The Liberal government is backpedalling from its unpopular plan to rename Canada's highest peak after former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, seeking to defuse charges of arrogance on the eve of an election campaign.
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien had ignited a controversy by announcing that the government had, without consultation, decided to rename Mount Logan for Mr. Trudeau.
The reversal yesterday is just one of a series of moves the party will make this week in preparation for an election call expected on Sunday for a Nov. 27 vote. Mr. Chrétien will also visit the Governor-General's residence at Rideau Hall this morning to swear in former Newfoundland premier Brian Tobin as Industry Minister and move John Manley from that post, which he has held since 1993, to foreign affairs. Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy has already declared he won't run for re-election.
The Liberals yesterday announced the appointment of two high-profile candidates: Royal Bank of Canada economist John McCallum in the Toronto-area riding of Markham, and Vancouver lawyer Stephen Owen in Vancouver Quadra.
The Liberals will also be showcasing the party's economic platform. Tomorrow, Finance Minister Paul Martin will roll out what amounts to a minibudget, actually an "economic update," one that's expected to be loaded with pre-election favours like a capital gains tax reduction and some form of rebate to help lower-income consumers deal with high gas prices.
Mr. Chrétien's decision to elevate an unelected Mr. Tobin to cabinet and appoint Liberal candidates has left him open to charges of arrogance, something he is trying to avoid with the change of heart on Mount Logan.
While well ahead in the polls, the Liberals were clearly worried that mounting outcry over the unilateral decision to dethrone Sir William Logan, a surveyor who made the first geological maps of Canada in the 1800s, and rename the mountain after Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Chrétien's friend and predecessor, might grow into an election issue.
Just 10 days ago, Mr. Chrétien defended his snap decision to rename the peak after the recently deceased prime minister, insisting he had reason and right to do so in light of the massive outpouring of grief that followed Mr. Trudeau's death last month at age 80.
Yesterday in Question Period, Heritage Minister Sheila Copps directly contradicted what Mr. Chrétien had said in Vancouver, saying that the federal government had made only a recommendation to the Geographical Naming Board, which has always had the final say.
Outside the House, Ms. Copps suggested public opinion had given Mr. Chrétien a change of heart, although "it's not a question of appeasement," she insisted.
"The Prime Minister wants to make sure that any designation of Mr. Trudeau honours his memory and does not cause controversy," Ms. Copps added. "That's what we're looking at right now."
As the Liberals rev their engines, so are opposition parties. Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark plans to begin his campaign on Saturday, getting a one-day jump on the Prime Minister. Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day, who has been touring the country for the past week, won't begin his official campaign until Monday because he refuses to work on Sunday.