Mulroney's Challenge in Canada

WALLER, HAROLD M.

LEARNING TO GOVERN Mulroney's Challenge in Canada BY HAROLD M. WALLER Montreal In Canada winter is a time to get things done. The relatively short summer is valued so highly that efforts are...

...Since deposit insurance only covers amounts up to $60,000 in Canada, the government faced the dilemma of what to do about big depositors...
...Certainly the announcement that South Korea's Hyundai auto company would locate its first North American plant in Quebec smacked of collusion to bolster the incumbent PQ government...
...Bourassa, who had been Premier from 1970-76 and then retired from politics after his defeat, is not a charismatic figure...
...The final tally showed a Liberal landslideó56 per cent of the vote, and 99 of 122 seats...
...In both cases the PCs came to power with stunning gains in Quebec, plus broad nationwide support...
...and social programs are less of a priority than they used to be...
...But a historically high deficit, equal to U.S...
...In all three instances the governing party was ousted, perhaps telling us something about the problems governments face...
...Normally the party having the most seats (the PCs, with 52) forms the government, although in this case it would have been a minority affair because the New Democratic Party (NDP) won a substantial number of seats (35...
...The Liberals started out enjoying a comfortable lead, saw it slip when the PQ peaked about three or four weeks before the December 2 election, and pulled away once more during the last 10 days...
...There has been widespread criticism, too, of the confusion surrounding the failure of two relatively small western banks last year, after repeated assurances by the responsible minister that they were solvent...
...Fraser tried to defend the handling of the tainted fish on the grounds that it did not pose a health threat, offensive as it may have been to the senses...
...His biggest mistake to date was going along with Finance Minister Michael Wilson's first budget last May...
...government intervention in the economy has declined...
...He shrugged off the rejection, took over as Premier, named a popular Cabinet, lowered income taxes, and began to work on rejuvenating Quebec's economic growth...
...26 billion, persists...
...Miller resigned as party leader shortly afterward and was replaced by Larry Grossman of Toronto, a demarche for a party with a smalltown orientation...
...Mulroney is likely to face the electorate in 1988...
...The campaign was summed up by the respective advertising strategies: The Liberals emphasized their party and hardly mentioned Bourassa, while the PQ plastered Johnson's smiling visage all over the province and put the party's name in the smallest possible print...
...The larger economic picture does have some bright spots...
...1.04 level...
...The government imposed a surtax on middle-and upper-income Canadians last July, and has declared it will institute an alternative minimum tax to catch those who benefit from various statutory loopholes...
...Opposition Leader John Turner has been quietly and persistently guiding the Liberals back to competitive status at both the Federal and provincial levels...
...The primary concerns of voters now seem to be economic, rather than political...
...Peterson does not appear distressed that thanks to his economic moves the province has lost its AAA credit rating in New York...
...The Liberals' return to power in Quebec has reduced the intensity of political activity that characterized the nine years of PQ rule...
...Junior Minister Suzanne Blais-Grenier lost one Cabinet post because of a lack of competence, then had to leave altogether when her rather lavish spending abroad at government expense was revealed...
...Harold M. Waller, a frequent contributor, is associate professor ofpolitical science at McGill University...
...In the meantime, he arranged a safe Liberal riding in a by-election in a Montreal suburb...
...The currency has been in steady decline against its United States counterpart since 1976, sinking from the U.S...
...This is particularly true in government, because legislators use the warmer, brighter days to renew ties with the folks back home...
...public ownership of various large entities has been called into question...
...In addition, he has moved to open government activities to greater scrutiny...
...Negotiations with Washington will begin later this year...
...A recent Gallup poll, for example, found the Liberal Party leading the Tories by one point...
...Peterson, a Liberal, took office last June after his party finished second in seats (with 48) but first in votes in the provincial election...
...others crossed the aisle to sit as independents...
...71 cents in January...
...Wilson announced that old-age pensions and family allowances, long indexed to increases in the cost of living, would henceforth riseonly if theannual inflation rate exceeded 3 per cent...
...Meanwhile, Mulroney was charged with insensitivity in his native Quebec for allowing a private Montreal oil refinery to close at a cost of several hundred jobs...
...passed environmental legislation...
...For all of the PC's opposition to the Parti Quebecois' (PQ) long-term goal of independence, there were signs of closet support for it against the Liberals...
...Several Cabinet ministers, among them prominent original PQ members, resigned their seats in the National Assembly and quit political life...
...The electoral fight was left to the new leader, Pierre Marc Johnson, the former Minister of Justice...
...The time it is taking to get bills passed has contributed to the feeling that the government is not up to managing its affairs...
...A media barrage brought Fraser to his senses and he quickly quit...
...As in Ottawa and in Ontario, the ruling party in Quebec changed leaders and then quickly called a vote...
...To be sure, Mulroney has to some extent made his presence felt...
...In a surprise move, Peterson worked out a deal with the NDP and together they ousted the Premier of a few months, Frank Miller, ending 42 years of continuous Tory rule...
...This is a sensitive issue in a country where many citizens doubt they can compete with their overpowering neighbor...
...He was selected for the job by an unusual direct vote open to all of PQ's 160,000 paid up members, a sharp departure from the usual Canadian practice of holding a convention...
...Since last June they have captured the governments in Canada's two largest provinces, Ontario and Quebec, marking a reversal of the disastrous decline provincial Liberals suffered during the 16 years of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Tru-deau's leadership...
...So Mulroney's immediate challenge is to demonstrate clearly that he can employ his overwhelming majority in the House of Commons to advantage and govern effectively...
...Inability to reduce the deficit is suggested as one reason for the continuing decline in the value of the Canadian dollar, which hit a record low of U.S...
...The one sour note was Bourassa's losing his own seat in a close race in a constituency not well-suited to him...
...This set off such an incredible upsurge of public opprobrium that the government was forced to back down less than a month later, its huge parliamentary majority notwithstanding...
...Barely less embarrassing was Defense Minister Robert Coates' visit to a sleazy West German night club where his integrity could have been compromised, and he too quickly departed...
...One of the most outspoken opponents of the free-trade initiative is Ontario's new Premier, David Peterson, whose industrialized province might indeed be hurt by increased competition from south of the border...
...Should Mulroney work out a trade agreement that would expand what is already the biggest trading partnership in the world, he may not be able to sell it to his count rymen...
...The proposed levy has been roundly derided by tax experts, who say it will complicate the tax system without producing much revenue...
...Ultimately, it decided to reimburse them at a cost to the taxpayers of nearly $2 billion...
...Almost from the day he was sworn in, though, his party has been beset by a variety of minor scandals and mishaps...
...The economy has achieved a 4.1 per cent growth rate over the past year, surpassing every country except Japan...
...There are even rumors of his risking another election this year to try for a majority...
...Mulroney has not done much better dealing with issues...
...One indication of the Prime Minister's problems was the resignation of four Cabinet members in 1985...
...Inflation has been brought under control at slightly over 4 per cent per year...
...The Liberal successes in Canada's two largest provinces should serve as an effective reminder to the Prime Minister that his sweeping 1984 victory could well prove to be as ephemeral as John Diefenbaker's 30 years ago...
...But if the Liberals can repeat their provincial gains on the Federal level, they could be in a position to re-establish the voting alignment that served them so effectively for over 20 years prior to 1984...
...The provinces have already declared their intention to be participants, complicating the decision process for the Federal government...
...The Parti Quebecois had tired of founder Rene Levesque, who had himself tired of attempting to sell Quebec-ers the idea of independence...
...If Mulroney was untested politically, having spent his career in the private sector until he was chosen to lead the PC in 1983, expectations were nevertheless high amid the euphoria generated by his landslide victory...
...The Prime Minister's major foreign economic initiative has been his attempt to negotiate freer trade with the United States...
...adopted a rent control policy that should prove popular among Toronto apartment dwellers...
...Mulroney did not display much political acumen in thecourseof last month's Quebec elections either...
...The most embarrassing casualty was Fisheries Minister John Fraser, the victim of the "tunagate" uproar produced by his department's approving the sale of rancid tuna...
...and indicated that he will ban the practice of extra-billing, which allows physicians in the universal Medicare system to charge patients supplemental fees...
...But when the Conservatives came to power 16 months ago, they promised a businesslike approach to government in substance as well as outlook...
...All this adds up to a change in orientation reminiscent of Reagan-ism in the United States, albeit with less of an ideological edge...
...Minister of Communications Marcel Masse, who stepped down upon being accused of election expense irregularities by the Royal Mounties and was subsequently cleared, has returned to his post...
...When Levesque persuaded the PQ of this at its convention last winter, he set off an earthquake...
...Across the border in Quebec a considerable political upheaval has occurred as well, resulting in a Liberal government headed by the resurrected Robert Bourassa...
...None represents a grave error individually, yet the totality of events has led citizens to wonder exactly what is going on in Ottawa...
...The election contest itself turned out to be rather dull...
...Fears of losing j obs and becoming virtually incorporated into the U.S...
...Unemployment is down to just a shade above 10 per cent, a definite improvement even if much more needs to be done...
...abound here, and are frequently articulated by the Opposition Liberals...
...Operating an NDP-backed minority government with an all-Liberal Cabinet, Peterson has raised Ontario's relatively low income taxes, and increased spending...
...Progressive Conservative (PC) Prime Minister Brian Mulroney therefore has his work cut out for him...
...With his party in shambles, Levesque had little choice but to retire...
...Johnson is attractive and popular, but was heading a discredited party...
...Furthermore, as details became known many observers argued that Ottawa made too many concessions to Hyundai in its eagerness to obtain the factory...
...The relatively short summer is valued so highly that efforts are made to concentrate productive activity in the long, cold, dreary months...
...Now in his second winter in office, he has accomplished little legislatively despite the fact that his party won211 ofthe 282 seats in theHouseof Commons, and an impatient electorate is already expressing its dissatisfaction...
...Outof close to 100,000 ballots cast, Johnson received a comfortable 59 per cent against five other candidates...
...Analysts who believed the trend would be reversed once the Conservatives were in power have been disappointed with their performance...
...The Finance Minister stayed the course on the rest of the budget provisions, including a lifetime capital gains tax exemption of $500,000 per person, but they remained to be enacted when Parliament returned from its Christmas recess...
...Hence, any PQ campaign that did not backtrack on sovereignty was doomed...
...There has been a decided movement away from regulation, especially in the area of transportation...
...Over the last few years, public opinion polls have shown that probably less than 20 per cent of the province's population supports the notion...
...Besides economic matters, it is expected that they will focus on reaching a constitutional accord with Ottawa, de-emphasizing the language question, and demonstrating that a Quebec government can represent all Quebecois, not only Francophones...
...If he is going win a second term, he will have to make it evident rather quickly that he can run a credible government, one capable of translating its massive parliamentary majority into the fulfillment of campaign promises...

Vol. 69 • January 1986 • No. 1


 
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