COVER

Turner’s bandwagon

PAUL GESSELL December 1 1986
COVER

Turner’s bandwagon

PAUL GESSELL December 1 1986

Turner’s bandwagon

The small, makeshift stage was so crowded that some of the people on it briefly looked as if they might fall off. Two dozen members of Parliament, senators, former cabinet ministers and other senior Liberals stood on the platform in an Ottawa hotel ballroom last week for one reason: to declare that they would vote at a party convention this weekend to

keep John Turner as their leader. Some delivered brief pep talks. Others simply stood awkwardly holding drinks. And although most of the 400 people in the audience appeared more concerned about their cocktails than the speeches, the message got through. Above the din, Jean-Jacques Blais, a former federal minister, hollered, “There is a momentum out there, not just for the party, but for the leader!” Indeed, as the convention approached, a stream of key Liberals came forward to endorse Turner. Those working for a leadership review continued to phone delegates—and

mail them unflattering opinion polls about his popularity. But they seemed to go about the task halfheartedly. Said Gary McCauley, a pro-review organizer and former New Brunswick MP: “People want to be left alone. They have both sides of the debate now and don’t want their arms twisted.”

Although Turner kept a low profile, he was treated to round after round of good news. Donald Johnston, the Montreal MP who placed third in the 1984 Liberal leadership campaign, ended weeks of public ambivalence by endorsing him. Five former national presidents of the party and two other former ministers, Monique Bégin and Judy Eróla, followed suit. A survey by The Canadian Press, which reached 100 of the 282 Liberal riding presidents, indicated that Turner could gain the support of 78 per cent of the 3,500 convention delegates. Indeed, Turner organizers said their support actually increased after former cabinet minister Marc Lalonde called for a review on Nov. 11.

Turner himself seemed confident when he met reporters at a beer and pizza lunch, and earlier predicted, "I'll peak next week." Still, pro-review orga nizers were considering a last-minute burst of campaigning in Ottawa. And a dispute over the selection of 49 pro Turner youth delegates from Quebec threatened

to spill onto the convention floor.

But Turner’s supporters were feeling their strength. As they gathered to hear Blais and others endorse Turner, some of them buttonholed John Cameron, an alternate youth delegate from Burlington, Ont., to complain about his pro-review stance. Frustrated, Cameron said defensively, “We are not a bunch of lunatics.” The Turner forces did not change Cameron’s mind—but the string of endorsements left them more bullish about the Liberal leader’s fortunes than they had been for weeks.

PAUL GESSELL in Ottawa