While Liberal leadership hopeful Sheila Copps has displayed a popular campaign style in the race to replace outgoing leader John Turner, she lags far behind former cabinet minister Jean Chrétien and rookie Montreal MP Paul Martin in delegate support. First elected to the House of Commons in 1984, after serving for three years as an opposition member in the Ontario legislature, Copps, 37, quickly became known for her biting attacks on government ministers and programs. And, during a meeting with Maclean’s editors last week, Copps insisted that she could still lure enough delegates away from Chrétien and Martin to win the leadership at the party’s convention in Calgary on June 23:
Maclean’s: If you became prime minister, what would your first priority be?
Copps: The challenge for the leadership of Canada in the next 10 years is to guarantee the survival of the middle class. If we don’t do something to give people the sense that they can get ahead, then we will see a Canada in 2010 which is a country of the very rich and the very poor—with nothing in between. One of the things I talked about at the beginning of the campaign is how we can attack the problem of child poverty.
I think as Liberals we should say, ‘We’re going to wipe out poverty. We’re going to set a deadline, and here’s how we’re going to do it.’ One of the reasons I got into this race was to show how we’re different from the Tories. But we haven’t spent a lot of time discussing Liberal ideas. We keep coming back to Meech Lake like lemmings.
Maclean’s: You are running third in delegate support. Do you think that you can win? Copps: What we’re banking on is making sure that Chrétien does not win on the first ballot. Let’s say that Chrétien has 60 per cent of the delegates, for purposes of discussion. If I can turn around one-quarter of those voters on the first ballot, Chrétien will come in under 45 per cent, and it will become a very fluid race after that. What we’re finding is that both the Martin and Chrétien people are thinking of voting for me.
Maclean’s: Why do you think Chrétien ’s support is soft?
Copps: A person who wanted to go to the Calgary convention had two choices. You could
run head-to-head against the Chrétien slate, knowing that you would be blown out of the water, or you could say, ‘I’m for Chrétien,’ and get yourself on a Chrétien slate. I met with 32 Young Liberals in Vancouver last week who were elected on a Chrétien slate. We had an incredible dialogue, and I had people coming up to me afterward who have come on side but who don’t want to say it. I have also met with people secretly in Winnipeg. People are afraid of being seen as not supporting Chrétien in
certain parts. Chrétien’s strategy will be to keep his delegates fed, happy and away from the convention floor until the day of the leadership vote. My thrust will be to get them out to the debates with an open mind.
Maclean’s: What will make those delegates come to you?
Copps: Well, the leadership debate on June 3 in Montreal is going to be interesting. It is an audience that will challenge Chrétien. I’ve tried to challenge him on a few inconsistencies over the course of the campaign and was booed—by Liberals. They didn’t like the fact that I said his support both for [Manitoba Liberal Leader Sharon] Carstairs’ and [New Brunswick Premier Frank] McKenna’s constitutional proposals is contradictory.
Maclean’s: Why has Chrétien won so many delegates in Quebec ridings where the Parti Québécois is strong?
Copps: Buses. We lost one riding—the Beauce—where Chrétien brought in seven busloads of students who were 14 and 15 years
old from a riding 100 miles away. He has delegates elected in the province of Quebec who Uve in Ontario. When people say, ‘Jean Chrétien is getting delegates out of Quebec’— yes, he is getting delegates out of Quebec. But who has the popular support? There is a Léger and Léger poll coming out this weekend showing that I’m substantially ahead of Jean Chrétien among francophone voters in Quebec. Maclean’s: Do you think the party’s process for selecting a leader is undemocratic? Copps: I went into this knowing that the rules of delegate selection were stacked against me. The process we have is crying out for reform. We should have a system in place that calls for full disclosure of candidate spending and a spending limit with real sanctions—if a candidate breaks the rules, throw him out. I have said from the beginning that I will publish my fist of donors. I won’t be getting big cheques from multinational corporations. I put a hen on my house. I’ve gotten more donations from individuals than any of the candidates. Raising a million dollars—and we’re going to achieve that goal—is a recognition of my grassroots support.
Maclean’s: Still, for someone who has been out of office for so long, Chrétien ’s support and ability to raise money are impressive to many people. Why haven’t you been able to attract the same kind of money and support?
Copps: I am not here to run against Chrétien. You sound like you'd make a wonderful Chrétien delegate. Maclean's: The question is, why do you think a Liberal should vote against him? Copps: I am not asking peo ple to vote against Jean Chré
tien. I am asking people to
vote for Sheila Copps, who in 1992 can be the best contrast to Brian Mulroney. That’s not a denial of the wonderful things that Jean Chrétien has done. I voted for him at the 1984 Liberal convention. Jean was a cabinet minister and that carries a lot of good vibes with it. But that also carries a lot of baggage with it.
Maclean’s: If you do not win the leadership and become prime minister this time, are you planning to be prime minister some day? Copps: I want to convince the Liberal party that this time is my time. If the party decides to choose somebody else—presumably Chrétien—I will be there to work for the Liberal party. I’m committed to running in another election, whatever the outcome of this race. But my mother said, ‘Politics is the only job where the more experience you have, the more they want to throw you out.’ Sometimes people tend to outlive their political spark. I don’t want to be there 20 years from now saying, ‘Oh gee.’ □
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