Who gains in Chrétien’s cabinet shuffle—and when will the PM call it quits?
Who gains in Chrétien’s cabinet shuffle—and when will the PM call it quits?
It all happened so fast. One day, the calming conventional wisdom around Ottawa was that things were getting back to normal after a fall packed with post-Sept. 11 turmoil. The next, an ambitious minister had quit, seven more were jettisoned from cabinet, 13 veterans had new jobs, and 10 newcomers were elevated to Parliament Hill’s most exclusive club. The capital was left jumpy, fretting over
the meaning of it all. But the architect of the upheaval, Jean Chrétien, couldn’t have looked more at ease with his handiwork. In fact, the Prime Minister was so confident of his control that he didn’t mind admitting all this might pave the way for his resignation—mind you, no earlier than next Christmas. He revealed at a news conference that he makes a habit of considering his future during year-end vacations in Florida. This year, he decided to stay. “Next year,” he mused, “I’ll take another holiday, and tell you what I intend to do.”
What he plans to do until then became clearer in last week’s recasting of the government. Chrétien promoted John Manley, formerly foreign minister, to a powerful new role as deputy prime minister. The move made this more than a mere shuffle—the daily routine at the very centre of power in the Prime Minister’s Office will change. Manley will step in to handle the day-to-day running of the government. And that leaves Chrétien, who turned 68 on Jan. 11, free to travel extensively abroad and to focus on a few files of select interest. “I wanted to take some weight off my shoulder a bit,” he said. “What is needed in a job like mine is to have time to reflect.” A reflective mood, foreign trips, a lighter burden—it all sounded like a politician looking to his legacy and preparing a statesmanlike exit. “Jean Chrétien has indisputable credentials on the domestic political stage,” said one senior Liberal. “He wants to show now that he’s able to operate as a leader on the world stage.”
The seed of Chrétiens new preoccupation with international affairs may have been planted last July. After attending the G-8 summit in Genoa, Chrétien had lunch in Rome with veteran diplomat
Robert Fowler, Canada’s ambassador to Italy. Fowler is a former Canadian representative to the United Nations, where he was a leading expert on Africa. According to one Liberal close to the Prime Minister, Chrétien found their lunch chat in Rome so compelling that the meeting led directly to Fowler’s appointment as his personal representative—or sherpa—for the G-8 summit at Kananaskis, Alta. Top item on the Kananaskis agenda this summer: an action plan for rich industrialized nations to help African countries with their crushing economic and social problems. Chrétien began putting his stamp on the file in last month’s budget by personally ordering that a new Africa Fund be set up with at least $500 million to start.
Installing Manley as his chief operating officer would, alone, not have been enough to clear Chrétiens desk for Africa and whatever else he decides to give attention to. The shuffle also got rid of some persistent headaches. Out went Alfonso Gagliano, the public works minister embroiled in fresh scandal over securing jobs and favours for friends, to a soft landing as ambassador to Denmark. Gone is Hedy Fry, whose run as multiculturalism and status of women minister was marred by a bizarre, blatandy untrue statement in the House about cross-burnings in Prince George, B.C. Most of the new faces look more likely to succeed, notably Bill Graham, a respected veteran MP who vaulted from the back benches to the Foreign Affairs post—an unheard-of promotion.
By far the most significant subtraction from cabinet came the day before the shuffle. Brian Tobin—industry minister, former Newfoundland premier, former Libf eral opposition Rat Packer, presumed I favourite of Chrétien—stunned all OtI tawa by quitting politics. In a news conference in St. John’s, where he shared TV time with his preternaturally poised wife, Jodean, Tobin cited a desire to spend more time with his family. Few were buying that as the whole story. Tobin had suffered a series of career setbacks. Last month’s budget stiffed him by giving barely token funding to his push to hook up every community in Canada to the high-speed Internet. His bid to rev up a leadership campaign machine for whenever Chrétien steps down was being hampered by rules that make it hard to sign up masses of new Liberals in Ontario, where front-runner Paul Martin has locked up most current members.
In short, Tobin was falling flat on policy
and spinning his wheels politically. His sudden withdrawal raised speculation about who Chrétiens favoured successor might be. Among the contenders, Tobin had been viewed as closest to the Prime Minister’s self-image. But Chrétien denied he falls prey to looking for his younger self among his would-be heirs. “Someday I will go and I’m telling you, I will not pick a successor,” he said. “Tell you why. Because you’re not a good judge, you want your successor to be like you and he’s not like you.” Certainly, nobody has ever seen much in common between Chrétien, the colourful populist, and Manley, the stolid straight-arrow. Still, that didn’t stop many observers from suggesting that Chrétien now wants to help Manley position himself to give Martin a run for his money.
But for Manley, 52, the ladder up looks to be missing a few rungs. His position now rivals Martin’s, but as Chrétiens standin, he will be called upon to defend the government in future scandals—and any past ones the Opposition can keep alive. And the sheer scope of his new role raises questions about how much time he’ll have to do the legwork that goes with winning rank-and-file support. “He’s going to be chained, not tethered, to his desk in Ottawa—he’s not going to be going to party barbeques,” predicted one Liberal. “The danger for him is that he becomes not a super-minister but a super-bureaucrat.”
Manley supporters, though, insist there’s no danger of him sinking into highpowered drudgery. They point to the timing of Chrétiens retirement as the key variable in assessing his chances. “People who are writing Manley off believe Chrétien is leaving soon and he’s not,” said one Liberal close to the cabinet’s man of the hour. “And Paul Martin is getting on.” Allan Rock, 54, cabinet’s other strong leadership hopeful, who moved to Industry from Health, also sees time working for him.
Martin is 63. He sat, grandly immovable, as just about everyone else was scrambling last week—the last minister still holding the same portfolio Chrétien assigned him in his inaugural cabinet back in 1993. There is no sign that Martin is losing his patience. As for the age question, over the past year Martin, previously not inclined to regular exercise, has begun working out in a gym with a personal trainer. His loyalists knew better than to risk aggravating Chrétien by speculating that 2002 might be his last full year on the job. But their guy is pumped. 03
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