COVER

A CHANCE AT THE RING

LEADERS-IN-WAITING WEIGH THEIR OPTIONS

PAUL KAIHLA,BRIAN BERGMAN April 8 1991
COVER

A CHANCE AT THE RING

LEADERS-IN-WAITING WEIGH THEIR OPTIONS

PAUL KAIHLA,BRIAN BERGMAN April 8 1991

A CHANCE AT THE RING

COVER

LEADERS-IN-WAITING WEIGH THEIR OPTIONS

The gathering at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre’s elegant ballroom last November drew many of the leading lights of that city’s Howe Street financial community. The 900 people in attendance paid $125 each to attend a fund raiser for Social Credit Environment Minister John Reynolds—and to raise a total of $85,000 in campaign contributions for the former Vancouver stock promoter. Reynolds, who resigned his portfolio a month later, maintains that he was raising the money for his re-election campaign in the affluent riding of West Vancouver/Howe Sound. But his 1986 campaign for that safe Socred seat cost Reynolds only $15,000. In fact, party insiders say, the November dinner was the latest in a series of fund raisers that Reynolds has held over the past four years to assemble a campaign war chest of $500,000 for the day when the Social Credit leadership became open. Last week, that day arrived.

Race: Within hours of Premier William Vander Zalm’s Good Friday announcement that he had asked the party to convene a leadership convention soon, Reynolds and other potential successors began weighing their chances. Reynolds, a former Conservative MP and the father of seven children, told Maclean’s that caucus members were urging him to enter the race. He added: “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing.” Reynolds, a golf and tennis enthusiast, may face some tough opponents if he enters the race. Party strategists said that former cabinet ministers Grace McCarthy and Melville Couvelier will be the contenders to beat if they decide to enter the contest. Other possible contenders: Forests Minister Claude Richmond, a former radio station manager, Education Minister Stanley Hagen, ex-president of a concrete company, and Vancouver’s telegenic Mayor Gordon Campbell.

As premier, any of those possible candidates would be almost certain to moderate the extreme conservatism of the Socreds under Vander Zalm. Said University of British Columbia political scientist David Eirikson: “Virtually any of the contenders would represent a shift to the ideological centre.” That may, in fact, be essential if the party that has governed British Columbia for all but three of the past 39 years is to overcome the New Democrats’ 10to 15point lead in the polls before a fall election.

Couvelier is among the most moderate among the potential contenders. Aged 60, a former corporate accountant and businessman, he ran against Vander Zalm in 1986 for the Social Credit leadership. After placing 11th on

the first ballot, Couvelier was the first of the 11 runners-up to endorse the future premier. Named finance minister when Vander Zalm won the provincial election that year, Couvelier earned a reputation as one of the most widely respected provincial treasurers in Canada after balancing the 1989 and 1990 budgets. But last month, Couvelier resigned from the cabinet, claiming that he could not accept the fact that Vander Zalm refused to step aside until an inquiry into the sale of the premier’s Fantasy Gardens theme park was complete.

Couvelier’s unexpected defection won him wide support from party dissenters who were

pressing for Vander Zalm’s removal. But he told Maclean’s that his tightfisted management of the budget could make a leadership campaign difficult because the restraint policy alienated many party colleagues. He added: “I’m known as ‘Dr. No’ in caucus.”

Favorite: Meanwhile, McCarthy, 63, appears to be an early favorite among the party rank and file, although at the end of last week she said that she had not decided whether to run. Nicknamed “Amazing Grace” by her supporters, the former Vancouver florist helped forge the current coalition of support for the party among traditional populists, Liberals and Conservatives while she was Socred president

during the opposition years between 1972 and 1975. McCarthy sought the leadership in 1986—and finished third to Vander Zalm. The premier named McCarthy to his cabinet, but their relations quickly soured. McCarthy resigned as minister of economic development in 1988 in a protest over what she called unwarranted interference by the premier’s office in the running of her ministry. Last year, she called on the premier to resign, then she announced in February that she would not seek re-election. Now, said the University of British Columbia’s Eirikson, her opposition to the premier could be an asset. Declared the academic:

“The more distance there is between Vander Zalm and the new leader, the better for the Socreds.”

Of the likely contenders, Reynolds is probably the most advanced in his preparations for a possible campaign. But he says that he will have to raise still more money. He told Maclean ’s: “With only 60 days to campaign, and the costs of air charter, no serious candidate could expect to spend less than $1 million.” During the coming campaign, that high participation price may severely limit the field.

PAUL KAIHLA and BRIAN BERGMAN with JOHN PIFER in Vancouver

JOHN PIFER