Different drummers

Chrétien emerges as his own man

E. KAYE FULTON November 22 1993

Different drummers

Chrétien emerges as his own man

E. KAYE FULTON November 22 1993

Different drummers

Chrétien emerges as his own man

In the fall of 1992, Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien had every reason to be alarmed. After months of private and public dithering,

Chrétien had finally convinced himself and all but a few of his 79 MPs that it was all right to support the Charlottetown constitutional accord in the referendum to be held on Oct. 26.

Then, out of Montreal, came the familiar signs of a cold fury about to explode. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, an unflinching critic of Quebec nationalism, was about to emerge from political retirement to attack concessions granted by Ottawa in order to forge the Charlottetown agreement. But by the time of Trudeau’s attacks—in a

scathing essay published in Maclean’s on Sept. 28 and in a speech that he delivered the following week in Montreal—

Chrétien had fastened upon his party’s response. There would be none. As Chrétien warned his incredulous caucus: “I don’t want to hear one word of criticism about Trudeau. Not one word.”

Some critics, among them several Liberals, saw Chrétiens reaction as the natural deference of a perpetual lieutenant who was unable or unwilling to extract himself from the magnetic hold of a fierce and brilliant boss. To them, Chrétien will always be “the good soldier and happy warrior” that Trudeau describes him as in his political recollections, Memoirs. Chrétien’s supporters counter that if the 59-year-old political veteran was once beholden to the mercurial Trudeau, he no

longer owes him anything but courtesy and respect. They add that although Chrétien’s fledgling government is built upon a Liberal tradition moulded by Trudeau’s federal reign of almost 16 years between 1968 and 1984, it has been adapted to suit a new prime minister with his own agenda. In fact, to many, the election of 1993 offered Chrétien his freedom from the past. ‘Trudeau is gone,” says Toronto Liberal MP Dennis Mills, a selfdescribed Trudeauite. “Chrétien is in charge. It’s his show.”

Chrétien has rarely begrudged his ties to Trudeau or his formidable legend—even when both were turned against him. After all, it was Trudeau who gave the MP from Shawinigan, Que., a string of cabinet posts from 1968 to 1984 that included the coveted job as Canada’s first franco-

phone minister of finance in 1977. But Chrétien paid a price for that power and prestige. He earned the disdain of the Quebec intelligentsia with his rough-hewn pitch, at Trudeau’s bidding, against the separatists in the constitutional battles of the early 1980s. To Jean-Luc Pepin, a former Quebec MP and Trudeau cabinet member, Chrétien was little more than Trudeau’s puppet on constitutional issues. Pepin, who opposes Trudeau’s centralist vision, adds that, even now, “Jean has not completely cut the umbilical cord.”

Despite his dogged loyalty, Chrétien was never welcomed into Trudeau’s inner sanctum. And Trudeau continues to send out signals that he holds Canada’s 20th prime minister in only modest regard. Offering him only faint praise last week,

Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa as he launched Memoirs that Chrétien “was wise enough to make sure that where he was not fully rounded out in some area, he would surround himself with people who were.... He knew his limitations.”

Whatever the true nature of their personal relationship, the tasks now facing Chrétien demand a break with the past. With 54 MPs æ from the separatist Bloc §

Québécois in Opposition, | Chrétien can ill afford his s

predecessor’s stubborn negotiating tactics with the province of Quebec. According to Stephen Clarkson, a University of Toronto political scientist and Trudeau biographer, Chrétien will differ from Trudeau in that he “will be much more of a pragmatic bargainer than someone who is looking for perfection.” Similarly, on the economic front, only vestiges of the free-spending Trudeau era are likely to survive. With a federal deficit expected to be a record $40 billion this year, Chrétien

intends to plot a cautious course—balancing the ambitions of the progressive wing of his party with the more moderate influences of a generation schooled in the need for fiscal restraint. “We’re at a time when trying to get the national economy in order and putting people back to work are real priorities,” says York University historian Ramsay Cook. “Trudeau’s government— like every other government of the time— thought prosperity would go on forever.”

In fact, there was little visible evidence of Trudeau’s influence on the Liberal party during this year’s 47-day election campaign. It is true that Chrétien sometimes recalled the passion of Trudeau’s fight for a strong central government. But he also evoked Lester Pearson’s example of teamwork and the promise of Sir Wilfrid Laurier 100 years ago to lead Canada into the 20th ¡§ century. Persuaded by strategists not to 1 campaign with Trudeau by his side,

Chrétien nevertheless benefited at least once from his fellow Quebecer’s bluntness. While voting in an advance poll a week before the election, Trudeau declared that a vote for the Bloc would break up Canada—a tart message that Chrétien could not afford to utter for fear of alienating Quebecers.

The campaign platform—contained in the Liberals’ “Red Book”— banished the Constitution to the back pages and emphasized a style of federalism based more on partnership than confrontation. The campaign itself was managed by longtime Chrétien loyalists; most insiders considered the quiet presence of former Trudeau strategists, such as James Coutts and Senator Keith Davey, as an attempt by Chrétien to reach out to all segments of the party.

In similar fashion, Chrétien has put his own stamp on the way he wants his government to be run. He rejected the Trudeau model of a centralized decision-making process that focused on the Prime Minister’s Office. Instead, Chrétien ordered his transition team to simplify government machinery, delegating more authority to both his ministers and the federal bureaucracy.

If anything, Chrétien’s government reflects more of a lingering Liberal giddiness over Trudeau as a party icon rather than a guiding force. Many of the 177 Liberal MPs elected last month remember Trudeau mainly as a part of their high-spirited youth. Among them is Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew, whom Chrétien appointed as his junior minister of training and youth. The 42year-old Blondin-Andrew recalls that, as a teenager, she wore a paper Trudeau dress at the peak of Trudeaumania in the 1960s. Says Blondin: “A lot of us were inspired by Trudeau

and got into politics because of him."

For his 23-member senior cabinet, Chrétien turned in part to five political veterans from the handful that remain from the Trudeau era. But none are considered Trudeau acolytes. Defence Minister David Collenette was a junior minister in Trudeau’s cabinet; Foreign Affairs Minister André Ouellet was a protégé of former cabinet minister and close Trudeau friend Jean Marchand; Solicitor General Herb Gray clashed

with Trudeau over economic policies in the early 1970s while he was out of cabinet; and International Trade Minister Roy MacLaren was a Trudeau loyalist but never an insider. Of the five, only Lloyd Axworthy, the new minister of human resources development, who is identified with the left wing of the party, exerted influence during the Trudeau years in a similar role as a minister of employment and immigration from 1980 to 1983.

At the same time, some of the most se-

nior ministers in Chrétien’s cabinet have few significant links to Trudeau and in fact represent quite different traditions in the Liberal party. Finance Minister Paul Martin, for example, is clearly identified with a pro-business Liberalism that is in some ways more reminiscent of the era of Louis St. Laurent and C. D. Howe in the 1950s than it is of Trudeau’s “Just Society” policies. Says Clarkson of Chrétien’s new cabinet: “What is startling

is how little influence Trudeau has.”

Ironically, Chrétien in many ways is more truly a creature of the Liberal party than Trudeau ever was. Still erudite and elitist at 74, Trudeau used the Liberal party as a vehicle to implement his singleminded vision of a centralized, bilingual country—and every Liberal knew it. ‘Trudeau was always a kind of exotic plant,” says longtime Trudeau confidant Tom Axworthy, executive director of the Bronfman-owned CRB Foundation in Montreal. “He came to represent the Liberal party, but in fact, Jean Chrétien, pragmatic and progressive, instantly fit into the party framework and Trudeau didn’t.” During last week’s round of public appearances, Trudeau appeared to many observers as a defiant political anachronism, supplanted by his populist and conciliatory underling. After more than two decades in Trudeau's shadow, Jean Chrétien at last will make it, or break it, on his own.

E. KAYE FULTON in Ottawa