A senior Tory adviser offers an exclusive view of how Kim Campbell won her party’s leadership
A senior Tory adviser offers an exclusive view of how Kim Campbell won her party’s leadership
When I arrive, only 35 per cent of the delegates have registered and the absence of any real activity is eerie. No one seems to have a fix on the mood, and most are reluctant to predict the outcome.
John Laschinger, Jim Edwards’s main man and far and away the most experienced of the campaign managers, looks like the cat that ate the canary. Suppressing his normal cheerleader’s hyperbole, Laschinger seems to be trying to lowball Edwards’s support. He knows that the only way Edwards will have impact is to surprise everyone with his firstballot support. I can’t help but think that if Edwards has more than 400 delegates, Campbell is sunk.
On the other hand, Jodi White, Jean Charest’s campaign manager, looks surprisingly subdued for someone who has run a great campaign. Either she knows that her delegate count is lower than the media suggests, or she fears that the “family values” assaults on Campbell may be creating a backlash. With some of his backers questioning Campbell’s stability, Charest’s veneer as a leader who is “above politics” may be eroding. It’s one thing to strike a low blow against an NDP or Grit opponent. It’s quite another to use the same tactic on your own political family.
may have begun to blow in her sails.
Two things strike me as unusual about this convention. In virtually every Tory leadership struggle, the candidates are divided by a rightleft ideological split. Not this time. As a result, I am running into an incredible number of ex officio delegates who are genuinely uncommitted.
This morning, delegates awoke to newspaper pictures of Flora Macdonald endorsing Campbell and rumors that Ellen Fairclough, Canada’s first woman cabinet minister from the Diefenbaker government, will also endorse her. Campbell has been on the defensive for three weeks, but a small puff of wind
Allan R. Gregg, 41, president and chief executive officer of Decima Research, has been a delegate at Tory conventions since 1976. He will be the party’s pollster in the next general election.
These Tories are the backbone of the electoral machine: members of the party’s campaign and policy committees and senior political staff.
They are disproportionately Red Tories, who are neutral in this race precisely because there is no right-left cleavage.
Instead, new questions are being asked.
Have the media and Campbell’s critics applied a test to her that they would never apply to a man? Is the party ready for a woman leader? I sense that these questions might become a rallying point for neutral delegates. Yesterday, there was concern in the Charest camp over a possible backlash to impertinent remarks about Campbell’s marital status. Today, a 63-yearold female delegate tells me that failure to elect Campbell will represent a massive setback for women in the party.
The change in atmosphere is now almost palpable. What is universally referred to as the “gender issue” has stalled Charest’s mo-
mentum and given the Campbell campaign new life. There is a growing consensus that blaming Campbell’s flawed campaign on her gender has been a studied part of Charest’s strategy—and a strategic error. Some uncommitted delegates say that, if Campbell loses, it will reinforce the age-old notion that the party is anti-women.
Campbell’s momentum has been enhanced by an organizational coup. Paul Curley, her convention manager, has beaten the Charest people to the microphones at the policy sessions. Every question thrown at Campbell comes from her supporters— who also supply over two-thirds of the ques-
tions for Charest. Consequently, Campbell is lobbed questions that she knocks out of the park (“What would you do about growing crime in the cities?”), while Charest faces queries that demand more politically sensitive answers (‘Tell us your views on multiculturalism and immigration”).
Even so, Charest acquits himself well. With a stand-up comic’s sense of timing, he disarms questions about his age and, almost as successfully, his Quebec roots. As a performer, he outshines Campbell, but he is less satisfying than she on substance. For the first time since my arrival, I hear Campbell people talking about a first-ballot victory.
Everything has changed.
Following a remarkably disjointed and uninspired tribute to Mulroney (so much for my confidence in the party’s organizational skill), word spreads of a Gallup poll that will be released on Saturday. It will show a Charest-led party beating the Liberals, while Campbell would go down to defeat.
I had forgotten how fast the delegate grapevine works. At parties and in hotel corridors, delegates talk of little else.
I normally take pride in my ability to read a mood, but I simply can’t get a handle on what is going to happen.
The Gallup poll has given Charest a boost. But its impact is blunted by controversy over Gallup’s analysis, which explicitly implores delegates to vote for Charest if they want to cling to power. As a pollster, I consider it unprofessional.
Campbell’s people are glum, yet they are clearly out-organizing the Charest forces on the floor as they prepare for the candidates’ speeches. The media always stress the importance of the speeches, and this time the hype may be correct.
LATE SATURDAY NIGHT
Wrong again. My judgment tells me that the speeches changed very little, and that the delegates went away feeling as cross-pressured as when they entered the Civic Centre.
Edwards was solid, Garth Turner was feisty and Patrick Boyer was so laid-back he was almost asleep. When Boyer finished, the crowd rose out of politeness and little else.
By traditional measures, Charest “won” the speeches. He enthralled the crowd with attacks on other parties, and he cemented the view that he is a gifted politician with a talent for stump oratory. But he did little to convince delegates that he could wrestle the deficit to the ground or go toe-to-toe against Bill Clinton in trade disputes.
After Campbell’s speech, Nancy Jamieson, one of her key advisers, looks like her dog has been run over. Campbell’s delivery was flat. You can sense that she’s grown “puck shy” from all the shots she has taken for being accident-prone. Still, while Charest was glib and shallow, Campbell was dull but
substantive. She showed delegates that she probably has the stuff to govern, if not win an election.
My guess is that Charest has done more to convert uncommitted voters, furthering the sense that he has momentum. But Campbell may have made some inroads, too, gaining second-choice support among Turner, Boyer and Edwards delegates. All of these candidates have taken very strong and definite positions on deficit reduction, and Campbell went out of her way in her speech to establish her credentials in this area.
It will be very close tomorrow.
I bumped into Nelson Riis of the NDP and Paul Martin of the Liberals coming out of a CBC Newsworld interview. While they agree
on the need to tie either Campbell or Charest squarely to the Mulroney record, they differ on who presents the bigger challenge. Martin wants to face Campbell and Riis claims that the NDP will fare better against Charest. I am comforted by the fact that they seem as confused as my Tory friends.
For my part, I have done the math and my best guess is that if Campbell is more than five percentage points ahead of Charest on the first ballot and the other three candidates receive less than 500 votes in total, Campbell will win. If these conditions don’t hold, Charest will pull off the biggest leadership upset in modem history.
Campbell’s people have made efforts to get Turner and Boyer to withdraw from the race and declare a moral victory, having made the case for their pet issues. They fail, but Curley continues to cling to his prediction of a firstballot victory.
Meanwhile, Charest’s trackers claim that they are within the magic five-percentagepoint margin on the first ballot, and are poised to steal the convention on the second.
Laschinger has returned to form and is now telling anyone he can find that Edwards has 600 votes, has no intention of withdrawing after one round and will pass Campbell on the second ballot!
The convention has finally been overcome with the wishful thinking and overestimation that mark the closing moments of any campaign.
Campbell’s organization is, without question, the best I have ever seen at a PC convention. On my arrival, I am engulfed in a sea of pink as Campbell supporters plug the doors to the arena in anticipation of the rush to get the best seats. This has to serve her candidacy well.
The overwhelming presence of Campbell
hordes reminds me that this is, after all, an intimate affair. We are dealing with a little more than 3,400 people, with an average of between 15 and 20 years in party politics. These people have a history with their party, a personal agenda to pursue and are probably nowhere near as likely to be moved by polls, editorial comment or pundits (myself included) as we like to believe. Instead, they will be influenced by their friends and their assessment of how their own stature will be affected by the result.
It is hardly an erudite analysis, but in the end it proves accurate. When the first ballot vote is announced, Campbell looks unstoppable. Immediately, everyone’s attention shifts to the next election. We will see whether she has grown and learned from this contest, or whether her tendency to lose support throughout a campaign is endemic.
I can go home and tell my six-year-old daughter that she can grow up to become prime minister of Canada. □
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.