In calling a national election for Sept. 4, Prime Minister John Turner is moving forthrightly to put his stamp on Canadian politics. The election comes at a good moment for the Canadian people in general, and Mr. Turner in particular.
Turner's task is twofold. As the new leader of the ruling Liberal Party, he must convince voters that he can come to grips with an economy buffeted by high unemployment (11.2 percent), a falling dollar, and rising interest rates. But to do that, he must also establish his own independence - his own political identity - following in office as he does the flamboyant Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who led the Liberals (and government) for almost 16 years. Indeed, many voters blame the Liberals for Canada's current economic woes.
Can Turner pull it off? If the polls are right, he stands a good possibility of doing just that, defeating the Progressive Conservative Party headed up by opposition leader Brian Mulroney. Mr. Turner has announced that he will run for a seat from British Columbia, since he does not have a seat in Parliament. Still , most election analysts anticipate that the Liberals will seek to be returned to power by using their strategy from past elections - i.e., sweeping Quebec, carrying a fair number of seats in Ontario, and pulling in additional seats from the other eastern provinces. In short, the Liberals are expected once again to write off western Canada, political claims of capturing that region notwithstanding.
Turner has many things going for him this year. He is a corporate lawyer from Toronto who served as a senior minister in the early Trudeau government, leaving office in a dispute with Mr. Trudeau in 1975. The very fact that he is perceived as being to the ideological right of Mr. Trudeau on economic policy works to his advantage - and to the disadvantage of Mr. Mulroney, a lawyer from Montreal. Mr. Mulroney will argue that economic conditions will not materially change so long as the Liberals remain in power, no matter whether it is Mr. Turner or Mr. Trudeau who actually heads up the government. But getting such a message across to voters must be reckoned an uphill task, given Turner's financial-corporate links.
One element that could work against Mr. Turner: his reputed acerbic temperament, compared with the more genial, self-assured Mr. Trudeau.
Finally, it is interesting to note that both Canada and the United States will hold national elections at the end of 1984. A nice twist, since the two nations share not only a common border - but common challenges, such as acid rain.
That means the new administrations in both nations can start afresh on solving their mutual problems early next year.