CANADA

IN MULRONEY’S GRIP

Anthony Wilson-Smith March 29 1993
CANADA

IN MULRONEY’S GRIP

Anthony Wilson-Smith March 29 1993

IN MULRONEY’S GRIP

CANADA

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH

LUKE FISHER

In the race to succeed Brian Mulroney as Conservative party leader and prime minister, three people have swiftly risen to play dominant roles. First, there is the front-runner, Defence Minister Kim Campbell. When Campbell makes her expected candidacy announcement this week in Vancouver, her supporters will include most of the party’s best-known figures, including a majority of cabinet ministers, drawn from all regions of the country. Then, there is the challenger, Environment Minister Jean Charest who changed his mind several times before announcing his candidacy last week. He is considered the only candidate with even a remote chance of beating her. But Campbell and Charest face continual reminders of the power and influence wielded over the party’s future by one other Tory: Brian Mulroney himself. As the race takes shape, Mulroney has made it especially clear that, until his departure from office, he has no intention of lessening his iron grip on the party or its policies. Said one cabinet minister: “The Prime

ATA CABINET MEETING, THE PRIME MINISTER WARNED AGAINST COMMITTING ‘A HOSTILE ACT’

Minister is as active in overseeing his succession as he has been in everything else.” Mulroney has demonstrated his desire to have a hand in passing the mantle ever since his Feb. 24 resignation announcement. Shortly afterwards, he successfully pressured the party to impose a $900,000 spending limit governing most campaign expenses, and he warned prospective candidates not to use

government aircraft or employ governmentpaid staff in their campaigns. More recently, the Prime Minister’s efforts have been more subtle—but no less significant.

In one instance, Maclean’s has learned, Campbell’s advisers urged her to resign from cabinet as a prelude to entering the race. By doing so, she could devote full attention to the campaign, and distance herself from controversial government policies, such as her department’s plan to spend $4.4 billion for new helicopters. An annoyed Mulroney, who had already warned candidates not to criticize his government’s record during the race, told his cabinet ministers that he would regard any attempt by a minister to leave cabinet in order to run for the leadership as “a hostile act.” Still, senior Tories say that while Campbell will support the helicopter purchase plan during the race, she will re-examine the decision if she wins the leadership.

Nevertheless, some Tories say that Mulroney has been discreetly tilting support

towards Campbell. One longtime friend of the Prime Minister noted that he “was very indulgent” towards early organizational efforts by Campbell supporters—even in the months before he announced his resignation. But despite Mulroney’s careful planning, close associates concede that he, like everyone else, initially underestimated the breadth of Campbell’s strength. They say that the Prime Minister was startled by the tidal wave of support for Campbell—and dismayed by the effect it had on other potential candidates. In a Maclean’s poll among Tory party members and potential leadership convention delegates conducted by Ottawa-based COMPAS research, Campbell was the overwhelming first choice, supported by 38 per cent of respondents. No other Tory drew more than eight per cent of the vote. One day after the poll was released, Communications Minister Perrin Beatty, who had been considered a certain candidate, announced that he would not run and threw his support behind Campbell. In addition to Charest, the field includes backbenchers Garth Turner and Patrick Boyer. And Alberta MP James Edwards, a well-respected, bilingual backbencher, is entering the race this week.

Worried that he might be embarrassed by a poor showing, Charest also came close to backing out. He met with Mulroney privately the day before his announcement and solicited advice from close friends and supporters, many of whom had divided emotions and opinions because they questioned his ability

THE TORY RACE

The biggest surprise so far in the Tory leadership race is the list of potential entrants who decided to watch from the sidelines— including cabinet ministers Joe Clark, Michael Wilson, Barbara McDougall, Donald Mazankowski, Bernard Valcourt, Perrin Beatty and Otto Jelinek. By last week, only Environment Minister Jean Charest, Toronto backbencher Patrick Boyer and Toronto-area MP Garth Turner had challenged the juggernaut backing Defence Minister Kim Campbell, who is expected to announce her candidacy this week in her home riding of Vancouver Centre.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“IVe always been interested in going to visit the people in my own province who are very hostile to the forest industry. They invariably live in nice log houses and have wood-burning fireplaces.”

—Kim Campbell on the environmental movement

to raise enough money to run a credible campaign. “All the people who have to raise the money told him not to run,” said one friend. “All the people who get to spend the money told him to run.” When he announced his candidacy in his home riding of Sherbrooke, many Tories presumed that he had been given a guarantee of financial support from senior party organizers who were eager to have at least one credible candidate challenge Campbell. But Charest’s friends insist that that is not the case—and dismiss suggestions that he is running only to increase his profile for a future leadership contest.

A key figure when Charest wavered was his wife, Michèle Dionne, who supported the bid. He finally appeared to make up his mind after a 2 a.m. telephone call to the African country of Rwanda on the night before his announcement. The call was to Denis Beaudoin, an old friend and highly respected Quebec Tory organizer, now a foreign service official assigned to that country. Beaudoin, who encouraged him to run, is expected to take a leave of absence from his position to play a key role in Charest’s campaign. Other major figures are David Small, a well-regarded organizer, and Transport Minister Jean Corbeil, who will be one of his two national campaign chairmen—the other has yet to be named. Prominent supporters also include Alberta Premier Ralph Hein and former Saskatchewan premier Grant Devine. And, by the end of last week, Charest’s supporters claimed the backing of nearly 50 of the party’s 206-member caucus.

While Charest is considered a moderate on social issues, his campaign will try to woo the more traditional right-wing elements of the party—where Campbell is weakest—by focusing on issues such as fiscal restraint. The strategy is aimed directly at grassroots elements of the party; polls repeatedly show that they are more conservative than the party’s MPs and organizers, most of whom have already moved into the Campbell camp. Charest began last week by emphasizing the need to control the federal deficit, and he suggested that the principle of universal access to social programs may have to be abandoned. The most important goal for government should be to “help those who need aid the most, which is not the same as helping everyone,” he told reporters after his announcement.

That notion may bring Charest into direct conflict with Mulroney, who suggested that abolishing universal access to health care, in particular, would “perhaps not (be) the best program to adopt.” But at his campaign kickoff in Sherbrooke, Charest declared that one reason for running was to “encourage debate over policy at all levels of society.” As he begins his campaign to become the next prime minister, Charest appears to have decided that the debate should tackle the views of the current occupant of 24 Sussex Drive.

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH in Sherbrooke with LUKE FISHER in Ottawa