Dissent in the ranks

October 13 1986

Dissent in the ranks

October 13 1986

Dissent in the ranks


As top Liberal party strategist for 25 years, Senator Keith Davey proved so adept at orchestrating federal electoral victories that he became known as The Rainmaker, a name he adopted for his political memoirs published this month. Davey's skill at managing more than six election campaigns kept him at the centre of the Liberal party's power structure. But despite more than two decades of enduring loyalty to the men at the helm of the party, Davey shocked many of its members last month by suggesting that Liberals could opt to hold a leadership convention in a vote to be taken during the next party convention in November and still be loyal to the party. The remarks sparked instant controversy and opened rare rifts within the usually tightly knit party. Recently, Davey spoke with Maclean’s Ottawa Correspondent Hilary Mackenzie in an East Block office on his views of both Liberal Leader John Turner and the Liberal party.

Maclean’s: Do you believe that the Liberal party can win the next election if John Turner is not the leader?

Davey: I am not yet prepared to say that. The Liberal party, in its constitution, calls for a review vote. I am offended by the notion that if you vote for a review, you are not a loyal Liberal. The party is far more important than the leader, which is not to denigrate John Turner or the leader at any particular point in time. But in the final analysis, ultimate loyalty is to the party, which brings us to the very key question of whether John Turner can form the next Liberal government. I think the jury is out on that, and that is something the delegates will express their opinion on at the end of November. The way John Turner wins the country is the way he wins the [leadership] review, and that is by going out and meeting delegates one on one, shedding his image as a cross between John Kennedy and Louis St. Laurent, and coming on like Harry Truman. Combined with that, he has to demonstrate that he is a reform Liberal, a Liberal who can appeal to the traditional Liberal coalition which deserted us in 1984.1 am doing my best not to be a lightning rod for or against John Turner, but I want people to think about the situation. While we have Brian Mulroney on the ropes, we have not knocked [him] out of the ring. The other factor which worries me is the fact that the NDP is consolidating and expanding its position. All I want is for Liberal delegates to think about these things before they cast their ballot. In no way am I leading any kind of crusade to dump John Turner.

Maclean’s: This is a major departure for you, because you gained a reputation for expressing greater loyalty to the leader than to the party.

Davey: Loyalty to the party is the ultimate loyalty. I would have thought that John Turner would have said, ‘Yes, that is right.’ He has not so far. But I think that would have been the wise thing for him to say.

Maclean’s: Some critics have said that John Turner has failed to develop a rapport with the electorate. Do you agree?

Davey: I am not prepared at this point to write off John Turner. But I am prepared to urge delegates to think about the situation very seriously. I think that John Turner is a decent man, an honest man. No one doubts his integrity, his commitment. But maybe those things of themselves are not enough.

Maclean’s: Do you think that Turner is a ‘small-l ’ liberal?

Davey: I think he has been more liberal since the election and I think he is becoming more liberal all the time— that is encouraging. I think people’s attitudes toward political positions evolve as they are around longer. John was more progressive when he was here in the early days of Pierre Trudeau. He

left and went to Bay Street, and you cannot stay on Bay Street for nine years and not have some of it rub off. I guess it did.

Maclean’s: Some members of the Liberal party have angrily charged that you are using the topic of John Turner's leadership to sell your book.

Davey: That is a cheap shot. The only cheaper shot is that I am brooding because I am not the campaign chairman. I have made it very clear that when Trudeau resigned I decided I did not want to run a campaign ever again. I have run 6V2; that is more than enough. The media usually, but in this case the politicians, assume that you always want to go on and on. Well people do not always want to go on and on. I could not imagine a circumstance in which I would run the next campaign or indeed want to run the next campaign. But I would not be loyal to the party if I did not bring forth my concerns. And there are all kinds of people who share my concerns and are dragging their feet and tugging at their forelock.

Maclean’s: Is this not in conflict with the Liberal tradition of publicly supporting the leader?

Davey: You do not support the leader if he is wrong. You do not support the leader if he is going potentially to damage the party.

Maclean’s: If you change leaders in the near future, will the Liberal party have enough time to work on winning the next election?

Davey: Absolutely. The [next] election will be two years after the review—that is ample time. If it is ample time for the Tories to get their act together, it is sure ample time for the Liberals to get their act together.

Maclean’s: Would Pierre Trudeau ever consider running again?

Davey: That is too much to hope for. Maclean’s: Are there any obvious potential candidates who come to mind to replace John Turner?

Davey: I certainly could see someone else taking up the mantle. Someone like [former finance minister] Marc Lalonde, or maybe someone like [former Trudeau aide] Jim Coutts. Tom Axworthy [also a former Trudeau aide], certainly. [Former transport minister] Lloyd Axworthy. I think there are a lot of people interested in running.

Maclean’s: Did you support the leadership candidacy of Jean Chretien during the last convention?

Davey: I offered help to a lot of people in that campaign. [But] in the final analysis I cast my ballot for Turner. Maclean’s: Would you support a leadership bid by Chretien now?

Davey: I do not want to put myself in the position of shilling for Jean Chrétien or for anyone else, but I think Chrétien would be an excellent leader of the Lib-

eral party. I do not think you can preclude him, because his polling numbers are good. He would have to demonstrate a lot of things. If the delegates opt for a review, they will have decided that John Turner cannot win the [next] election and that they may as well try somebody else. But it is not a lead-pipe cinch that somebody else would win the election. I do not think the Tories are out of business, not by a long shot.

Maclean’s: If you did not cast your vote for Chretien then, why do you now think he could be a good leader?

Davey: One thing that has been dramat-

ically demonstrated is that the Canadian people like him. That is not a bad start for a politician. I must say I have been surprised at the response he has engendered all over the country. [During] Trudeau’s darkest days as Prime Minister everybody trusted him, everybody respected him. They might not have liked him.

Maclean’s: What political strategies do you think the Liberal party should adopt in order to regain control of the government?

Davey: The first thing is we have to resolve the [leadership] review. I am

satisfied that if John Turner wins the review, the party will rally to him. Conversely, if someone else wins, then the party will rally to him. There will be an eightto 10-per-cent fallout because of bitterness. By and large the party will rally to the leader, and then we have to expand our attack on the Tories and come forward with programs and policies which will not allow the NDP to steal our clothes.

Maclean’s: You have put a lot of emphasis on the NDP threat.

Davey: Anybody who does not put emphasis on the NDP threat does not un-

derstand what is happening in Canada. [Ed] Broadbent goes out of his way not to remind people of the union tie; he campaigns as a social democrat, not a socialist. He is a very beguiling kind of fish. When people are so antagonistic toward the Prime Minister and obviously have reservations about John Turner, Broadbent is automatically the beneficiary. I do not see any Broadbentmania. I think the parking of votes is ingenuous.

Maclean’s: What qualities do you feel are necessary for a candidate seeking to lead the Liberal party?

Davey: Obviously the person has to be a progressive, a left-of-centre reform Liberal, someone who can appeal to the traditional Liberal coalition, someone who possesses political skills. Included in that is someone who can attract support.

Maclean’s: If you had to pick someone who has all of those qualities, whom would it be?

Davey: Pierre Trudeau. He is the most remarkable politician I have ever known. The more we see of Mulroney, the better Trudeau looks, and people stop me on the street to say that. 0