CANADA

The politics of put-downs

PAUL KAIHLA April 18 1988
CANADA

The politics of put-downs

PAUL KAIHLA April 18 1988

The politics of put-downs

The war of words erupted last spring just after Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore announced plans to run for the leadership of the Alberta Liberal party. In the ensuing verbal tussle, Premier Donald Getty described Decore as “slippery” and accused him of lacking class, claiming Decore misrepresented the provincial government’s record in dealing with Edmonton and other Alberta municipalities. Decore replied that the Conservative premier lacked determination in pressing his demand that Prime Minister Brian Mulroney create an elected Senate. Last month the battle flared again when Getty charged that Decore’s Liberal leadership ambitions are weakening his performance as mayor. Getty claimed that his government is “doing a hell of a lot more” for Edmonton than the city council is.

Declared Decore: “The premier has obviously lost his cool and is now afraid of the mayor of Edmonton.”

In fact, many political observers said that Getty’s aggressiveness is an indication that the Alberta Tories—after 17 years in office —may be worried about their chances of re-election.

At the same time, the premier may be trying to overcome criticism that he lacks the combativeness and decisiveGetty; Decore ness of his predecessor,

Peter Lougheed, who stepped down in 1985. Getty does not have to call a provincial election before the spring of 1991. But as political activity increases, an election next spring has become a strong possibility.

Getty’s Tories might face a tight three-way race with the Liberals and New Democrats, particularly in the Edmonton area, according to Allan Tupper, a professor of political science at the University of Alberta. Added Tupper: “Many have said that if there is an heir apparent to the Conservative party, it is the Liberals. Getty’s harsh criticism of Decore is an effort to show decisiveness by launching an aggressive campaign against a well-known Liberal.”

But it may be the NDP—which in-

creased its number of seats in the Alberta legislature by 14 under party leader Ray Martin in the May, 1986, provincial election—that will launch the main challenge. (Current standings in the 83-seat legislature: Tories 61; NDP 16; Liberals 4; Representative Party 2.) Predicting that the New Democrats will form the next government, Ross Harvey, NDP research director in Alberta, said that the Conservatives “are running out of steam. It’s the accumulation of political arterial sclerosis over the years.”

Since he took over from Lougheed

2V2 years ago, Getty has had to preside over a series of economic and political setbacks. For one thing, the oil and natural gas sector has suffered through years of low demand and lower prices. That situation has now begun to improve, but unemployment in Edmonton and parts of northern Alberta still stands at about 10 per cent —two percentage points above the national rate. Then last August the Principal Group of financial companies collapsed, and thousands of small investors lost money. Last week company founder Donald Cormie appeared before a judicial inquiry that is investigating the failure (page 46). In the past, said Harvey, Alberta’s Tories “may not have been the most caring government in the country, but you

could count on then to mind the store. But the Principal thing blew that image all to hell.”

At the same time, some critics say that Getty, a former oil company executive and quarterback with the Edmonton Eskimos, takes a too-leisurely approach to his job. The 54-year-old premier, who follows a relatively relaxed working schedule, was playing golf when the Principal collapse was announced last year. He told reporters that “unsophisticated investors” should have known better than to risk their money. As well, Getty has been under fire for not putting measures that deal with unemployment into last month’s provincial budget.

In the meantime, Getty claims that

the 47-year-old Decore, a well-connected Liberal who was first elected mayor of Edmonton in 1983, has not done enough to alleviate the city’s high unemployment. The premier said that his government has helped to provide jobs in the region by encouraging plans for a $500-million pulp mill near Peace River, Alta., and the expansion of Syncrude Canada Ltd.’s oil-sands extraction plant near Fort McMurray, Alta. The feud between the premier and the mayor has already flashed an unmistakable signal to Albertans that, for the first time in 17 years, a Conservative leader in the province is showing signs of running scared.

NANCY BEASLEY

-PAUL KAIHLA with NANCY BEASLEY in Edmonton