Canada veers to the right as Liberal Party elects Turner to replace Trudeau
Ottawa — There's a new generation of political leaders in Canada and it looks as if things are going to be more businesslike. The election of John Turner as leader of the Liberal Party - and automatically as prime minister - will mean a shift away from the policies of the outgoing prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Mr. Turner has spent the last eight years as one of Canada's top corporate lawyers. He was on the board of directors of many large companies, including Canadian Pacific Ltd. in Canada and Bechtel Corp. in the United States.
He is not the small ''l'' liberal Mr. Trudeau is.
''I want a new coalition of Canadians, forging a new kind of liberalism,'' a victorious Turner told the party convention Saturday.
But the six men who were trying to beat Turner for leadership played on the fears of the Liberal Party that he was going to lead a new government to the right. Opponent Jean Chretien told delegates before the vote they were selecting a leader, ''not a chief executive officer.''
''I won't forget the poor or the sick,'' Turner countered to criticism that he was going to cut Canada's wide range of social programs. But while trying to prove he was as liberal as the next Liberal, he also said, ''There are no easy solutions, no quick fixes'' - a coded way of criticizing the economic management of the Trudeau administration.
Mr. Chretien is a popular man, an easygoing politician who can control a crowd like a stand-up comedian. Turner is serious with a staccato style of speaking that doesn't suit itself to the television age. But the Liberal establishment had made the decision to elect Turner. Chretien never had a chance.
The ex-officio delegates of the party - a praetorian guard of ex-ministers, members of Parliament, and party officials - made up almost a third of the 3,442 delegates at the convention. They voted almost as a block for Turner. After the first ballot he was only 125 votes short of victory. He won easily on the second round.
Final results gave Turner 1,862 votes (54 percent); Chretien, 1,368 (40 percent); and Donald Johnston, 192 (6 percent).
Mr. Johnston was the leading vote-getter among the five minor candidates and the only one to make it onto the second ballot. By doing so, he helped Turner win. John Turner did the same thing for Pierre Trudeau at the 1968 convention when the man who is now leader ran in third place.
One delegate explained why he switched his vote from an also-ran to Turner rather than to Chretien: ''Chretien is not a good administrator, and that is what we need right now.''
And that is what the party knows it needs if it is going to win the next election. The Trudeau administration, covering all but nine months of the last 16 years, was a slightly left-of-center government that spent freely on social programs, leaving Canada with a large government deficit. Turner has pledged to change that. With the excitement generated by the party leadership contest, Liberal politicians are braying for an election campaign to take the advantage of the momentum.
Turner himself does not have a seat. He left Parliament in 1976 after resigning as minister of finance in 1975 following a disagreement with Trudeau over his economic policies. Turner will have to win a seat in a by-election or general election, although a general election might be easier because it would give him a mandate to carry out his policies.
Turner's rival in a general election would be Brian Mulroney, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party who was elected in a convention last year. Mr. Mulroney was also a corporate lawyer and was also a director of many large corporations. A taxi driver in Ottawa joked this week, ''I don't know who I'll vote for - Brian Turner or John Mulroney.''
The new Liberal leader has already moved to dispel any idea that he might be a conservative in liberal clothing. He called Mulroney a ''let's-pretend liberal'' who has endorsed many of the social reform programs of the Liberal Party.
But there is little doubt that Turner is a much more conservative leader than Trudeau. The Liberals couldn't say it out loud but many of them think a cautious businesslike leader is what is needed to defeat the Conservatives in an election. Recent polls have shown that in Turner would win against Mulroney. But those polls were taken during the heat of the leadership race when the Conservatives were lying low. That won't last.
The country is bracing itself for an election. A common guess is that Aug. 27 will be the date. Canadian election campaigns have to run at least 50 days, so Turner would have to call an election soon to meet that deadline.
Whether the winner is Turner or Mulroney, there is no doubt that Canada is moving in a new political direction.