COVER

AN ELABORATE MATING GAME

October 19 1992
COVER

AN ELABORATE MATING GAME

October 19 1992

AN ELABORATE MATING GAME

COVER

Campaign managers find schedules are relatively easy to keep when their candidate is a political pro. A more difficult case was Peter Pocklington, owner of the Edmonton Oilers hockey team, who ran for the 1983 federal Conservative leadership in Ottawa. Laschinger and Stevens describe the frustrations of Pocklington’s handlers, Ralph Lean and Errick (Skip) Willis:

The worst was yet to come. Each of the major candidates threw a big convention-week party to which all 3,000 voting delegates, plus alternates and hang-

ers-on, were invited. These parties were part of the process of courting delegates, but they were also an element in the elaborate mating game that went on all week among the candidates, each seeking secondand third-ballot support from his weaker (he supposed) opponents. A candidate who was interested in an opponent’s support would make a point of dropping in to say hello during the opponent’s party.

Organizers were at pains to make these drop-ins appear to be spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment happenings; in fact, they were negotiated in advance, painstakingly choreographed and scripted, and timed to the minute. (It would

never do to have two rivals come faceto-face at a third candidate’s party—or for a candidate to arrive after the opponent he was seeking to woo had left the festivities.) Brian Mulroney was interested in Pocklington’s delegates, and Pocklington, knowing his chances of winning were slim indeed, was interested in being minister of finance in a Mulroney government.

The Mulroney organization contacted the Pocklington organization. Would it be convenient, they asked, if Brian were to drop in to greet his good friend Peter during Pocklington’s party? Why yes, it would, they were told. The party was scheduled to begin at 9 p.m., Pocklington would speak at 9:30, and Mulroney would drop in at precisely 10:10. Not 10:09, not 10:11—10:10.

Then, Pocklington threw sand into the gears by announcing that he was taking his wife, Eva, out for dinner. Willis and Lean had a woman standing by to drive the car. The candidate also had a full-time bodyguard, an ex-RCMP officer, as a result of a kidnapping incident about a year earlier in which Pocklington had been shot in the arm by a man who tried to hold him for ransom. Lean instructed the driver and bodyguard to take the Pocklingtons to the restaurant, to wait for them, and to bring them back without fail by 9 p.m. Lean recalls what happened next:

“We’re up in the suite and there’s a knock at the door at nine o’clock and it’s this advance lady and the bodyguard. They said, ‘Peter’s gone!’ I said, ‘What do you mean he’s gone? I’ve got 500 people waiting downstairs and Mulroney coming over.’ They said he went into a restaurant in Ottawa. They were out front waiting and he looked at the wine list, didn’t like it, got Eva up, took the keys from the advance lady and says, ‘We’re going to Hull.’ I’ve got 500 people at this thing and no God damn candidate and no one knows where he is.

“It’s 10:30 when Peter rolls in, and I'm down there sweating like mad. I’m onstage, saying Peter’s going to be there. It wasn’t just our supporters. Everyone was there. There was this incredible curiosity because there was speculation—nobody knew—that Wayne Gretzky was going to be there.”

Gretzky did not appear. Mulroney’s staff held Mulroney in another hotel until Pocklington had reached the Chateau Laurier and made his speech. Then, the soon-to-be prime minister paid his courtesy call on the not-to-be finance minister. They shook hands. Mulroney left—and that was it. □