PRO-BUSINESS LIBERALS TAKE KEY POSTS IN THE NEW CABINET
PRO-BUSINESS LIBERALS TAKE KEY POSTS IN THE NEW CABINET
Jean Chrétien, Canada’s 20th Prime Minister, the sixth Quebecer and eighth Liberal to hold the post, allowed himself a few lighter moments last week as he and members of his new government took the oaths of office at Rideau Hall. “Give me a break,” he mock-scolded journalists who pressed him for immediate answers to the many problems that confront his government. “I’ve been Prime Minister for an hour and 45 minutes.” But beyond the banter, the mood was remarkably sombre as the Liberals reclaimed the power they have wielded for 71 of the past 126 years. Neither Chrétien nor the 18 men and four women he selected to serve with him in cabinet underestimated the task that lay ahead: the deficit, unemployment, the lack of public trust in public institutions and a host of other challenges—some pressing, some not.
At 23 ministers, the cabinet is small— smaller than the one Kim Campbell put together a little more than four months ago. With Montreal’s Paul Martin at Finance, Toronto’s Roy MacLaren at Trade and Ottawa’s John Manley at Industry, the party’s pro-business wing has firm control over the key economic portfolios. Only five of the new ministers come from the large and talented crop of Liberal MPs first elected on Oct. 25. It is a cabinet where political experience counts heavily; in a gesture to new MPs who might be put out by not being invited into the inner circle immediately, Chrétien noted that it is no sin to serve time on the backbenches. The new Prime Minister recalled that he started there—and look where he ended up.
Veteran or neophyte, few of Chrétien’s ministers could be anything but acutely aware of the country’s contradictory mood, of the undercurrents of hope and fear that pull at the new government. Having elected
the Liberals to govern once again, many Canadians seem to hope almost against hope that Chrétien and his ministers can solve—or at least begin to solve—the country’s problems. At the same time, though, there is anxiety that the problems defy solution. Pierre Trudeau and John Turner were in the audience as the new cabinet took its oaths of office in the ballroom at Rideau Hall—the two former prime ministers providing continuity to past successes that once
made the Liberals seem like Canada’s natural governing party. But whether Chrétien’s Liberals can wear that mantle once again depends very much on how his government performs.
There were changes of style and substance right from the start. Mitchell Sharp, a Pearson-era cabinet minister and Chrétien’s first Ottawa mentor, revived a quaint notion of public service by becoming the first dollar-a-year man in decades as an adviser on ethics and other issues (page 10). The eight junior ministers will do without limousines and receive only three-quarters of a cabinet minister’s salary of $46,645 (in addition to their MPs’ paycheque and tax-free allowance). The number of ministerial aides was cut from as high as 20 per cabinet member under the Tories to a maximum of 12, in a move the Liberals say will save $10 million a year. Chiefs of staff, the highly paid aides from the Mulroney years who directed
ministerial offices, ran interference with the bureaucracy and handled relations with lobbyists, were eliminated. Another important change, said Chrétien, will be that on many issues, decisions will come from his ministers, not from him. “The big show will not be me,” he said. That would be a distinct break from the imperial styles favored by Trudeau and, in particular, by Brian Mulroney.
The government’s first act—as expected—was to abort the purchase of new military helicopters (page 12). But even before taking office, Chrétien was working on two other files. Longtime aide Eddie Goldenberg, now senior policy adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office, was dealing with American officials on the North American Free Trade Agreement, making sure that Washington was informed about the Liberals’ concerns on trade in advance of a key vote on the deal in the U.S. Congress next week. And Robert Nixon, a for-
mer Ontario treasurer and Liberal stalwart, was reviewing the planned privatization of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
One of Chrétien’s central concerns was to restore a sense of integrity to Ottawa after nine years of Tory rule. The resignations of 10 Conservative ministers in a series of scandals and revelations of widespread patronage deeply damaged the Mulroney government among voters. How best to restore integrity has been a matter of debate in Liberal circles. Maclean’s has learned that some Liberals are pressing for the appointment of
a special prosecutor to go through the files left behind by Conservative ministers looking for evidence of wrongdoing. So extensive were the Tories’ misdeeds, claimed one senior Liberal, that every time a file is opened, “a bat flies out.” In another departure from Tory style, Chrétien’s new patronage chief started off by attacking the very notion of patronage. “I find it very disquieting that this position is known as the patronage position,” said Penny Collenette, who as Chrétien’s director of appointments is the person who keeps track of the thousands of jobs filled by cabinet order. “The system itself and the appointments themselves are there to serve Canadians.” Like the short-lived Campbell administration, Chrétien’s government promised to look for the best-qualified people rather than party loyalists to fill jobs. Collenette, a lawyer who ran the party machinery during the campaign, is married to new Defence Minister David Collenette; together they form what is now Ottawa’s most powerful political couple after Chrétien and his wife, Aline.
Ministers who make serious mistakes will lose their jobs, Chrétien noted. But having said that, he took steps to give himself a nosurprises cabinet. That effort is to continue this week with a training session for ministers that will stress the benefits of working closely with bureaucrats. With the benefit of experience in most senior departments during the Trudeau years, Chrétien believes that one of the biggest mistakes the Tories made was to insulate ministers from their departments while viewing the public service as the enemy.
Moves to prevent miscues began even before the cabinet was formed. Every potential minister had to sit down for a 45-minute grilling at the hands of Sharp and Allan Lutfy, an Ottawa lawyer and former executive assistant to Trudeau. Sharp would say only that the confidential talks covered the ethical waterfront and refused to reveal whether anyone had failed the test. But Hedy Fry, a doctor who defeated Campbell in Vancouver Centre, was eliminated as a potential minister after the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons reprimanded her for changing the name on a prescription. Until that happened, she had been considered a surefire choice.
Much of the cabinet-making was done by Sunday night, Oct. 31, well in advance of Thursday’s transition day, when Campbell formally turned over the keys to the government and the moving vans arrived at 24 Sussex Drive. Getting a finance minister was Chrétien’s biggest chore, a four-day tussle with Martin. The Montreal business executive, who contested the party leadership in 1990, wanted the industry portfolio. Martin advocates an industrial policy to reinvigorate the private sector and, according to associates, sees himself in some ways as a latter-day C. D. Howe, the powerful Liberal economic czar of the 1940s and 1950s. Howe, who served in cabinet alongside Martin’s father, Paul Sr., helped to lay the groundwork for Canada’s postwar boom. Chrétien prevailed in part by telling Martin that the cause of national unity demanded a fluently bilingual finance minister. “A prime minister can be very persuasive,” Martin allowed. The finance minister will also have responsibility for regional development (in effect, federal largesse) in Quebec. That will be a key part of the government’s drive to help the provincial Liberals defeat the separatist Parti Québécois, cousins to the Bloc Québécois that will form the official Opposition when Parliament begins sitting in January.
Martin faces perhaps the stiftest test of any minister. He will have to come to grips with a deficit that
may reach $40 billion, not the $32.6 billion estimated in the last Tory budget in April.
He must also decide whether to set out the direction of Liberal economic thinking in a December financial statement or wait until his first budget early next year. And he has to decide whether to reappoint John Crow as governor of the Bank of Canada before his seven-year term expires on Jan.
31. In Opposition, the Liberals strongly opposed Crow and his tough anti-inflation policies, but their attacks became more muted in recent months as the bank eased up on interest rates in an attempt to breathe life into the faltering recovery.
The business community has already turned Crow’s future into a key test of Liberal intentions. “John Crow is a national asset,” stressed Ted Newall, chairman of the Business Council on National Issues.
The cabinet makeup was easy prey for critics, as it is overwhelmingly male and exclusively white. Chrétien’s promises that it would look a lot like the country went by the boards as he opted instead for people he knows well and feels comfortable with. It is a cabinet reflecting hard choices, he said, and “it was not possible to meet all the dreams I had.” And if there are not enough Quebecers (five) or British Columbians (only Victoria’s David Anderson at Revenue), the cold political reality is that voters in those provinces
cast their ballots mainly for the Bloc or Reform.
In the end, the government will be measured not on its first days but on how well it satisfies the enormous public hunger for change. “Canadians want a new kind of politics,” said Donna Dasko of the Environics polling firm in Toronto. Campbell promised a different way of doing politics but did not succeed—losing her own seat and every other Tory seat in the land save two. Waiting in the wings if the Liberals can’t get it right this time are Reformers like Elwin Hermanson, a Saskatchewan farmer and new MP, who says that Canadians voted Liberal as the final hope. “If things don’t change, there’s going to be a lot of hostile citizens,” he warned last week. That public mood means the new chance for Chrétien’s Liberals could be the last chance for the traditional parties to show that they can deliver.
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