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OTTAWA — The strength of the peace movement in Canada was made apparent to Prime Minister Mulroney, Opposition Liberal leader John Turner and NDP leader Ed Broadbent in separate meetings with representatives of the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign (PPCC) on October 22.
All three party leaders agreed to meet with Peace Petition Caravan Campaign representatives on the strength of the 8-month campaign, which gathered over 430,000 signatures in over 200 communities across the country. (The confirmation that Prime Minister Mulroney would meet with PPCC representatives came from his office only on Friday afternoon, after the final signature total was known.)
The delegations to the leaders emphasized the strength gained by the peace movement in Canada, especially as a result of the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign. In particular, they stressed the extent to which the movement is endorsed by different types of organizations, most notably organized labour. PPCC representatives raised the points of the petition and the issue of Canadian support for a nuclear freeze. The manner in which the leaders viewed the peace movement and how they would deal with it in the future was also discussed.
The Prime Minister called the PPCC effort “impressive” and pledged an open and consultative relationship with peace groups.
PPCC representatives made it clear that they would continue to work for the program adopted by the PPCC but were not expecting immediate agreement from the government. They suggested to the Prime Minister that a signal of his true concern for peace would be a vote in support of the nuclear freeze motion at the United Nations in December.
Prime Minister Mulroney told the group that the appointments of Douglas Roche and Stephen Lewis were indicative of his policy as Prime Minister. “I made those appointments personally, and I did not consult with anyone,” the Prime Minister said.
Under questioning, the Prime Minister also revealed for the first time that he thought the Clark report on disarmament was excellent and that it would be released soon. He also stated that a white paper on defense would be developed through an open and consultative process.
John Turner also expressed recognition of the strength of the peace movement, but declined to comment on how he felt about the peace movement’s intervention in his election campaign. “It wasn’t the most reflective time of my life” he said.
When presented with evidence gathered by the Election Priorities Project, Mr. Turner acknowledged deep policy divisions within his party on the disarmament issue, and stated that a re-evaluation of his party’s program would be taking place.
Mr. Turner said he would continue to meet with peace groups in his riding, and agreed to encourage his MP’s and Liberal Party riding associations to do likewise.
The meeting with NDP leader Ed Broadbent focussed primarily on the petition’s call for a free vote on its demands. Mr. Broadbent said he felt that a free vote would let the other two parties off the hook, and would not adequately acknowledge the role of the NDP as a party. He stressed that the NDP was the only major political party to officially endorse the PPCC.
Mr. Broadbent did not substantially elaborate when asked what specifically the NDP would do in support of disarmament, but he did agree with the PPCC representatives that the government should be pressed on the United Nations freeze vote in December.
PPCC organizers were generally pleased with the results of the PPCC and the meetings. “Nobody expected the petition on its own to change policy immediately,” said PPCC coordinator Michael Manolson. “But the strength of the campaign has forced politicians to respond to us, and that is an important step in the work for peace.”
PPCC representatives also stressed that their meetings with the Ottawa politicians were in addition to, and not instead of extra parliamentary tactics.
The PPCC delegation included representatives from peace groups across the country, as well as Chaviva Hosek, president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women; Remi de Roo, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Dennis McDermott, president of the Canadian Labour Conference.
After. the meetings, the collected petitions were presented to Joe Clark, Minister of External Affairs, to Herb Gray of the Liberal Party and to Nelson Reece of the NDP. The three expressed recognition of the strength of the campaign and promised full cooperation in facilitating the formal presentation procedure in the House of Commons.