minister’s latest gift to Manicouagan, announced during his visit, was a long-awaited road linking Havre St. Pierre and the picturesque fishing hamlet of Natashquan, home of the celebrated Quebec folksinger Gilles Vig-
neault, 91 km to the east. Mulroney also announced a federal subsidy to help build 35 km of new road in the area around Blanc Sablón, just across the Strait of Belle Isle from St. Barbe, Nfld. Together, the two projects will cost Ottawa about $25 million and create 500 short-term local construction jobs. As Elias observed, “If things don’t start to move when the Prime Minister is your MP, they never will.”
Indeed, Mulroney pays constant and careful attention to his riding. When he is in Ottawa, he takes time every Monday afternoon to attend to Manicouagan’s affairs with Keith Morgan, a native of Montreal who is his senior adviser for the riding. And each week he records a three-minute radio message for the constituency, signs letters and makes telephone calls to constituents and meets lobbyists from the area. Explained Morgan: “He is extraordinarily keen to know what is going on in the riding.”
The strength of Mulroney’s feelings for the region that he calls “my beloved
North Shore” are evident when he is there. During his most recent trip he emerged periodically from the meeting of his inner cabinet in Baie Comeau to exchange greetings with a small crowd standing around across the street, and at one point he surprised reporters by running down the street to chat with a couple—and kiss the bride—being driven to their wedding reception. According to Mayor Roger Thériault of Baie Comeau, Mulroney’s intense interest in the riding has generated hope of renewed economic prosperity. “When he
visits the riding so often,” said Thériault, “it’s proof to us that the country is not just made up of big cities but also of communities on the periphery.” Still, there are perplexing problems needing solutions in a riding that stretches into the Far North and is larger than Poland and Portugal combined. Native leaders told Mulroney when he arrived in the Inuit village of Kuujjuaq near Ungava Bay that they expect him to bring services in the region up to southern standards. Moreover, there are signs of competition developing among Manicouagan communities for federal spending programs. To that end, an article in the Nord Est newspaper advised readers to intensify their lobbying efforts or risk being left out. Mulroney’s aides insist
that the Prime Minister is not running a risk of raising unrealistic expectations in Manicouagan or of appearing to favor that riding over others. “The people in that riding,” noted Morgan, “have been neglected for a long time and he’s just giving them what he thinks they deserve.” Mulroney is possibly driven as well by memories of his 1982 decision as president of the Iron Ore Co. of Canada to shut down most of the firm’s mining operations in Schefferville, an action that turned one of Manicouagan’s largest communities into a virtual ghost town. Mulroney avoided Schefferville during the election campaign and he has not been there since taking office. In the meantime, he insists that his efforts in Manicouagan are partpf a larger plan to give Canada’s outlying communities “a fair shake.” At the same time, he acknowledges that he intends to take particular care of his own huge riding. Noted Mulroney on his last trip: “We have a country here, and a country deserves special attention.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.