CANADA

EAST RIVER RIPPLES

DOES HE OR DOES HE NOT? SIGNALS WERE MIXED ON THE CHANCES OF MULRONEY GOING TO A TOP UN JOB

Anthony Wilson-Smith November 4 1991
CANADA

EAST RIVER RIPPLES

DOES HE OR DOES HE NOT? SIGNALS WERE MIXED ON THE CHANCES OF MULRONEY GOING TO A TOP UN JOB

Anthony Wilson-Smith November 4 1991

EAST RIVER RIPPLES

CANADA

DOES HE OR DOES HE NOT? SIGNALS WERE MIXED ON THE CHANCES OF MULRONEY GOING TO A TOP UN JOB

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney shed his solemn manner for a brief moment of lightheartedness as he stepped to the podium to speak to members of Montreal’s Chamber of Commerce at a downtown hotel last week. Declared a smiling Mulroney: “It is a great pleasure for me to be here in New York—uh, I mean, Montreal.” As Mulroney paused, his audience reacted with immediate understanding—and laughter. In a week in which the Prime Minister’s name appeared on a list of contenders to become the next secretary general of the United Nations, he had little need to explain his intentional slip. But as Mulroney repeatedly sidestepped queries about his political future— and with close aides and confidants offering conflicting assessments of his intentions—it became clear that reports of his UN candidacy were no laughing matter. Said Yves Fortier, Canada’s ambassador to the international body: “If the tidal wave [of support] generates momentum, the Prime Minister will be forced to take a very, very important decision.”

By week’s end, however, the Prime Minister appeared to be intent mostly on keeping his options open after a straw vote in the 15member Security Council left him well placed in the race. In the Commons, Mulroney insisted that he is not seeking the position and that he is planning to run again in the next election. In response to questions from Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien, he declared: “The thing that I look forward to perhaps most in the world is meeting [Chrétien] in an election campaign in 1993.” And on Friday, one close aide insisted privately that Mulroney had instructed Fortier to remove his name from consideration by the United Nations. But diplomatic sources, noting that too open a demonstration of ambition for the position could be fatal to any candidacy, said that the United Nations could nominate

Mulroney even without his explicit consent. And despite several opportunities to do so,

Mulroney declined to say directly whether he would accept the position if it is offered.

It did seem clear that over the weekend the Prime Minister was weighing several major considerations. For one thing, insiders said that neither Mulroney nor President George Bush had anticipated the strength of the African delegates’ resistance to the appointment of anyone other than one of their own candidates to the secretary general’s post.

For another, the retiring incumbent, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, was proving surprisingly reluctant to extend his term again to give the Prime Minister time to achieve a constitutional settlement in Canada before moving to the United Nations. Mulroney might be prepared to make the move from Sussex Drive in Ottawa to UN headquarters on New York’s East River before the constitutional process is complete if that were the only way in which he could assume the UN leadership. But he would almost certainly not risk a long fight for a job that he was uncertain of getting. A loss after a drawn-out campaign could further weaken his position in Canada and diminish his standing abroad.

But whatever becomes of Mulroney’s candidacy, its currency last week confronted Canadians in sudden and startling fashion with the prospect that the man many of them most like to dislike could soon be leaving. And as voters and politicians alike considered the shape of a future without Mulroney, their speculations took some revealing turns. Nowhere was that truer than among Conservatives—some of whom appeared almost eager to shed a deeply unpopular leader, while others expressed alarm for the outcome of the country’s unity debate if Mulroney were to leave.

That possibility first emerged formally early last week, when both the United States and Britain added Mulroney’s name to a list of

candidates now being considered by the UN Security Council to replace Pérez de Cuéllar, a Peruvian, who is scheduled to leave at the end of this year. Signals from diplomatic circles indicated that Mulroney’s candidacy was supported by as many as four of the five influential permanent members of the council: the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union, with only China dissenting. And when the 15 fulland part-time members of the Security Council held their informal straw poll at week’s end to gauge support for the 14 candidates for the job, Mulroney finished tied for sixth place—a ranking that, according to most observers, kept him firmly in contention. Tied for first place were two Africans—Zimbabwe’s finance minister, Bernard Chidzero, and

Egyptian deputy prime minister Boutro Ghali.

While the Security Council sifted through the merits of the contenders for the world’s most prestigious diplomatic appointment, Canadians were left with conflicting impressions of whether Mulroney really wanted the position. Close friends of the Prime Minister said that he was leaning towards acceptance—and several of them were urging him in that direction. Said one: “Why should he keep putting up with all the crap he faces now from the public when this is available?” But others among his

political advisers contended that Mulroney is the only leader who can keep the Tories’ fractious mix of nationalist Quebecers and westerners united during the critical debate over constitutional renewal. Said one longtime friend: “His big question is how his departure would help or hurt the national unity issue.” Within the government caucus, many Tories said that they were torn between pride in Mulroney’s candidacy and their uncertainty about a future without him. Said Tory whip James Hawkes: “If he is the most credible candidate, it is an awesome challenge and quite an honor.” Said Senator Gérald Beaudoin, who co-chaired a parliamentary committee on con-

stitutional reform that reported last June: “The year that is coming is the most crucial year in constitutional affairs in his own country. On the other hand, he may have no other choice like that in his life.”

But other Tories, alarmed at Mulroney’s personal unpopularity and the party’s continued low standing in the polls—around 15 per cent— were more sanguine about the prospect of an early departure. William Attewell, a Tory MP who chairs the party’s Metro Toronto-area caucus, suggested that the move might benefit

the Tories. Said Attewell: “A fresh leader might cause a lot of people to look hard once more at the idea of supporting us in an election.”

In what would be a profound twist of political fate, many Tories predicted that Constitutional Affairs Minister and former prime minister Joe Clark—whom Mulroney defeated at a party convention in 1983—would be the logical successor. Clark, said Attewell, “would be way out front from Day 1—and I cannot imagine anyone else catching him.”

Other Tories—especially from Mulroney’s home province of Quebec—were more dismayed at the prospect of his departure. Said Carole Jacques, an MP from the Montreal-area

riding of Mercier: “[Mulroney] has to stay until our constitutional problems have been settled. It is a must.” To that end, Hawkes and other Tories said that they hope that any UN appointment can be delayed until Canada’s constitutional debate is resolved.

Within the United Nations, there were signs that Mulroney’s supporters were prepared to try to delay. Some UN sources said that Bush— Mulroney’s most enthusiastic sponsor—was pressing Pérez de Cuéllar to stay on for an additional six months to a year. That delay would be aimed at allowing Mulroney enough time to deal with Canada’s constitutional talks before resigning. But Pérez de Cuéllar, 71, is already serving an extension beyond his original retirement plans and is eager to step down. Said Fortier, who met recently with the secretary general: “If I had any lingering doubts about his leaving [at the end of the year], they were dispelled.”

Elsewhere, there was support for Mulroney’s candidacy, which was first discussed by leaders of the world’s seven largest industrial nations at a meeting in London in July. Although the British and U.S. governments traditionally support the same choice, Mulroney’s chances were enhanced by the fact that France—which, as a permanent member of the Security Council, has the right to veto any choice—is insisting that the next secretary general be fluent in French. The only other candidate who speaks French,

Chidzero, was educated at Montreal’s McGill University and is married to a francophone Quebecer. African nations are pressing for an appointment from one of their countries. But diplomatic sources said that Chidzero’s appointment would be vetoed by the United States because of his government’s socialist policies.

Still, even the support of permanent members of the Security Council was no guarantee that Mulroney’s candidacy would survive the complex machinations of UN politics. At first glance, the selection process appears relatively simple: in a secret ballot, the final nominee must be approved by a minimum of nine of the 15 council members, including all five permanent members. In the event of a tie between candidates, the council can send the top candidates' names to the General Assembly to be voted on by all 166 member countries.

But historically, that process has often foundered because of the diverse goals and interests of council members—particularly those of

the permanent five. Indeed, the only previous Canadian to be formally considered for the job, former prime minister Lester Pearson, was among the final candidates in both 1946 and 1952. On the second occasion, he had the support of nine council members. Pearson, who at the time was serving as president of the General Assembly, later described in his memoirs the public posturing that took place between superpowers over his proposed candidacy. After the Americans nominated another candidate, wrote Pearson, “It was interpreted variously as an indication [they] would not have me, or alternatively, that the Americans were anxious to have me and were clever enough to realize that the only way the Russians would agree with this would be to divorce my own position entirely from that of Washington. Therefore, they were nominating someone else for tactical purposes.” Whatever the Americans’ intent, the Soviets eventually vetoed Pearson’s candidacy.

But diplomatic sources said that the Soviets, at the end of the Cold War, are prepared to support a U.S.backed candidate. The most likely spoiler for a Mulroney candidacy is China, which has already said that the next secretary general should be African. Still, some Western analysts said that Bush, a former ambassador to China who took a relatively low-key stance towards the country after the 1989 govemment-or3 dered killings of pro-democI racy students in Tiananmen Square, might be able to persuade Beijing not to veto I Mulroney’s nomination. u The Prime Minister has also recently restored relations with Beijing—although Canadian Minister of Agriculture William McKnight ruffled feathers during a trade mission to China last week when he urged the Chinese to improve their human rights record.

If Mulroney is indeed actively seeking to replace Pérez de Cuéllar, his prospects will be enhanced by his schedule in coming days. On Nov. 7 and 8, he meets with NATO leaders in Rome. Ten days later, he joins the leaders of 41 other nations at the Francophone Summit in Paris. Those events added further pressure on the Prime Minister to make a clear choice between a global mandate—and the unfinished business of rebuilding his nation.

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH

HILARY MACKENZIE

IAN MATHER

GLEN ALLEN

E. KAYE FULTON