Canada's new leader waits in the wings for Trudeau to step down
Ottawa — John Turner has been elected prime minister of Canada but he doesn't have the job yet. And he won't have it for a couple of weeks. ''He will not be prime minister until he is sworn in by the governor-general with his Cabinet,'' says Sen. Eugene Forsey, Canada's greatest living storehouse of parliamentary procedure and constitutional rules.
''The prime minister at present is Mr. (Pierre) Trudeau and he remains prime minister until he resigns or dies. So when Mr. Turner is ready to take over, they will discuss the matter between them, Mr. Trudeau will resign, Mr. Turner will have his Cabinet ready, the governor-general will call on him, and there he is.''
Mr. Turner, a successful corporate lawyer and on the board of many companies he advised, such as Canadian Pacific and Bechtel, has resigned those directorships effective the end of this month.
''But effective from now, I'm out of business,'' Mr. Turner told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday.
The opposition Conservative Party in the House of Commons has jumped on this issue saying that Mr. Turner should not be allowed to look over secret government documents until his corporate resignations are effective at the end of the month. But the Liberals point out that Mr. Turner has already been a Cabinet minister and is still bound by the oath of secrecy he took then.
Another problem is that Mr. Turner doesn't have a seat in the House of Commons. He does not need one to be prime minister.''There is no legal requirement for him to have a seat,'' says Senator Forsey. He could remain without a seat for ''a reasonable time,'' but sooner or later he would have to go to the polls, either in a by-election where a sitting Liberal member would resign a seat, or in a general election where the new prime minister could fight to bring in his own people and his own ideas.
Legally he doesn't have to have a seat at all. He could appoint himself to the Senate and rule from there. Two Canadian prime ministers in the 1890's were senators. But that would cause an outcry today. ''I suppose he could (do that), but it would be a silly thing to do,'' remarks Senator Forsey.
There is a precedent for a prime minister not having a seat for a considerable period of time. ''(W.L.) MacKenzie King was defeated in his own seat in the general election of Oct. 29, 1925,'' recalls Senator Forsey. ''His government remained in office and King then sought a seat in a by-election and was elected on Feb. 5, 1926.''
If Mr. Turner doesn't get a seat, there will be a great outcry every day in the House of Commons. But it will be a quiet summer, unless there's a general election, because the House of Commons won't be sitting during the summer recess from the end of June to the beginning of September.
There doesn't have to be a general election until next year, so Mr. Turner could win a seat in a by-election over the summer and then reappear as prime minister in the House of Commons in September.
The newly elected leader of the Liberal Party has already met with Mr. Trudeau and a plan is being worked out for the transition to power. Mr. Trudeau and his three sons are still living at 24 Sussex Drive, the home of Canadian prime ministers. There has been no announcement of exactly when John Turner, his wife Geills (pronounced Jill), his daughter and three sons will move in, but it will probably be early next month. If there has been no announcement, there has at least been a hint.
Mr. Turner is also busy choosing his new Cabinet. There are rumors about who will be in it. Jean Chretien, who lost to Mr. Turner in the leadership race, will almost certainly have a powerful position and will be the senior minister from Quebec, unless he decides to leave politics. Donald Johnston distinguished himself in the campaign on economic issues and should get a senior post.
Newcomers might include Paul Martin, a businessman from Montreal; Doug Richardson, a Turner campaign organizer from Saskatchewan; and Iona Campagnolo of British Columbia, the president of the Liberal Party and a former junior minister in the Trudeau Cabinet of the 1970s.