THE BIG REDWAVE
It was, as David Peterson declared, a victory “beyond my wildest dreams.” Resplendent in a blue suit and trademark red tie, expansive in his joy, he basked in the cheers of his home-town crowd in London, Ont., last week. As leader of the province’s first majority Liberal government since 1937, Peterson retained the Ontario premiership that he has held since 1985. But after he thanked the voters and consoled the losers, the premier had a pointed message for another audience: Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his federal government. Peterson noted that he had asked voters for a mandate to protect Ontario’s position in any free trade deal with the United States—and that he had got it. “The message has come through loud and clear tonight,” he declared. “Ontario will be able to speak with a strong voice for a strong Canada. They will have to pay attention to this.”
The sheer size of Peterson’s victory ensured that Canadians everywhere would also pay attention. The Liberals, with 47.5 per cent of votes cast, won 95 out of 130 seats—an increase of 44. Overwhelmed, Peterson pledged to use his majority with care, adding, “We must earn the people’s trust every single day.” The once-proud Conservatives, who governed Ontario from 1943 to 1985—a dynasty that spanned 42 years—won just 24.5 per cent of the vote, plummeting to 16 seats from 50. Leader Larry Grossman, gracious in defeat, lost his own seat and promptly announced that he would resign as soon as the Tories could organize a leadership convention. “Having lost fair and square,” Grossman told supporters, “we must now turn to the task of rebuilding our great party.”
Watch: The New Democrats, with 25.6 per cent of the vote, dipped to 19 seats from 23. But for the second time in the party’s Ontario history the NDP became the official opposition. An exultant NDP Leader Bob Rae promised to keep close watch over the huge Liberal majority. Declared Rae: “As long as I have breath to breathe, there will be no abuses of power.”
Canadians will see the national impact of Ontario’s verdict this week in
Ottawa, when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and chief trade negotiator Simon Reisman brief Peterson and the other nine premiers on the progress of the free trade talks (page 36). At the last federalprovincial meeting on trade, Peterson led the only minority government in Canada; now he has emerged as the clear victor from a campaign that focused as much on his personality as on his values. In addition to that personal triumph, he is the only First Minister with an electoral mandate for his position on free trade. As Peterson pointedly told the jubilant election-night crowds: “Trade was a big issue in this campaign. Our bottom line is there for all to see.”
Deal: Ontario’s bottom line consists of six broad—some critics say ambiguous — conditions.
And although Peterson did not endorse the principle of free trade during the 40-day campaign, he did say that he would approve a deal if those terms were met. The six conditions: protection for the agricultural sector; maintaining the Canada-U.S. auto pact; the continued right of Canada to screen foreign investment; protection for cultural industries; the continued ability to promote regional economic development; and creation of an adequate dispute-settling mechanism. Vowing that Mulroney cannot “give away the store,” Peterson declared, “We would be better off with no deal if it is not the right deal.” Those conditions now constitute a challenge to Ottawa: meet them—or any agreement with Washington on trade is in trouble. The negotiators al-
ready face a crucial deadline. By Oct. 5 President Ronald Reagan must send the final draft of a free trade treaty to two congressional committees for 90 days of study. Peterson’s conditions increase the strain of the final rounds of talks. To add to the suspense, Peterson will withhold his verdict on the final version of the draft treaty until a committee of his new cabinet ministers scrutinizes it.
Doom: If Peterson decides to oppose the agreement, it is not clear how he could affect it. Throughout the past year the premier has slowly established fragile alliances with such premiers as Manitoba’s Howard Pawley
and Newfoundland’s Brian Peckford. If Peterson translates those alliances into a coalition against free trade, he could probably doom a draft treaty.
Clout: But such is Ontario’s economic clout that even if Peterson is alone in his opposition, he could still scuttle the agreement—if he wants. Last week the premier declared that if the proposed treaty lacks a dispute-settling mechanism, “the deal is dead.” His principal secretary, Hershell Ezrin, noted in turn that Ontario’s conditions “will send signals directly to the Americans.” Senator Lloyd Bentsen,
chairman of the U.S. Senate finance committee, for one, has indicated that he wants unanimous provincial approval of any free trade deal. Ezrin also noted that Ontario can refuse to implement treaty provisions that affect provincial procurement policies, investment subsidies, wine, liquor or agricultural programs. Victory, Ezrin told Maclean ’s, “gives moral authority. Peterson can say, T think I have some public support for this.’ ”
Although Peterson’s tough talk
about free trade unsettles the federal Conservatives, they say that they do not believe the premier’s bite will match his bark. Federal Tory insiders told Maclean’s that despite the political rivalry between Mulroney and Peterson, the personal chemistry between them remains good—based on an 18-year friendship that began in 1969, when Peterson first met Mulroney in Montreal. They draw solace from the fact that Mulroney’s conditions for approving a trade deal are similar to Peterson’s. And they say that Peterson’s free trade stand is so
vague that he can now adopt any stance he wants when he finally views the trade pact. As a Conservative consultant declared last week: “I don’t quite know the game that he’s playing on free trade. But rhetoric aside, he has gone for a middle-of-the-road position, and he can come out with almost anything, postelection, without having contradicted himself.”
Size: Peterson’s political opponents also hope that the sheer size of his majority will lead to complacency and mistakes. That would diminish his popularity—and damage his national prestige. Indeed, NDP candidates often warned during the campaign about the dangers of majority rule. As former NDP House leader Ross McClellan, who was defeated by Liberal Antonio Lupusella in his Toronto riding, argued: “The whole process of reform will be over and the momentum for social change will end.”
Those predictions may be wrong. First elected in 1975, Peterson spent 10 long years in opposition. He has repeatedly reassured voters that he would never abuse his new power. The premier may also find it difficult to edge away from his tough approach to free trade: although his conditions were vague, his language was strong. Declared Rae: “It would be unconscionable to change his tack. I think he has a profound moral obligation.”
But Peterson’s victory has national implications beyond the free trade talks. For the federal Conservatives, the strength of the premier’s appeal was a disturbing reminder of their own unpopularity. As Sally Barnes, once a senior aide to former Ontario premier William Davis, noted last week: “For those of us who canvassed, we weren’t hearing a lot of anti-Grossman stuff—we were hearing a lot of anti-Mulroney stuff. Mr. Mulroney will not sleep well tonight.”
Hand: More importantly, the victory strengthens Peterson’s hand in all federal-provincial negotiations. As premier of the country’s most prosperous and populous province, Peterson was always assured of a respectful hearing among his fellow First Ministers. But the Liberals came second in the 1985 election to the Conservatives—and gained power only after they signed a two-year pact with the NDP to pursue a joint legislative agenda. Without an independent mandate, Peterson’s voice was subdued.
Now, with the voters’ benediction, Peterson is in a strong position to lead provincial crusades for more federal money for programs providing manpower retraining, day care and such projects as new sewers. As Ezrin told Maclean’s: “Peterson provides a natu-
ral leadership role for the provinces in some areas. If we don’t argue the case for everybody, who will?”
On the provincial front, the premier no longer needs to consult the NDP. With a majority, Peterson can implement his priorities: tough conflict-ofinterest legislation; laws to cap automobile insurance rates; educational reform such as $297 million to reduce classroom size and furnish computers; environmental programs such as $75 million to clean up beaches; and programs to aid seniors and the disabled.
Test: Whether or not the election changes the government’s approach to the issues, it has already altered the traditional approach to campaigning. When the Liberals turned to focus groups to test advertising concepts, they realized that the voters did not single out a particular Peterson quality: they simply liked him. That led to the discovery that voters like to like their politicians. As a senior Liberal told Maclean's: “They just kept telling us, ‘He makes me feel good, he makes me feel comfortable.’ ”
That “feel good” quality became a factor in the election. Ezrin deduced that the voters connected Peterson with the moral qualities that they wanted in a leader. “This is where the election, in subconscious, is won or lost,” he said. “Peterson represents a mixture of values that people feel very in tune with.” Aware of that subtle alchemy, Grossman observed two weeks ago that Peterson and former Tory premier William Davis were cut from the same mould—and out of date.
Declared Grossman: “That competent, confident style of management is not what is needed. Now we need someone with some courage and some new ideas.” Those extraordinary remarks, in turn, provoked a rebuttal from another former Conservative premier, Frank Miller, who told The Toronto Star on election day that Ontario voters “like to like leaders who show a
streak of decency and civility.” Miller pointedly added that both Peterson and Davis displayed those attributes.
Aware of the power of personality, the Liberals focused on Peterson. All their campaign advertisements featured him. The traditional leader’s tour simply put him in touch with an adoring public: Peterson rolled up his sleeves, held out his hand and waded into summering crowds across the province. He played games at a county fair in Milton, wobbled on a bicycle built for two in Ottawa and presented one of his trademark ties to an astonished student in Northern Ontario. Angus Reid, the president of Angus Reid Associates Inc., told Maclean's that Peterson benefited from the voters’ desire for a leader who appeared to embody the values of openness, trust and honesty. Added Reid: “Canadians like to feel optimistic and idealistic about government. Mr. Peterson was able to touch that feeling.”
Dipped: The result was a coronation. The Liberal pollsters, Goldfarb Consultants, conducted random samples of 200 to 300 voters every evening between Aug. 8 and election night. The results were staggering: despite 40 days of campaigning and approximately $10.7 million in spending, support for the three parties barely wavered throughout the entire campaign. Liberal support did not budge; the New Democrats dipped one or two percentage points; the Conservatives increased a point or two. Ezrin, displaying a
graph of three parallel lines representing the parties’ support through the campaign, marvelled, ‘T have never seen anything like it.”
Liberals speculated that the voters did not waver because Peterson made no major mistakes. Aside from a stumbling and stuttering performance in a televised debate on Aug.
17, the premier stuck doggedly to his issues, instead of those raised by his opponents. He also refused to lose his legendary temper. At a family picnic in London, he told a heckler: “You are welcome here. You have the freedom to express your opinion.”
When members of the Alliance for the Preservation of English in Canada confronted him in Eastern Ontario, he happily greeted them in French. As a senior Liberal told Maclean’s:
“The story of this campaign is David Peterson’s discipline. They tried to bait him and bait him and bait him. Hosek (left) We decided that we were not going to fight on their turf.”
Tough: That strategy foiled Grossman, a bright and aggressive lawyer who waged a tough, issues-oriented campaign. But that approach lost as many votes as it gained.
Grossman hotly defended the principle of free trade—to the dismay of agricultural workers in traditionally Tory rural ridings who feared for their jobs. He vowed to cut taxes and to balance the province’s budget—but he promised to spend at least $8 billion over five years.
Grossman also vowed that he would never support official bilingualism for Ontario— to the horror of Conservative candidates in heavily francophone ridings. Analysts suspect that at least two Conservative MPPs, James Gordon in Sudbury and Luc Guindon in Cornwall, lost their seats because of that stand.
The style of the campaign was equally controversial. In a Goldfarb Consultants poll conducted in early August, 42 per cent of respondents said that they were “not impressed at
all” with the Tory leader. Because Grossman was unpopular, the Conservatives were hesitant to expose him to the voters. At the same time, they were unable to assemble large partisan crowds. So Grossman delivered his policy stands to small groups of Tory faithful. Meanwhile, once-efficient
party machinery simply broke down. As an Ottawa campaign manager told Maclean’s: “Grossman would come to town—and a week later we would get a memo saying that he was coming.” Wounds: While the Tories faced the task of replacing Grossman, New Democrats licked their wounds—and put on a brave public front. Rae ran a consistent campaign as the defender of ordinary workers, resolute in his opposition to free trade and in his support for a
government-run automobile insurance scheme. Indeed, the NDP thought that it would gain seats because both the federal and provincial parties were at an all-time high in opinion polls. Federal leader Ed Broadbent toured ridings, appeared in television and radio advertisements and delivered a forceful address to a Toronto Labor Day rally.
The election results destroyed those dreams. The NDP lost two valuable veterans, Toronto’s McClellan and Ottawa’s Evelyn Gigantes. Rae won his own Toronto seat by a mere 240 votes after a neck-and-neck fight with Liberal Alan Tonks. Still, when asked how he could conduct an effective opposition with only 19 MPPs, Rae retorted: “Just watch me.” Women: In the meantime, the focus is on Peterson. Over the next two weeks the premier must select a new cabinet, culling as many as 30 MPPs from 95 hopefuls. The prospects cabinet will likely contain the highest proportion of women in Ontario’s history. The Liberals elected 17 women—including Toronto feminist Chaviva Hosek and English Channel swimmer Cindy Nicholas. Peterson will also shuffle the province’s civil service. Then the legislature will meet in November for the traditional speech to from the throne.
< After last week’s tri9 umph Peterson at| tempted to dampen ex| pectations—and assuage z fears. He predicted that i voters will never “see a “ government reign for 42 I years again.” He warned o that “we will make miso takes, but we will be “■ judged on how we handle those.” The premier’s carefully cool mask slipped only once when a television interviewer asked how he felt. “It’s wonderful,” he said. “Nobody has been more lucky or more blessed than I.” It is a sentiment that he may recall wistfully as he is drawn into the final months of the debate over free trade.