BOOKS

The flush of success, the agony of defeat

Kim Campbell tells how she did it her way

ANDREW PHILLIPS April 29 1996
BOOKS

The flush of success, the agony of defeat

Kim Campbell tells how she did it her way

ANDREW PHILLIPS April 29 1996

The flush of success, the agony of defeat

BOOKS

Kim Campbell tells how she did it her way

ANDREW PHILLIPS

There is an extraordinary passage in Kim Campbell’s new memoir of her life in politics that alone is worth the price of admission. It is Sept. 4, 1993, the last weekend before she called the election that was to result in the incineration of the Tory party, and she, her new boyfriend Gregory Lekhtman and a handful of other companions are gathered at Harrington Lake, the prime minister’s country residence. “Saturday,” she writes, “was blissful. I went rowing on the lake with Gregory . .. and lounged by the dock talking to my sister. Gregory had brought several pairs of his Exerloper running boots and we all tried them out, leaping about on the lawn on powerful springs mounted on the soles.” As if all that fun was not enough, that evening she asks a group of women to the residence to teach her and her guests to line dance. “It was hilarious,” she writes.

It is easy to ridicule anyone who would, first, spend time bounding about on springs while her career, her party and her government teeter on the brink of Götterdämmerung, and second, actually write about it. What could she have been thinking? The answer, Campbell explained last week as she embarked on a country-wide tour to promote Time and Chance: The Political Memoirs of Canada’s First Woman Prime Minister, is simply that she wanted to portray a regular, flesh-and-blood person, with her own set of quirks and strengths, caught up in the drama of high-stakes politics. And so she does not shy away from describing her giddy reaction when Brian Mulroney asked her to be his justice minister in 1990: “I wanted to throw my arms into the air and shout Tahoo!’ ” Later, she breaks the news to an assistant in an elevator, hugging

him and jumping up and down in glee.

‘Why would I be embarrassed by that?” she asks now with more than a touch of defiance. “Why would I pretend to be a ponderous jerk who couldn’t appreciate the joy in having been given this wonderful opportunity? It’s so phony to say, oh well, I was really pleased. This is a book about a person. It’s not about a cardboard cutout. I hope when I’m 90 years old I’ll still be jumping up and down when something wonderful happens to me.”

If Campbell had miraculously defied the odds and led the Tories to victory, or even to a respectable defeat, Canadians might still be applauding her gee-whiz enthusiasm as a welcome breath of fresh air, as they did in 7 those fleeting summer weeks of 1993 when her approval rating was the highest of any prime minister in decades. But defeat breeds disdain, and absolute, crushing, humiliating defeat of the kind the Conservatives tasted on Oct. 25, 1993, breeds something even worse: scorn. That is the burden that Campbell bears as she weighs in with her version of how the Tories fell from grace. In a widely publicized magazine excerpt from Time and Chance, she put much of the blame on the two senior members of her 1993 campaign team, Allan Gregg and John Tory. The book as a whole is more evenhanded—

if only because she gives herself a small place in the party’s hall of shame.

In hindsight, she says now, she should have defied Mulroney and quit the cabinet when she decided to run for the Tory leadership. That would have established her independence and let her run without the distraction of being defence minister while the Somalia scandal was erupting. But she allowed herself to be bullied by Mulroney, who at one point angrily lectured his ministers that anyone who stepped aside would be disloyal. “Yes, I was intimidated by that,” she acknowledges now. “It wasn’t that I was afraid of him. I was so taken aback that my thinking of stepping down would be seen to be disloyal. I was appalled, because it was the furthest thing from my mind.” And during the election campaign itself, she takes responsibility for failing to quickly correct her remark that a 47-day campaign was no time for an in-depth discussion of the issues: “It was a disastrous error of judgment on my part.”

That, however, is about it for direct acknowledgment of personal errors.

As for Gregg and Tory, the organizers she inherited from Mulroney,

“weekend from hell,” she writes: “I had begun to wonder if the ads had been a deliberate attempt to sabotage what was left of the campaign.” So does she actually believe now that there was deliberate sabotage? Well, no. “I just think they were a terrible error of judgment.”

Campbell is retreating from the most inflammatory statement she makes about them in Time and Chance. The issue is the disastrous Tory TV ads that seemed to mock Jean Chrétien’s lopsided face.

Her strategists insisted they were fair ball; she insisted on cancelling them.

And as that controversy exploded during what she now recalls as the Tories’

As Campbell tells it, the Conservative establishment around Mulroney embraced her in the summer of 1993—and ended up suffocating her. She trusted them to run an effective campaign. She was exhausted after her leadership race, but was forced into an endless round of barbecues and speech-making. She had no time to exercise, relax, get a chipped tooth fixed, have her nails done or pay household bills. Tory staffers, accustomed to cossetting Mulroney, could not or would not adapt to the needs of a female leader who did not share their old boss’s

taste for chilly rooms and cars. There was no time, and she had no one to replace the Mulroney gang. “I realized that I was going to have to make do with that team,” she says. “There wasn’t a moment to draw a breath.” She tried putting her foot down and insisting that they change her schedule to give her more downtime, “but there were always a thousand reasons why it didn’t happen.” Even Margaret Thatcher, she quite rightly recalls, took years to put her legendary stamp of authority on the British Tory party and establish herself as the role model for no-nonsense female leaders. And Campbell, it must be said, is no Margaret Thatcher.

Time and Chance may be most valuable for the glimpses it offers of other Tories. Mulroney himself appears as a remote and

increasingly malevolent figure. Campbell did not meet him until well into the 1988 election campaign, and she did not visit 24 Sussex Drive until 1991, for a post-Gulf War reception. When she was summoned into The Presence in 1989 to be invited to join the cabinet as a junior minister, she was so rattled that she mixed up the time and missed the meeting entirely. At a lunch for the new cabinet the next day, she felt “very shy” with Mulroney and was impressed that he (wait for it) “ate his lunch just like anybody else!” By 1993, though, Campbell had concluded something that any moderately shrewd observer of Mulroney could have told her: that he was determined to manipulate the leadership contest to protect his own image. Her most insightful, and most disturbing,

comment: “There was a studied quality to Brian Mulroney, especially in public, a sense that he was playing himself rather than being himself.”

Now, she says, she has not spoken to Mulroney since the day in late 1993 when she visited his “elegant, sumptuous home” in Montreal and was told that “the party let you down.” By then, sadder and wiser, she “marvelled at the former PM’s ability to portray himself as a mere bystander in the saga of our party’s electoral defeat.” About his current legal difficulties, she is understandably guarded. “This must be agonizing for him,” is all she will say.

Campbell’s relations with Jean Charest were clearly strained, even though she now says all the obligatory things about supporting him. As she tells it, he began by aggressively demanding leading positions for himself and his supporters in her short-lived cabinet, and ended by masking his intentions behind “Byzantine” manoeuvrings after the election defeat. But the most bizarre appearance of all is by Marcel Masse, the onetime defence minister who is now an outright separatist. At one point, Campbell writes, Masse seriously suggested to her that the reason Mulroney was more sympathetic to French culture in Quebec than was Pierre Trudeau is that culture is transmitted by the mother—and Trudeau’s mother was English-speaking. When Campbell pointed out that Mulroney’s moth¡ er spoke hardly a word of Í French, “Marcel seemed 1 dumbfounded.”

=j Writing Time and Chance, I Campbell said last week, I was the way she finally dealt with the trauma of defeat. She is undoubtedly a strong woman, but no one could undergo the public evisceration she did without bearing some scars. Her stepdaughter, Pamela Divinsky, kept a diary during the 1993 campaign that she draws on extensively for the book. Campbell says she could not bring herself to read it for a whole year—“it was too painful.” Writing, she says, “required me to go through the emotional catharsis of confronting my own mistakes.” It was not until last summer, when she was working on the chapter about her final campaign, that she finally allowed herself to break down and cry. But for all those, especially onetime Tories, still trying to come to grips with the messy legacy of Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell, tears may not be enough. □