Race to replace Trudeau may not leave much elbow room
Montreal — It is becoming a crowded field in the race to replace Pierre Trudeau as leader of the Liberal Party and of Canada. On Tuesday, the man considered the No. 2 runner joined the fray. He is Jean Chretien, the only French-speaking Canadian to enter the contest so far. He is minister of energy in the Trudeau Cabinet and has held many other posts. He was the first French Canadian to be minister of finance, a job which can be a political dead end as the economic problems of the country are blamed on the person who sets monetary policy. Mr. Chretien came through that experience unscathed, but he has one thing against him. He is a French-Canadian.
It is not bigotry, but tradition which may keep him from the top job. The Liberal Party has a tradition of alternating its leadership between French- and English-speaking Canadians; Pierre Trudeau was French so the next man must be English.
And that will likely be John Turner unless he drops the ball between now and the convention in June. Mr. Turner is a bilingual Toronto lawyer who was also once minister of finance. But he left the Cabinet in 1975 after a policy disagreement with Mr. Trudeau. Since then he has been a corporate lawyer. Some say his business background will be an asset for a country tired of the left-leaning policies of the Trudeau era; others say it could tag Mr. Turner as the captive of big business.
But last Friday, when he announced his candidacy, Mr. Turner hinted that he will keep his business friends happy by attacking the federal deficit, but he won't do it by chipping away on social programs.
Other Cabinet ministers already in the race are Donald Johnston, Mark MacGuigan, and John Roberts. Mr. Turner would have to disgrace himself for any of these to win. Later this week Cabinet minister John Munro is expected to announce his candidacy and so may Jim Coutts, a former adviser to Mr. Trudeau.
One wild card is Iona Campagnolo, the president of the Liberal Party of Canada. She says she isn't running, but there are rumblings of a draft Iona movement. An ex-Cabinet minister, she is an accomplished political professional and handles the television cameras with the ease of a matinee idol.
Watching all this from the sidelines is Brian Mulroney, who was elected leader of the opposition Conservative Party last summer.
Mr. Mulroney has a 20-point lead over the Liberals in the opinion polls but he knows much of that is due to the unpopularity of Mr. Trudeau, especially in western Canada.