Tories fight to win favor with voters. Mulroney plays down Tory peccadilloes as Parliament opens
Ottawa — As he enters his third year in office, Canada's Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is searching for ways to boost his sagging popularity. The search began in June, when he reshuffled his Cabinet. Then he removed some top civil servants from important positions. More recently he hired some new political and policy advisers who are presumably more effective than those already in place.
And on Oct. 1, when the Canadian Parliament reconvenes, Mr. Mulroney will announce the government's legislative agenda with his Speech from the Throne. He will undoubtedly use the occasion to emphasize his government's achievements.
The Progressive Conservative government has another two years or so in office before it will feel obliged to call a general election. But with public opinion polls showing the Tories getting only some 30 percent support and the opposition Liberals several percentage points more, the government is understandably nervous.
The government believes it is getting less credit than it deserves -- and too much blame for some lapses in judgment. These lapses have forced several ministers in the 40-member Cabinet to resign. One Cabinet member resigned after it was discovered that he had approved the sale of a shipment of tainted (but not unhealthy) canned tuna. Another resigned when became known that he had patronized a sleazy nightclub in West Germany.
``I wonder whether you sometimes feel you're being pecked to death by sparrows,'' Canadian television journalist Peter Newman asked the Prime Minister earlier this month. But Mulroney insisted that his government would be judged on ``the big issues.''
But will it? In an editorial, the Toronto Globe and Mail noted the damage done to the government by ``relatively superficial trips and tripe.''
``The real stuff of policy,'' the editorial continued, ``receives far less attention, and here the Government is doing quite well. There are not many grand visions, but there is responsibility in administration and evidence of strategic thought. Politically, the nation is finding its balance again; economically, it is facing up to reality.''
But the Liberal opposition does take issue with some less ``superficial'' government actions. Talking about the Tory drug program, Liberal leader John Turner has suggested that Mulroney is merely following the lead of United States President Ronald Reagan. ``I can't help wondering if there is any bandwagon that goes by that Mr. Mulroney doesn't jump on,'' Mr. Turner mused. The Liberals also criticize some aspects of the Tories' trade initiatives.
The major priorities of the government for the remainder of its mandate will include tax reform, negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States, and laws to deal with pornography, battered women, child abuse, and drug abuse. It also intends to alter the laws concerning the entrance of refugees. And it will make an effort to win Quebec's approval of the Canadian Consitution.
``National reconciliation'' has been one of the major goals of the Troy government. When it took over from the Liberals two years ago, there were many political battles and unsettled issues between Ottawa and the federal government or between different regions. Since then, many of these issues -- such as disputes over energy -- have been settled. At an annual meeting of provincial premiers in August, Alberta's Donald Getty held that ``the awareness of the need to work together . . . has never been stronger among Canada's premiers.''
Economic recovery was another Tory aim. So Mulroney likes to note that Canadian unemployment has dropped from 11.3 percent in 1984 to 9.7 percent in August.
But growth has been slower than anticipated. Finance Minister Michael Wilson says national output should increase about 3 percent this year. That, plus lower oil prices and falling grain prices, has meant that federal revenues will be $2.5 billion lower than budgeted, Mr. Wilson notes. Still, the government deficit will shrink a little in the current fiscal year to under $32 billion from $34.5 billion last fiscal year.