Jean Chrétien’s Liberals sweep to power as voters radically reshape the political map
Anthony Wilson-Smith,E. KAYE FULTON,BRUCE WALLACE,4 more...November11993
Jean Chrétien’s Liberals sweep to power as voters radically reshape the political map
All through the day that would end with him poised to become Canada’s 20th prime minister, Jean Chrétien remained almost eerily serene. The fatigue that had been so apparent in his lined features during the closing days of the campaign was gone. So, too, was any sign of worry over repeated forecasts that he would lose his own seat in St-Maurice. Instead, a smiling, occasionally playful Chrétien toured his home town of Shawinigan one more time, showed visiting reporters where he had played as a child, stopped in at the cottage where he relaxes each summer and publicly pondered the still-uncertain election outcome. “Politics,” Chrétien mused at a midday stop,
“is made of this thrill: when you skate on thin ice, you never know where there will be a hole.”
That night when a victorious Chrétien stepped in front of a jubilant crowd, both the slipups and the uncertainty were behind him. A red Liberal tidal wave had washed across the country, giving Chrétien, pending recounts, his own constituency and 177 others in the 295-seat House of Commons—and completely reshaping the political landscape. In a gracious victory speech, the Liberal leader paid tribute to his closest collaborator—his wife of 36 years, Aline. Said Chrétien: “I wouldn’t be here today if she wasn’t next to me.” Then, he said: “I accept with humility the challenge to prepare Canada for the 21st century.”
Chrétiens eyes may have been on the future, but the most striking result of the election was the way voters had broken with the past. Nine years after Brian Mulroney’s ascendancy, the Progressive Conservatives, who won 169 seats in the 1988 election, are gone from power—and, perhaps, from any significant future role in Canadian politics. Astonishingly, they elected only two MPs—Deputy Prime Minister Jean Charest in
CHRISTOPHER MORRIS Sherbrooke, Que., and former Saint John, N.B., mayor Elsie Wayne, a newcomer to federal politics, in the riding of the same name. Every other Tory fell, including Prime Minister Kim Campbell, who will almost certainly announce that she is stepping down as party leader.
All but gone as well is the New Democratic Party, which dropped to nine seats from 43 seats in 1988. Still, leader Audrey MacLaughlin held her seat, and many members of the party—who had feared they would be wiped from the electoral map—were privately relieved at their showing.
The collapse of the Tories and the NDP coincided with the rise of two parties dedicated to remaking Canadian politics and the country itself. The Bloc Québécois and the Reform party, which respectively won 54 and 52 seats, will do battle over their sharply different visions of the country’s future—and over the title and perquisites that go to the party that is designated Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Unless Reform gains seats or the Bloc loses some as a result of recounts, that title will go to the pro-sovereigntist Bloc.
All of that will make the country’s 35th Parliament an untidy and often curious mix of old and new. Most of the former will come from the government side. The Liberal cabinet, which will likely be unveiled in mid-November, will contain such familiar names as André Ouellet, Sheila Copps and Paul Martin. At the same time, the party’s sweeping majority will allow Chrétien, if he so chooses, to appoint new faces from almost every region of the country. The Liberals succeeded in winning seats in all 10 provinces—a feat that not even Pierre Trudeau was ever able to accomplish.
The Liberal leader waited until Campbell had formally conceded defeat before arriving at his campaign headquarters on election night to deliver his victory speech. In it, he reiterated his earlier promise to focus his efforts on the economy. In fact, Chrétien now faces a series of policy and personnel decisions that will test all of the skills he has acquired during close to 30 years in politics. In the days after the election, he must decide on the size of his cabinet and its composition, while balancing an array of geographic and political considerations. Party sources say the cabinet will likely increase to 30 members from the present total of 25. One immediate problem: how to deal with the rich lode of talent from Ontario, where the party won 98 of 99 seats. Although more than half the caucus is from Canada’s most populous province, Chrétien will probably choose no more than 10 Ontario ministers for fear of arousing resentment in the rest of the country.
At the same time, Canadians will be watching Chrétien closely for indications that he intends to deliver on the promises that helped propel him to victory. Aides to the incoming prime minister say he will target three areas in the early days of his government. He will ask federal civil servants to prepare briefing papers outlining how—and at what cost—he could fulfil his promises to cancel the planned privatization of Toronto’s Pearson airport and the purchase of 43 helicopters by the department of national defence. He will also try to set a date to meet with provincial and municipal leaders to negotiate the terms of the Liberals' proposed $6-billion program to repair and rebuild the country's roads and other infrastructure. And finally, he will appoint an ombudsman on government ethics, as well as a committee to ensure that government appointments are subjected to a more open review process than was the case in the past.
As well, Chrétien must decide on the appointment of key non-elected government officials. One is Glen Shortliffe, the clerk of the Privy Council and the man who oversaw the Tories’ efforts to revamp the civil service. Shortliffe, 55, is likely to stay on for “two to three months,” say Liberals. If and when he leaves, his replacement would probably be Gérard Veilleux, a longtime associate of Chrétien who will formally leave his position as president of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Nov. 1. In turn, a leading candidate to replace Veilleux at the CBC is David Johnston, presently principal of McGill University. Liberals also predict that Chrétien will bow to pressure from the business community to reappoint Bank of Canada Governor John Crow to a new sevenyear term, but will probably replace Admiral John Anderson, the chief of defence staff. Anderson is held responsible by some Liberals for his department’s aggressive lobbying on behalf of the helicopter purchase.
The other leaders, too, face imposing challenges. Lucien Bouchard and Preston Manning both led their parties to historic successes at the polls, guaranteeing them formal recognition in the House of Commons along with the financial benefits and increased exposure that implies. But as a direct consequence of their achievements, Bouchard and Manning will now have to
contend with caucus members who are unknown, untested and unfamiliar with the dayto-day workings of Parliament. Many of the Bloc’s new MPs are unilingual francophones; equally, most Reformers speak only English. To be effective, the members of each party will have to dedicate themselves to fighting the Liberals, rather than each other. Reform and the Bloc, which appeared to feed off each other’s success during the election campaign, now face a different problem. The Liberals, as the only remaining party with a claim to a national following, could only enhance that image if they are attacked by Reform for being too sympathetic to Quebec and by the Bloc for being too insensitive.
The humbled NDP and the humiliated Tories face far more
substantial obstacles. In the end, the New Democrats handled a potentially dismal situation with grace and honor. McLaughlin’s lowkey but plucky campaign ultimately won her few votes, but earned praise and respect from other leaders—including Chrétien, who cited her “courage and dignity” in his victory
speech. The party, as a result, will almost certainly live to fight another day—which is something that even NDP strategists feared would not be the case. Despite its sharp reduction in size, loss of recognition as a formal party and the difficulty it will have in winning attention in the House of Commons, the
country’s social-democratic movement still clings to life. That is not a claim that the Tories can make easily in the wake of their shattering defeat. The party’s collapse has few parallels in Western democratic history. Their virtual elimination as an electoral organization is bad enough, but their financial outlook is even worse: party sources estimate that the Tories’ campaign debts will total more than $4 million. That figure may well increase after Elections Canada issues an official list of candidates who are ineligible for federal subsidies because of their failure to capture the minimum 15 per cent of the vote. Candidates who do not reach that figure will forfeit, on average, $30,000 each. One illustration of the party’s financial woes came from Quebec, where the Tory campaign was originally budgeted at $3.5 million. The party cut that limit back to $2.8 million when its fund-raisers began to meet unexpected resistance from past donors. Ultimately, the party raised only $1.5 million in the province, leaving a $1.3-million deficit. Over the final weekend before the vote, senior Tories began to get some sense of the magnitude of their impending defeat. Surveys by party pollster Allan Gregg indicated that the Tories would win, said one, “between zero and 14 seats.” By then, it was already clear in many minds that Campbell’s days as party leader were numbered. “The only absolute disaster,” said a Quebec Tory minister who supported her leadership campaign, “would be if Charest loses his own seat.” That didn’t happen—but almost no one had contemplated the possibility that he would be one of only two Tories in the country elected. He now faces two potential choices that have nothing to do with the Tories. He is already being wooed by some Quebec provincial Liberals to run for the party’s
leadership. At the same time, senior federal Liberals told Maclean’s last week that they will try to persuade him to cross the floor to the government benches. That step is reminiscent of Trudeau’s efforts in the late 1970s to recruit Brian Mulroney for the Liberals, although Mulroney was not sitting as an MP at the time. But for now, the francophone Quebecer with the brightest future is the one who, ironically, so many people have dismissed as “yesterday’s man.” One of Chretien’s political heroes was Wilfrid Laurier, the Liberal prime minister who predicted famously that “the 20th century will belong to Canada.” Chrétien may well have been thinking of that when he
talked on election night of bringing the country to the doorstep of the next millennium. With this week’s triumph, he also decisively exorcised his own political demons. In a conversation with friends in 1986, two years after he lost the Liberal leadership to John Turner, he confessed that at night he sometimes woke up and thought, “What if?” Added Chrétien: “What if Mr. Trudeau had left earlier and made me interim leader, and what if the country had gotten used to the idea of me as prime minister?” It is a question that Jean Chrétien need ask no longer. Yesterday’s questions are behind him. Tomorrow’s hopes lie ahead.
With NANCY WOOD in Alma, Que., E. KAYE FULTON in Shawinigan, Que., BRUCE WALLACE in Sherbrooke, Que., LUKE FISHER in Peterborough, Ont., MARY JANIGAN in Toronto, JOHN HOWSE in Calgary and CHRIS WOOD in Vancouver
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