COVER

RETURN OF A BACKROOM BOY

MICHAEL ROSE September 8 1986
COVER

RETURN OF A BACKROOM BOY

MICHAEL ROSE September 8 1986

RETURN OF A BACKROOM BOY

COVER

“If I am wrong, then the usual penalties of politics will prevail. ”

When Dalton Kingsley Camp made that statement—on Sept. 20,1966—he was the leader of the campaign that, only two months later, led to the overthrow of John Diefenbaker as leader of the Progressive Conservative party. But the words seem equally applicable to Camp’s latest assignment.

With his appointment last week as senior adviser to the federal cabinet, the veteran Tory strategist, advertising executive and journalist instantly becomes one of the most powerful figures in Ottawa. He will also inherit much of the blame if his advice fails to improve the standing of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his Conservative government. Emerging from his first cabinet meeting last week, Camp said that he is “just a bureaucrat.” But few analysts who have watched his durable, 37-year career in the Tory backrooms accepted his modest assessment.

Contempt: At 65, Camp is still best known for his role in unseating Diefenbaker. After the Conservative defeat of 1965—their second electoral setback in three years—Camp became the focus for dissatisfaction with The Chief’s leadership. Winning re-election as party president, Camp led dissidents at the party’s 1966 general meet-

ing—and won a leadership review. Camp later contended that he was working for party democracy, but his role in Diefenbaker’s subsequent downfall earned him the contempt of many Tories.

Shrewd: After failing in 1965 and again in 1968 to win a Toronto-area seat in the House of Commons, Camp entered a period of voluntary exile in his native New Brunswick. There, he built a journalism career while con-

tinuing to serve as the party’s grey eminence. Said one senior Conservative official: “The Diefenbaker thing meant Dalton could not play a public role, but he discovered he could be just as influential with a low profile.”

Camp had dabbled with Liberal politics during his undergraduate days at the University of New Brunswick. But at the urging of Professor Harold Laski, under whom he studied at the London School of Economics, he again became involved in politics. But disenchanted with the Liberals, Camp joined the Conservatives. Returning to Canada in 1949, he quickly built a reputation as a shrewd political organizer. In the 1950s he managed election campaigns that deposed Liberal governments in four provinces, and in 1963 he took charge of Conservative headquarters for the federal election campaign.

In his new role, Camp will be a civil servant, giving advice “on the general

policy orientation of the government,” according to the official announcement. But Tory insiders said that Camp’s job would complement the work of Senator Norman Atkins, the man charged with preparing the party for the next federal election. Atkins, a brother of Camp’s first wife, is also his partner in Camp Associates, the Toronto advertising company. Said a Tory consultant who is close to Camp: “Norman will look after the organizational side of things, and Dalton will provide him with some flesh for the bones, some policies to put into that system to sell.”

Dangers: Camp’s new job will involve a major change in lifestyle. He has spent much of the past decade writing books and a nationally syndicated newspaper column on an 80-acre retreat called Northwood, near Jemseg, N.B., where he shares a spectacular split-level brickand-cedar house with his wife, Wendy, and his g son Christopher, 7. § Wendy Camp said last ^ week that she and her x husband were “playing I it by ear” about moving to Ottawa.

Despite his physical isolation, Camp was never far from the centre of Conservative affairs. During the 1984 election campaign he wrote speeches for Mulroney and quietly offered strategic advice. Camp also provided counsel—and outspoken support in his column—for New Brunswick’s Richard Hatfield after the Conservative premier was charged with drug possession in 1984. But, last week Camp was reluctant to talk about his new role—or about the dangers facing Mulroney. In one of his last public remarks before assuming the neutrality demanded of civil servants, he said, “It’s time to stop bailing and concentrate on fixing the boat.” Camp’s continuing role as the dean of Conservative strategists will depend in part on how well he meets that challenge.

— MICHAEL ROSE in Ottawa with KATHRYN HARLEY in Fredericton and PAUL GESSELL in St. John’s

KATHRYN HARLEY

PAUL GESSELL