The party was lavish, but the 700 Quebec Conservatives who gathered in Montreal’s Meridien Hotel last week, to mark the second anniversary of Brian Mulroney’s electoral triumph, did not celebrate for long. The Prime Minister stayed only briefly at the reception, then hurried back to Ottawa to join his wife, Mila, and four children at a birthday celebration for their oneyear-old son, Nicolas. Before he left, however, Mulroney delivered a partisan pep talk which reflected both the chastening experience of two years in power and his determination to recover from his midterm slump. Said Mulroney: “If we have had a few moments of difficulty in government, and we have, we will get over those.”
Meanwhile, Conservative strategists were assembling a legislative agenda for the speech from the throne on Oct. 1—and seeking ways to bolster the party’s sagging public image. As Tory ministers mended political fences in Montreal last week, Mulroney met with Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa. The subject: whether to launch formal negotiations to bring Quebec into the constitutional accord. A decision is expected before Christmas. Then the Prime Minister led a day-long cabinet meeting to discuss new initiatives— among them, plans to ease regional inequalities. But despite those efforts, political problems continued to plague the government. In Ottawa, Commons Speaker John Bosley resigned—the victim of an apparent plot by Mulroney’s
office to force his removal (page 14).
The fall agenda will be built around trade, tax reform, federal-provincial harmony and, especially, regional inequality, a major component of the speech from the throne. A new paper mill will be set up in Matane, Que. And there will be large-scale help for hardpressed grain farmers. Ottawa is also considering proposals to improve access to day care facilities and to increase employment opportunities for women. Complained one senior Conservative adviser: “The recovery has been so bloody uneven.”
At the same time, Tory political strategists are tackling the government’s image problems. Private party polls show that Mulroney trails Liberal Leader John Turner and NDP chief Ed Broadbent in all categories of voter perception, including trustworthiness and competency. The Conservative answer is to emphasize cabinet teamwork and put Mulroney into situations where he performs well, such as radio open-line shows. Strategists say that the appointment of tactician Dalton Camp as adviser to the Privy Council Office will help the government avert crises. But many Tories are still seething. “The younger Conservatives cannot believe the gaffe Mulroney made in putting Camp on the public payroll,” one senior consultant told Maclean’s. “It is all everybody in this city is talking about.”
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