For Canadian politics, 1985 is becoming a year of musical chairs
Edmonton, Alberta — Canada's political landscape is changing fast. After a decade of relative stability -- at least in terms of the players involved -- the country has had three prime ministers in little more than a year, and 1985 is a year of musical chairs as heads of powerful provincial governments resign.
Pierre Trudeau resigned as prime minister last year and was replaced, briefly, by the new Liberal leader, John Turner. Brian Mulroney won last September's federal election and became prime minister.
Some of the biggest names in Canadian politics will be gone by the end of this year. Alberta and Quebec will have new leaders, Ontario just acquired one.
Peter Lougheed, the premier of Alberta, is resigning and a leadership race is under way. Ren'e L'evesque, the premier of Quebec, is to step down in the fall after a new leader is chosen. David Peterson took over as premier of Ontario this summer.
Mr. Lougheed has been on the job in Alberta since the Conservative Party won a surprise victory in 1971 over the Social Credit Party, which had been in power since the 1930s. He built the provincial wing of the Conservative Party from scratch. Some party members say it has become ``Peter Lougheed's Party.''
The leader of the oil-rich province spent many of his years in office battling Mr. Trudeau in Ottawa. Lougheed wanted more say in energy policy and a bigger take for his provincial government. He tried to move the provincial economy away from the two big standbys of agriculture and resources.
There has been some development in the petrochemical area, and the province is experiencing a mini-boom because of an increase in oil and gas exploration. But there has not been a major shift to new industries.
The man most likely to succeed Lougheed is Donald Getty, the former minister of energy in the Alberta Cabinet who fought side by side with Lougheed in his energy battles with Ottawa. So far only Julian Koziak, a sitting Cabinet minister, is challenging Mr. Getty.
The Conservatives have a solid hold on Alberta. All 21 federal members are Tories and the party holds all but 4 seats in the 79-seat legislature.
In Quebec the race for Mr. L'evesque's job is wide open. So far four men and one woman are in the running. It is estimated that there could be 11 candidates by Aug. 15, when the nominations close.
The front runner for the Sept. 29 leadership convention is Pierre-Marc Johnson, Quebec's minister of justice. Not yet 40, he has nine years' experience in the Cabinet. His father was premier of Quebec in the '60s. His brother is in provincial politics -- as a Liberal.
The new premier of Quebec will have to call an election almost immediately. It is thought that Mr. Johnson is the only candidate who would have a chance against the Liberals, who are far ahead in the polls.
Alberta and Quebec have been partners in confederation for 15 years. Alberta is almost totally English-speaking and Quebec is 82 percent French, but both have advocated provincial rights.
At federal-provincial meetings representatives of these two provinces are sometimes the loudest critics of the federal government.
The third big change has come in Ontario, where the Liberal Party is back in power this summer after being on the political back burner since 1943.
When Premier William Davis stepped down in January, he was the most popular politician in the province. His pragmatic rule had left Ontario with the strongest economy in the country. Bill Davis, a Conservative, preferred to get along quietly with the Liberal Trudeau.
Mr. Davis's successor, Frank Miller, went to the polls in May, and the Liberals scored an upset victory.
The new premier is David Peterson, whose government has had little impact so far except to embroil itself in a debate about government support for parochial schools.
In style though Mr. Peterson is different. Conservative premiers were solid small ``C'' rural men; Mr. Peterson is younger and more urbane.
The question is how will all these players mix together. The Trudeau years -- 1968 to '84 -- were marked by confrontation. The strong-willed prime minister had little patience for people who did not share his view.
Prime Minister Mulroney is conciliatory; some critics say he is trying too hard to keep everyone happy. But with three new provincial leaders to deal with by year's end, things could change. The best guess is that Quebec and Alberta will continue to be thorns in Ottawa's side, while Ontario will continue in its usual pliant role.