Mulroney surprises Canadians by naming a critic to UN post

The new Conservative government in Ottawa has stunned both its opponents and supporters by appointing a prominent member of the New Democratic Party as Canada's ambassador to the United Nations.

Stephen Lewis, former leader of the New Democratic Party in Ontario, will be Canada's new envoy to the UN.

If the appointment came as a surprise to Canadians, it came as a shock to Mr. Lewis. The politician-turned-journalist is one of the leading thinkers in the NDP, a mildly socialist party that is critical of Tory policy, especially its attitude to defense and the United States.

In an article in the Canadian news-weekly Maclean's, Lewis criticized Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's recent trip to Washington as ''groveling reverentially to the White House.'' The NDP advocates disarmament and opposes the testing of the cruise missile in Canadian airspace.

Mr. Mulroney says his appointment of Lewis shows he meant his campaign promise that patronage is a thing of the past in Canada. Mulroney told reporters , ''In many circumstances people of these talents are in other political parties or other movements, and I hope to reach out to them to enhance what should be a bipartisan thrust to public policy.''

The appointment was described as ''a strikingly imaginative move,'' by the Toronto Star, a paper not usually in agreement with the Tories. The Star and others say Lewis's appointment to the UN is nonpartisan and goes against the tradition of patronage in Canada. The former Liberal government suffered in the election campaign because of its use of patronage.

Cynics have taken a slightly different view. Some political professionals say the Lewis appointment is inspired, but in a Machiavellian way.

''Now that Mulroney has appointed a New Democrat, he can name all the Tories he likes. And the United Nations doesn't matter anyway,'' said an Ottawa veteran who asked to remain nameless.

The theory is that Mulroney has defused the patronage issue by reaching so far from his own ideology for his first major appointment. He has also named a man who has considerable ability.

While Lewis was NDP leader in Ontario during the 1970s, he brought the party closer to power than it had ever been: At one period the NDP was the official opposition to the ruling Conservatives, displacing the provincial Liberals.

The question being asked by those who know Lewis is: Will he toe the Tory line at the United Nations when Tory government philosophy differs from his own?

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.