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Canada's Turner

Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau steps down shortly. With the selection of John Turner as head of Canada's ruling Liberal Party, and thus prime minister, Canada should be able to make some changes in direction:

* Less government economic intervention. That is not to say that under Mr. Turner the Liberal Party will be less inclined to support large-scale social programs - one of the many differences between it and the opposition Progressive Conservative Party of Brian Mulroney. But the important point is that Mr. Turner is, like Mr. Mulroney, to the political right of Mr. Trudeau. Mr. Turner, a corporate attorney, favors less government intrusion in the economy and somewhat greater reliance on private-sector incentives.

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That seems essential for Canada at this juncture, what with a sluggish recovery that has not yet meaningfully reduced still high unemployment of over 11 percent.

At the same time, Mr. Turner's avowed goal of slashing in half Canada's large federal deficits (over $30 billion annually) is not only politically astute, depriving the Tories of a major issue, but sound policy as well.

Canada needs a burst of entrepreneurship and growth in smaller and medium-sized firms, a goal that has to an extent been made difficult by the high degree of governmental bureaucracy and extensive social-spending programs under the Trudeau government.

* Somewhat closer commercial and political ties with the US. Again, it is the degree of ties that is at issue. Mr. Trudeau stressed Canada's ''independence'' from the US, expanded his nation's relations with the third world, and was tireless in promoting nuclear disarmament and greater US-Soviet cooperation.

These policies, although muted somewhat, will most likely continue in place after Mr. Trudeau steps down. The upshot of the policies in recent years, however, has been an often tenuous if not strained relationship between Mr. Trudeau and US presidents.

Mr. Turner will be no less the Canadian nationalist than Mr. Trudeau. But in tone he is far less acerbic. And he has said that maintaining cordial relations with the US is a major priority.

The change in tone comes at a good moment. It is essential that Canada and the US reach an agreement to control acid rain. Such an agreement may be more possible under a Turner government.

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Mr. Turner can also be expected to promote - and even expand - trade between the US and Canada. Canada exports some $52 billion worth of goods annually to the US. Yet, with protectionist sentiments growing in the US, that export trade south of the border needs to be strengthened and enlarged.

The Liberals are now in their final year of rule before a national election is required. According to two recent Gallup polls, the liberals are at last in front of the Tories - partly in anticipation of Mr. Turner's selection as Liberal Party leader this past weekend - the first time the Liberals have been out front in 21/2 years. Will Mr. Turner (who does not himself have a seat in Parliament) set an election for this summer to continue the momentum of the past few weeks? Late summer or late autumn are possible dates.

What does seem certain is that no matter who wins the general election - Mr. Turner or Mr. Mulroney - Canada appears headed to the political and economic right after Mr. Trudeau's long leadership.

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