Canada's season of gaffes

Richard Hatfield, Elmer MacKay, and Robert Coates. Those names must be dancing before Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney as he meets with 10 provincial premiers this week. Richard Hatfield, the Progressive Conservative premier of New Brunswick, has had a harrowing year. First he was charged with possession of marijuana and found innocent. Then a young man charged that Hatfield had supplied him and other students with cocaine and marijuana. Hatfield denied it all.

Elmer MacKay, a second Maritime politician in trouble, is the solicitor general in the Mulroney Cabinet. While Hatfield was under investigation, Mr. MacKay met with him. The opposition wants to know if the meeting was to smooth over the scandal. No, MacKay says, and he has shrugged off calls for his resignation.

Robert Coates did resign in disgrace. The minister of defense -- also from Nova Scotia -- told a stunned House of Commons this week that he was quitting to save the government any embarrassment. He and two aides had spent an evening in a sleazy nightclub.

Hatfield's problems would have been of little concern to the prime minister except that they involved MacKay. ``There is a perception out there, and I don't believe it, that Hatfield received preferential treatment from Elmer MacKay,'' said Michael Meighen, former president of the Conservative Party and a Mulroney adviser.

MacKay is now seen as being off the hook in this matter.

Richard Hatfield is perhaps the most interesting case of all. In one 52-week period he spent 35 weekends away -- in New York or Montreal or London.

``Just because Richard wants to be premier doesn't mean he wants to live here,'' is a joke reputed to have been made by a friend of the premier.

The people of New Brunswick keep reelecting Hatfield. His party holds 38 seats in the 58-seat provincial legislature. He sells electricity to the United States, keeps unemployment at a reasonable level, and keeps the peace between the English- and French-speaking populations of his bilingual province.

But he says there is a conspiracy to do him in. ``It is my belief that whoever did this terrible thing [plant drugs in his luggage] were the same persons who orchestrated these new false accusations.''

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