Three backbench MPs claim that they can win the Tory race
The gamble of the long shots
Three backbench MPs claim that they can win the Tory race
They are underdogs in a race that will be determined largely by political clout and financial resources. As Canadians wait for the Progressive Conservatives to choose their new leader, and the country’s 19th prime minister, almost all of the attention is focused on Defence Minister Kim Campbell and Environment Minister Jean Charest. But three other members of Parliament, all backbenchers, are vying for the job. Although Patrick Boyer, Garth Turner and James Edwards differ strikingly from one another in style, each claims to be confident of defying the odds. At a minimum, they seek the national prominence that has so far eluded them. Said Turner, who represents the Toronto-area riding of Halton/Peel: “I want to win and I am ready for the job. But winning is a fairly narrow justification for running.”
Their campaigns are markedly different from those of the two cabinet ministers. As Campbell and Charest might discuss the fine points of strategy with veteran advisers in the back seats of chauffeured limousines, their lesser-known rivals rely on friends and relatives to drive them from one campaign stop to the next in private cars or rented vehicles. And while Campbell can afford to rent her own small plane for some visits, candidates such as Edwards cash in frequent-flyer points for seats on commercial flights. Boyer, the MP for Toronto/Lakeshore riding, acknowledged: “You miss meals and you grab something on the run. You try to figure out if there is an ironed shirt that you can wear.” The Conservative party has set a spending limit of $900,000 for each contender. While the front-runners may be slightly constrained by the bookkeeping required to stay below that level, the other candidates can only dream of budgets that large. For Turner, 44,
a millionaire real-estate investor who preaches fiscal restraint, the $900,000 mark represents almost 10 times the amount that he has raised for his campaign. Edwards, 56, expects to spend about $500,000, much of which has already been raised. Boyer, 48, has lowered his expected spending since the
leadership race began—from $450,000 to $200,000. Said Boyer: “People in my riding, seniors, send me $20. That means a lot.”
With money tight, the three men are campaigning on a shoestring. Turner’s campaign headquarters are housed in a formerly vacant storefront in Georgetown, near Toronto.
But because it is staffed by volunteers who work mostly in the evening, only an answering machine awaits daytime callers. Turner himself has installed a toll-free 1-800 line in his home and has included the number on his campaign literature—all of which is printed in black-and-white. His staff say that they have no idea how much the line will cost, but it is certain to be far cheaper than travelling across the country each week. George Paisiovich, Turner’s campaign director, said, “I’ve only got one bill so far and people don’t really talk long.” When Paisiovich flew to Calgary for a recent Friday-night leadership debate, he watched as the Campbell and Charest campaign workers left town on Saturday morning. Paisiovich stayed over until Sunday, which allowed him to qualify for a cheaper airfare.
History has a stern lesson for losing candidates who overspend. Liberal party president Donald Johnston, for one, emerged from the 1984 Liberal leadership convention with $300,000 in debts. He had to submit to two political roasts and perform a piano recital to repay the money. “It was an agonizing period for me,” Johnston recalled. “I wouldn’t want to live through that again.”
The threat of debt has clearly influenced some of the Tory campaigns. When he visited a Calgary radio station earlier this month, Boyer was accompanied by his cousin, who lives in the area and was acting as driver that day, and a single campaign worker from Toronto. A visit by Campbell to the same station on the previous day offered a stark contrast. Boyer aide Daniel Iannuzzi noted: “The host of the show said that a day earlier they couldn’t move with the number of cameras and hangers-on and assistants.”
While Boyer, Turner and Edwards have lined up relatively few committed delegates for the June leadership convention, each appeals to a particular element in the party. Among traditionalists, Edwards, a former radio journalist, represents a comforting link with the past as he pushes for tougher penalties against criminals and fiscal restraint. Boyer, a lawyer who has written nine books about public policy and who advocates sweeping parliamentary reforms, appeals to those who want MPs to be more independent. And Turner, always ready to flash a chart or his 1-800 telephone number during public appearances, has captured the imagination of those whose primary focus is on cutting the deficit. “It is very important to have people like him in the race, because whoever wins is going to have to look at these candidates and their ideas,” declared Turner supporter Elva McLean, 50, of Kingston, Ont.
But to the dismay of Boyer and Turner, few members of the Tory establishment are enthusiastic about their campaigns. While Edwards has won the endorsement of 16 MPs and five senators, Boyer and Turner have seen once-supportive colleagues cast their lots with one of the front-runners. Said Donald Naylor, 62, Turner’s riding association president: “Garth has been very outspoken and that has not always been kindly received by others in caucus.” Boyer said that he was crushed when two other MPs, who had encouraged him to run, were lured to the front-runners’ camps with the bait of possible cabinet jobs. ‘The low point is to see that people who had encouraged me to come forward are not there,” he said. A third MP supported Edwards, telling Boyer, “You’ve got too many ideas and you’re writing too many books.”
So far, Turner and Boyer have each won
only a handful of the 3,800 or so delegates expected at the June 9 to 13 convention in Ottawa. Edwards claims to have more than 300 votes—an impressive number for a previously little-known backbencher, but nowhere near a majority. As experienced organizers helped Charest and Campbell secure the support of hundreds of delegates in ridings across the country, the underdog candidates found themselves fighting tooth and nail for the occasional independent-minded delegate. Declared Boyer: “People who have the most money and the toughest organizers are the ones who seize power.”
Far from being discouraged at their poor showing so far, campaign workers for Boyer, Turner and Edwards all claim to be confident of secret support among the delegates. Iannuzzi says that many delegates have only pretended to support Campbell or Charest so that they could secure a seat at the convention. He and other campaign workers hope to win over those delegates once they reach Ottawa and can see and hear the candidates firsthand.
Turner, in particular, says that he has felt slighted by what he calls the media’s spotty coverage of his campaign. When a Maclean’s reporter asked for the opportunity to observe Turner at work, fielding calls on his 1-800 line, he flatly refused, saying that the magazine’s coverage of him to that point had been insufficient. Naylor added: “I think the press have been incredibly cruel to this man. They have ignored the initiatives and the policy guidelines that he has been outspoken about.”
In some respects, however, the glare of the media has been unwelcome. Once their candidacies were announced, Boyer and Turner in particular were stripped of the cloak of anonymity afforded to backbenchers. The campaign has given them national exposure—but it has also drawn attention to their shortcomings. “I think one of the things that bothers a lot of people around my campaign is that I talk to delegates but I don’t—as they say in the trade— close the sale,” acknowledged Boyer. As for Turner, Liberal MP Don Boudria, who has worked on committees with him, criticizes the televised antics of his colorful colleague, “As he is getting into the leadership, he is carrying those things a little further and his shenanigans are a little more obvious.”
With little time left in the race, Boyer, Turner and Edwards are preparing bravely for the final challenge. Their performances at the convention will be crucial: any candidate who receives fewer than 50 votes on the first ballot (a possibility for both Turner and Boyer) will lose his $10,000 deposit. At the same time, each candidate cherishes the hope that he, like Joe Clark in 1976, will emerge as the surprise victor in a race dominated by two better-known candidates. Said Turner supporter McLean: “I realize that the odd¿ ace against some candidates, but this is Canada. So until the voting is over, anything is possible.” In the end, however, the Tory establishment will almost certainly overpower that optimism.
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