A drawing of knives

PAUL GESSELL October 20 1986

A drawing of knives

PAUL GESSELL October 20 1986

A drawing of knives


The offices of Publi-Media, a Montreal advertising agency, are located on the ground floor of a grey stone fourstorey building on tiny StDizier in the city’s old section. Recently, the firm’s staff has been sharing its premises with a group of disgruntled Liberal party members—as many as 10, as few as two—who occupy desks with push-button telephones. Their task: calling delegates to the party’s Nov. 27-to-30 national convention in Ottawa, scheduled to vote on John Turner’s leadership. It is the first informal association of Liberals to set up shop and publicly proclaim its political agenda, and its clear, unqualified message is that Turner should be replaced. Said Publi-Media president Simon Dorval, both host and participant in the telephone sessions: “The Liberal party cannot win with John Turner.”

According to some party officials, the Dorval faction is not the only one now asking convention delegates to vote in favor of holding a leadership convention. Loosely connected cells of malcontents have been formed across the country. Indeed, Maclean's has learned that a circle of Liberals close to Senator Keith Davey is actively considering a campaign to replace Turner with former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. Under that plan, Trudeau would return as leader next year and lead the party into an election expected in 1988. Trudeau would promise Canadians that he would only serve for two years as prime minister. That would open the door for a leadership campaign in 1990—to make way for an anglophone leader.

Although no nationally organized movement to dump Turner has emerged, many of the smaller units have another link: they backed Jean Chrétien, Turner’s unsuccessful rival at the party’s 1984 leadership convention. Chrétien, a high-profile minister in the Trudeau years, is not—his former supporters say—involved in their

work. Said Dorval: “Our first job is to win a leadership review, then we will worry about who the candidates will be. Obviously, we hope to be able to persuade Mr. Chrétien to run.”

Turner himself has not commented on the Dorval group, but Michèle Tremblay, his senior political adviser for Quebec, said that the leader has known about Dorval for several weeks. Said Tremblay: “I hear they’re also go-

ing to open an office in Quebec City. I want to dial their telephone number and see what they answer—‘the proChrétien group,’ or what.”

Overall, the strength of the proreview forces remains unclear. Most of the dissidents are working underground, concentrating their efforts on rank-and-file members instead of party luminaries. Whatever their strength, they seem to be compounding Turner’s problems as he prepares for the November convention. Although the Liberals lead the Conservatives in public opinion polls—a Gallup poll published last week put support for the party at 38 per cent, compared

to 31 and 29 per cent for the Conservatives and New Democrats respectively—Turner personally trails both Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and NDP Leader Ed Broadbent.

The Turner camp has also been plagued by a persistent series of uncomplimentary rumors in Liberal circles, ranging from gossip about the leader’s domestic life to feuds among his staff and the possible departure of Raymond Garneau, his Quebec lieutenant. Garneau, 51, was approached about a month ago by Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa, a fellow Liberal, and offered a key public service appointment —most probably the chairmanship of the Crown corporation HydroQuébec. But Garneau told Maclean's, “I told [Bourassa] that he should look for somebody else, because I couldn’t see how I could resign my seat.” In fact, Garneau not only denies plans to leave Ottawa after the November convention; he intends, he says, to run in at least one more federal election. Still, Bourassa intimates contended again last week that Garneau would leave federal politics early in the new year.

But across the nation last week it was Turner’s future, not Garneau’s, that preoccupied Liberals. Even some Turner loyalists predicted that he will win only slightly more than 50 per cent of the votes in November. Although that would be a technical victory, and all that Turner says he needs to continue as leader, many Liberals privately voiced doubt that Turner could hang on unless he wins a much larger majority.

Originating in Quebec, the antiTurner coalition appears to have moved into other regions, especially Alberta and Ontario. One former Liberal MP described the phenomenon as “a wave” ready to wash across the country. Ken Munro, a prominent Chrétien backer and president of the federal Liberals’ Alberta wing, called a news conference last week in Edmonton to urge delegates to the convention

to vote in favor of holding a leadership convention. Turner quickly brushed off Munro’s action, saying: “It is a free country, a free party. I never said I’d get unanimity.”

In Ontario, George Young, former president of the party’s Ontario organization, is actively working against Turner. Added Young: “I could name 25 riding presidents from Ontario who expressed an interest in the review op-

tre orientation, in the process losing the absolute loyalty of rank-and-file members.

Addressing a party fund-raising dinner in Ottawa last week, the Liberal leader was widely expected to come out swinging at his critics. Instead, he largely ignored the leadership issue, except in thanking Liberal Whip JeanRobert Gauthier for his flattering introduction. Said Turner to Gauthier,

lies are studiously avoiding being linked to the anti-Turner forces. Among those allies is Gilles Grondin, who won Chrétien’s old Quebec seat of Saint-Maurice in a Sept. 29 byelection and who has been closely linked to Chrétien’s putative plans for resurrection. Grondin emerged from a Liberal caucus meeting last Wednesday on Parliament Hill to offer qualified support for Turner. Even Eddie Golden-

tion.” Many Turner opponents interviewed by Maclean's refused to criticize him publicly. But privately they complain that their leader has failed to formulate concrete “small-1 liberal” policies. And although even his critics say that they like Turner personally, in their opinion he simply lacks the ability to win the next election. Explained one key Turner opponent: “People who will vote against Turner will do it out of sorrow rather than anger.”

Toronto-area Liberals for and against Turner have been galvanized by the leader’s unfavorable showing in public opinion polls and by sharply critical statements from veteran campaign organizer Senator Keith Davey. According to Davey, Turner has moved the party away from its traditional left-of-cen-

another former Chrétien supporter: “I believe you are one of the few who is not after my job at the moment—at least I think so.” Turner then delivered a ponderous speech about already-announced Liberal policies.

Inside the Turner camp, his loyalists deny the existence of any systematic movement to stage a bloodless coup.

Said Montreal MP Donald Johnston: “The fact is that if there were any kind of organized campaign out there, I would have smelled it.” Johnston also maintains that Chrétien himself, now practising law, is not preparing for a second run at the leadership. “I just spent 10 days with Chrétien in Greece and Cyprus and I certainly didn’t detect any cabal,” Johnston declared. Indeed, both Chrétien and his closest political al-

berg, perhaps Chrétien’s closest adviser over the past decade and a regular presence at party functions across the country, disavows involvement in any dump-Turner faction, including Dorval’s.

But from his St-Dizier redoubt, Dorval claims that other well-known Quebec cheerleaders for Chrétien—Léonce Mercier, former director general of the party, and Jacques Corriveau, former Chrétien leadership campaign chairman—are part of the telephone campaign. Nor is Dorval paying the longdistance telephone bills his callers incur, although he refused to say who is. “We do fund-raising,” he said. “We have some money, not a lot, but certainly much more than is needed to cover our phone bill.” Whatever the totals, those phone bills are clearly more of a headache for John Turner than for Simon Dorval’s undisclosed sponsor.