Waiting for the Turner team
As Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau walked across Parliament Hill last week, the usual crowd of backward-shuffling television crews preceded him, their cameras rolling. This time, however, the cameras focused on the beaming face of the man beside Trudeau: Prime Minister-designate John Turner. The new Liberal leader still faces critical challenges before Gov. Gen. Jeanne Sauvé presides over the swearing-in of Turner and his new cabinet this Saturday. But political power in Ottawa is perceptibly shifting to Turner, and Trudeau is literally almost out of the picture.
Some of the signs of transition were immediately obvious, especially the 43 billboards that the Liberal party rented across the country last week to display messages—printed even before Turner won the leadership—which featured his portrait and the slogan, Today We Celebrate Our Future. In the Commons the Opposition Conservatives attacked both Trudeau and Turner for permitting a possible conflict of interest after Turner announced that he would keep his corporate directorships until June 30, even while he was receiving confidential government briefings. Seemingly unperturbed, Turner worked 15-hour days in his fourth-floor Château Laurier hotel suite with a handful of aides, including Vancouver lawyer Michael Hunter and Ottawa consultant William Lee. He also held three meetings with Trudeau, in part to set the date for his swearing-in. That left two vital tasks: assembling a cabinet that would appeal to voters and choosing an election date that offered the best chance of Liberal victory. Turner’s decisions in those areas are crucial in determining how long he will hold his newly won power.
A third problem confronting Turner in the wake of his convention victory was the future role of the leadership runner-up, Energy Minister Jean Chrétien. The two men met three times last week, but there was no evident deal when Chrétien left for the weekend at his cottage near Shawinigan, Que. Sources expected the intensely popular Chrétien to hold out for a prestigious cabinet office such as External Affairs or the deputy prime ministership. In addition, Chrétien wanted to be Turner’s Quebec lieutenant, traditionally a powerful role in any cabinet led by
an anglophone Liberal. Turner might have found the demand difficult because another aspirant to the job—Labor Minister André Ouellet—had served as Turner’s own chief Quebec organizer in the three-month leadership fight. One of the sources of any Quebec lieutenant’s power is his influence over patronage appointments in the province. Discuss-
ing patronage in general, Turner told reporters that he would feel free to make senior appointments once he is Prime Minister and before he has won a Commons seat for himself. But he noted that, until the end of this week, patronage plums, including 12 Senate vacancies, were still within Trudeau’s power. “I don’t own the orchard at the moment,” said Turner.
In the meantime, one of Turner’s briefing sessions was with Bank of Canada governor Gerald Bouey, the same day the Canadian dollar sank to a record low of 76.46 cents (U.S.) on the international money market. Bouey, insisted Turner, is “well representing the interests of the country” with his interest rate and exchange rate policies.
In the Commons Tory finance critic John Crosbie blamed the dollar’s decline partly on a lack of business community confidence in the prime minister-designate. But the Conservatives aimed most of their flak at Turner’s decision to hold on to at least nine corporate directorships at the same time that he was being given access to government documents. Turner responded that his intention of resigning the directorships on the day that he is sworn in was “a perfectly reasonable thing to do.” He also noted that he is receiving no information connected to the companies he serves and has had no contact with those companies since March. But the Tories argued that the arrangement gave the appearance of a conflict between the public interest and Turner’s private relations with the companies involved, which include Canadian Pacific Ltd., MacMillanBloedel and The Seagram Co.
Before taking office and calling an election, however, Turner first had to solve a complex problem in cabinetmaking. He faced the challenge of bringing in the “new faces” he promised during his leadership campaign and making good on his pledge to cut the size of the cabinet—while seeking to avoid alienating the 20 Trudeau cabinet ministers who supported him in the leadership. Turner said that the Liberal caucus agreed “we should look for a happy blend of new faces as well as members of the caucus who have proved themselves.”
Among the new recruits whom Turner has considered: party president Iona Campagnolo, the tough, sleek former sports minister whom western Liberals considered a sure vote-getter; Robert Blair, the independent-minded chief of Calgary-based Nova Corp.; Vancouver businessman Gordon Gibson, who worked in the Prime Minister’s Office during the early Trudeau years; Noranda Mines chairman Alfred Powis, who has known Turner on Bay Street for years; and Raymond Garneau, a former Liberal finance minister in the Quebec government and now chairman of Montreal City and District Savings Bank. Turner approached Paul Martin Jr., the son of the former Liberal cabinet minister and currently president of CSL Group (shipping, trucking and buses). But Martin told Maclean ’s that he would not serve in a Turner cabinet. Said Martin: “I really would like to run for office
under John Turner but my business commitments must rule me out for at least the next two, if not three years.” For his part, Powis said that no one had offered him a cabinet post. Declared Powis: “I would be an absolutely terrible politician.”
Some advisers, including Campagnolo herself, warned Turner against appointing people to cabinet who do not have Commons seats. Instead, she urged
Turner to “surround himself” with the new people he wants as high-profile candidates in a general election, and name them to a new cabinet if they are elected and he forms the next government. Turner, who also has the option of choosing a temporary cabinet from sitting MPs and ministers, said only that he was “talking to a number of people both inside and outside the caucus.” Deciding on the election date was an I equally tricky task and drew conflicting
advice from party insiders. After meeting the caucus Turner wryly admitted, “The caucus hasn’t changed in eight years. There was never any risk of unanimity. The opinion ranged from let’s go now to let’s go never.” In fact, caucus sources said that opinion among Liberals divided 70-30 in favor of an early election—sometime in August. Going before the electorate immediately would enable the party to build on the heavy publicity surrounding the leadership convention, as it did successfully after Trudeau won the leadership in 1968. Many MPs believe that the economy will turn sour in the fall, and they prefer the prospect of campaigning on summer evenings when Canadians are more likely to be relaxed. Said Douglas Fisher, chairman of the Toronto caucus of MPs: “I feel inclined toward the summer.” Conversely, the arguments for a fall election stem largely from Turner’s need to put his own stamp on the government and for the party to organize and nominate candidates for badly needed seats in the West. Senator Richard Stanbury, a former president of the party, warned that Lester Pearson’s first government and the short-lived Joe Clark cabinet both suffered “from trying to do too much too soon.” Declared Stanbury: “I lean toward the fall.” To help Turner decide, the party commissioned quick opinion polls from two organizations—Martin Goldfarb Consultants of Toronto and Angus Reid of Winnipeg. Party sources said the unusual double commission did not necessarily mean that Goldfarb is losing his longstanding position as chief Liberal pollster. Reid supplied Turner with polls during the leadership campaign, but a source in the party said the choice of party pollster is still “under review.” The choice of election dates is complicated further by the scheduled visits of the Queen next month and Pope John Paul lí in September. Reports from London indicated that the Queen would cancel her July 14 to 27 trip if it fell in the course of a Canadian election, while the fall election might lead to cancellation of the Pope’s visit if Ottawa saw a risk of the pontiff being embarrassed by campaign issues. In the meantime, both Turner and Trudeau appeared relaxed and relieved as they prepared for the transfer of power. Trudeau, who took to driving his 1959 Mercedes convertible even before leaving office, planned to spend a couple of weeks moving from 24 Sussex Drive into his downtown Montreal mansion with his three sons and then take a vacation. For Turner, the achievement of power may have felt far more refreshing than any vacation.
With Susan Riley in Ottawa, Gordon Legge in Calgary, Dale Eisler in Regina, Ann Walmsley in Toronto and Bruce Wallace in Montreal.