Shoring up the Mulroney majority

MARC CLARK January 25 1988

Shoring up the Mulroney majority

MARC CLARK January 25 1988

Shoring up the Mulroney majority


Like the staffs of three armies preparing for war, Canada’s political leaders are getting ready for an election battle. In Ottawa, party power brokers gather each week to pore over electoral maps, review training films for their field workers and plan strategy. But many Conservatives are convinced that they have already fought and won one of the key battles of the next election campaign—with barely a shot being fired by the opposition. The victory came last July, when the cabinet quietly approved a resolution that would add 13 members to the 282-seat House of Commons-four each in Ontario and British Columbia, and five in Alberta—and alter the boundaries of all but 13 ridings. Key Tory officials maintain that in any election called after July 13, when the new boundaries take effect, the party stands to take 15 to 20 seats more than it would win under the existing system. “And that,” said one veteran Tory, “is why a lot of Tories are grinning.”

Indeed, the new electoral map is a key, though often overlooked, factor in Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s calculations as he ponders the timing of a federal election. Mulroney, whose mandate expires in September, 1989, must consider many things—including the

state of the economy, his party’s standings in opinion polls and the impact of such major events as the economic summit of major industrial nations in Toronto in June. But many senior Tories predict that, in order to benefit from the changes brought about by redistribution, the Prime Minister will not dissolve the present Parliament before July 14, bringing an election in September or later. Current polls show the three major parties locked in a close battle for public support—and if the race remains that close, any edge could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Last week Ottawa was rife with speculation about the timing of the next election. Party strategists interpreted current government activities as harbingers of a campaign. Among those signs last week was Mulroney’s announcement in Toronto—following up on a more generous 1984 promise—that a Tory government would spend $1.3 billion in science and technology over the next five years. Critics said that the announcement was long on promises and short on specifics—typical of an election campaign promise. As well, Finance Minister Michael Wilson released a government study, which concludes that a net total of 120,000 new jobs would be creat-

ed in Canada by the end of 1993 if the proposed free trade arrangement with the United States is ratified and goes into effect on schedule next Jan. 1. Mulroney said that the Tories will run for re-election on the free trade issue.

Tory officials estimate that the changes in the electoral map will adversely affect only a handful of Tory MPs. But dozens of Conservatives who won narrowly in 1984 will acquire areas of traditional Tory voters from adjacent ridings and shed areas with a history of voting Liberal or New Democrat. Many of those Tory MPs have one person to thank for that: David Small, a fasttalking 30-year-old Tory statistician and self-described “map freak” who helped them convince impartial electoral boundary commissioners to alter boundaries in ways favorable to the Tories. Small is now Trade Minister Pat Carney’s chief of staff.

Not all members are pleased by the new boundaries. “All MPs hate like hell to lose any parts of their riding,” said national Conservative party president William Jarvis, himself a former MP. “The disruption is incredible.” Many members face the prospect of wooing new voters, working with unfamiliar local party officials or losing key financial

backers. Six MPs—three Liberals, two Tories and one New Democrat—will see their ridings disappear, carved up and folded into adjacent constituencies. Said veteran Liberal MP Aideen Nicholson, whose central Toronto riding of Trinity will disappear: “All we can do is hope that Mr. Mulroney obliges us by calling an election before July 14.”

The changes even provoked a court case. New Democrat MP Ian Waddell was so upset that his riding of Vancouver-Kingsway will disappear that he joined with Vancouver city council last fall in an unsuccessful challenge to Parliament’s right to redistribute seats without the consent of the provinces. Mulroney himself faces a choice brought on by redistribution. His home town of Baie Comeau, Que., will be shifted from his riding of Manicouagan to neighboring Charlevoix, and he must decide where to run.

The Tories’ success with redistribution offers a textbook lesson in political organization. Direct political interference in the redistribution process is almost impossible. After Parliament set the machinery in motion in 1986, the provinces and the Northwest Territories (the Yukon has only one seat) each set up three-member electoral boundary commissions. The commissions are headed by judges appointed by the chief justice of each province. The commis-

sioners then redrew electoral maps after looking at the latest census data then available—gathered in 1981—so as to balance the population among ridings. That meant adding more seats in British Columbia and traditionally Tory Alberta, whose populations had soared during the 1970s.

It also meant creating more constituencies in fast-growing suburbs— traditionally good ground for Tories—and eliminating some inside major cities, where Liberals and New Democrats tend to be strongest.

After drafting a new map, the commissioners held public hearings to gather suggestions about where electoral boundaries should lie. That is where Small came in.

Small grew up in Barrie,

Ont., north of Toronto, the son of a draftsman who loved maps. “Map-making became my hobby,” he said. So did politics. In the 1981 provincial election, Small, then 23, ran as a Conservative candidate but lost the Ottawa riding by 500 votes. Five years later the party approached him when the electoral commissions were

about to open hearings in September, 1986. He worked closely with Tory MPs and their riding executives, poring over maps and statistical studies of ridings, studying locations of schools, bus routes, rail lines—anything that could convince the commissioners to change the boundaries. By law, the commissioners had to consider the “community of interest or community of identity” in an area, as well as the overall number of voters. As a result, the Tories encouraged local business and ethnic groups whose members favored changes that would also help Tory candidates appear at hearings. Said Small: “We had to make our mark in the public hearings and we did.” Added Jarvis: “David was superb. He would look at the school districts and the churches in the riding to find where the communities of interest lay and say to the MPs, ‘You can argue this with integrity.’ He was perfect for the job.” The work paid off. The commissioners made changes that Small and other Tories maintain will make dozens of

of marginal Tory seats safer for the party. One of the main beneficiaries is Barbara McDougall, the minister of state for privatization. Her central Toronto riding of St. Paul’s is almost surrounded by Liberaland NDP-held constituencies. Her revised riding will lose some areas that went Liberal in 1984 and gain 45 polling areas that went Conservative— increasing McDougall’s re-election chances. Other Ontario Tories will also have their ridings reinforced. Among them are David Daubney in Ottawa West, William Winegard in GuelphWellington, Shirley Martin in Lincoln and Alan Redway in Don Valley East. In Saskatchewan, John Gormley improved his chances in The Battlefords, as did Len Gustafson in the new riding of Souris-Moose Mountain. In Quebec, Small and his colleagues worked to minimize boundary changes. Said Small: “Incumbency is going to mean more to them because all our members there are new. We

didn’t want to make them new again.” Because of the many variables, including shifting party allegiances, predicting the overall impact of redistribution is difficult. But in one calculation last year, Elections Canada took the results of the 1984 election and recast them, poll-by-poll, under the new boundaries. The result: the Conservatives, who won 211 seats in 1984, would have won 17 additional ridings; the Liberals, who won 40, would have taken four fewer; and the NDP total of 30 was unchanged (there is one Independent MP, Tony Roman in York North). As well, Small and an aide did the same exercise for the elections of u 1979, which the Tories won, and 1980, a Liberal victory. The results: 16 or 17 extra Tory seats.

NDP and Liberal organizers warn against reading too much into those calculations. Said Cheryl Hewitt, the NDP’S director of organization: “To predict seats on the basis of past results is an academic exercise, nothing

more.” Added Senator Michael Kirby, chairman of the Liberal strategy committee: “Redistribution is a factor, but not a dominant factor.” But many Tories maintain that their opponents fail to recognize the importance of redistribution. Indeed, one senior New Democrat said that his party’s MPs “couldn’t get excited about it.” The Liberals were preparing for a national convention.

Regardless of the impact in marginal ridings, redistribution will create havoc for some MPs. Montreal Liberals David Berger (Laurier) and Jacques Guilbault (St-Jacques) will see their ridings disappear, divided among adjacent seats held by Liberals. The two men face a difficult choice: challenge established Liberal colleagues for the right to represent their constituents or seek re-election in Tory-held ridings. As for Mulroney, an aide said last week that he would likely run in Charlevoix, where Tory incumbent Charles Hamelin has already offered to step aside. The aide said that, with the addition of supporters in Baie Comeau to Charlevoix, “all Mulroney would have to do is drive through town in a bus at the beginning of the campaign and the riding would be in the bag.”


—MARC CLARK in Ottawa with LISA VAN DÜSEN in Montreal