A stroll on the international stage
The federal Tories last week moved to recover the political momentum they lost during the three-month Liberal leadership campaign. In Ottawa Norman Atkins, the chairman of the Conservative election campaign, insisted that the Conservatives have not seriously lost ground, even though recent public opinion polls, which reported the parties virtually tied in popular support, suggested otherwise. Declared Atkins: “We are in good shape. The convention did not create for the Liberals as much excitement as the Tory convention one year ago or the 1968 convention that elected Pierre Trudeau.” And while Tory strategists refined new national energy policies that the party plans to release at a western caucus meeting in July, Opposition Leader Brian Mulroney went on a three-day trip to Washington in an attempt to present himself as a credible prime minister in waiting.
Clearly, Mulroney’s debut in international relations was successful—if only because it wasn’t a failure. He even profited from President Ronald Reagan’s jocular acknowledgment before the television cameras that North America needs another Irishman at the helm. A smiling Mulroney admitted after his 40-minute meeting with the president that Reagan could just as easily have been referring to the leader of the New Democrats. “You know that Ed Broadbent has an Irish grandmother,” he said. Still, the official party of six that accompanied Mulroney—including his wife, Mila, and external affairs critic Sinclair Stevens— was privately relieved that Mulroney had conducted his first foreign visit without any mishaps.
But as Mulroney hurried from meetings with high-powered officials, including U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, he remained aware that the road that might lead him back to Washington as Prime Minister runs through the cities, towns and villages of Canada. To that end, Quebec Tory strategists will try to appeal to those Quebecers who were disappointed by the defeat of Energy Minister Jean Chrétien at the hands of Prime Minister-designate John Turner. They also plan to remind disaffected western Canadians that many of the leading members from Trudeau’s regime—such as Finance Minister Marc Lalonde—will likely remain in a revamped Turner cabinet.
During the Washington meeting Mulroney urged Reagan to “capture the imaginations of all Canadians and all Americans by agreeing to a program that could cut down by 50 per cent on acid emissions within the next decade.” The U.S. president countered with a call
for more research on the acid rain problem. But despite the lack of any firm agreement, the Tories were content with the talk. The reason: it gave weight to their contention that Mulroney had made a good beginning in repairing relations with the United States, a crucial policy area that Mulroney has said the Liberals “had wilfully neglected.” Mulroney also met U.S. Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige, to whom he complained that protectionist legislation designed to reduce steel imports, now before Congress, threatened 5,000 Canadian jobs. But according to Mulroney, Baldrige replied that the Reagan administration opposed the bill and
had the votes to defeat it in Congress.
While Mulroney was enjoying his brief stroll across the international stage, party workers in Canada were preparing for an early federal election. In Montreal Michel Cogger, a Quebec organizer, said that the party would emphasize Mulroney’s strong Quebec heritage while portraying Turner as a rootless non-Quebecer. Declared Cogger: “When Turner lived and operated in Quebec he did so in a rarefied upper stratum of Quebec society.” In Ontario the Tories will court ethnic minorities, while Mulroney returns to small towns as well as Toronto—a city with 23 ridings which he has visited 14 times in two
months. During the week before the Liberal convention Mulroney made a swing through Northern Ontario communities, where he sought to blunt the Liberal publicity surge.
And at a July 4 and 5 caucus meeting in Prince Albert, Sask., the Tories will try to reinforce their dominant position in the West by announcing plans to change the National Energy Program. Sources said the changes will include replacing the Petroleum Incentive Payments with tax incentives that will favor Canadian companies. Multinational oil and gas exploration companies dislike PIP grants, government grants paid on a sliding scale based on the location
of the drill site and the degree of Canadian ownership in the company. They also propose to eliminate the even more controversial “back-in” provision, which allows Ottawa a 25-per-cent share of gas and oil in the Arctic and offshore. The Tories made it clear that they hope the energy announcement will defuse mounting criticism that they have no new policies. With their leader safely through his first venture abroad, and convinced that the excitement of Turner’s victory will fade, most Tories are convinced that the Liberals are running out of time.
-TERRY HARGREAVES in Washington, with Susan Riley in Ottawa.