Canada's Mulroney tries to cut back government goofs and gaffes

Canada's Prime Minister Brian Mulroney doesn't want to go through another week like the past one with one goof after another. An aide to the minister of finance bugged a private conversation, then after that meeting left behind some notes which became front-page news the next day.

Aides to External Affairs Minister Joe Clark sent an announcement on a cassette to a radio station but forgot to erase Mr. Clark's dictation musing about Canadian policy in Central America.

All this has happened at a time when Mr. Mulroney is being criticized for shrouding his government in secrecy.

The first error occurred when Finance Minister Michael Wilson met with Vic Schroeder, finance minister for the Province of Manitoba. One of Mr. Wilson's aides left a tape recorder on and recorded the meeting. When Wilson realized the meeting had been taped - the tape had run out and was beeping - he apologized to Mr. Schroeder. ''We listened to the tape to see if there was anything on it. There wasn't. I've told him he can have the tape if he wants it,'' said Wilson.

Canadian politicians remember the fuss over US President Richard Nixon's secret tapings of conversations and the Prime Minister was quick to denounce the incident, even if it was a mistake.

''The taping of private conversations without prior approval is unacceptable conduct,'' Mulroney said.

The aide has been given a ''sharp reprimand.''

Wilson's second slip came as he left behind notes on the table in the hotel where the meeting was being held. A reporter found the notes, and they were front-page news in Winnipeg.

Then there was the audio tape incident. An aide to External Affairs Minister Clark, a former prime minister, sent a routine announcement to a radio station in St. Catherine's, Ontario. The tape dealt with the United Nations, but it also contained Clark's dictation.

One of the memos dictated by Clark dealt with Nicaragua. ''We do not have an ambassador resident in Managua. Is there some presence short of ambassadorial status which we could establish in Managua?'' read part of the note to one of Clark's aides.

Speaking to reporters, Clark dismissed the incident.

''This was just a mistake as far as I'm concerned,'' he said.

Prime Minister Mulroney has been embarrassed by these gaffes. He has been even more concerned by leaks than mistakes. He has told civil servants not to talk to reporters; senior aides are not to attend receptions where reporters will be present. Cabinet ministers caught leaking government material will be fired.

Newspapers and opposition politicians have been critical of this policy of secrecy. But this past week's errors allowed them to deal with the issue, sometimes lightly.

Said the leader of the New Deomcratic Party, Ed Broadbent: ''This is open government by accident, not by design.

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