The Back Page

THE PM’S EXIT STRATEGY

There’s no one to blame for the downward spiral but Paul Martin himself

PAUL WELLS June 21 2004
The Back Page

THE PM’S EXIT STRATEGY

There’s no one to blame for the downward spiral but Paul Martin himself

PAUL WELLS June 21 2004

THE PM’S EXIT STRATEGY

The Back Page

There’s no one to blame for the downward spiral but Paul Martin himself

PAUL WELLS

DEAR PRIME MINISTER:

First an apology. Last autumn you titled your acceptance speech at the Liberal leadership convention “Making History.” I found it a gassy title for a vapid speech, and I made skeptical noises. I shouldn’t have. You are in danger of a momentous defeat and you seem determined to go out with unprecedented lack of class. It’s not the kind of history you meant to make, I suppose, but one must make whatever mark one can. Even if it is a crater.

Yet not all is lost. This tactic of scaring Canadians about Stephen Harper is working, at

least a bit. I’ve been getting e-mail from readers, in increasing amounts as the campaign progresses, saying, in effect: that’s enough. It’s great fun embarrassing the Liberals, but now it’s time to stop the Conservatives.

A Montreal musician of my acquaintance wrote the other day, “Dude: I have to vote for [Jean] Lapierre”—the Liberal candidate in Outremont—“and not happy about it. I predicted 2 years ago that Martin would be another John Turner. But that pro-life loving, gay-hating alternative has to be stopped.”

I get more and more such letters from my readers, Prime Minister, and since your campaign has deteriorated into a non-stop rant about the Harper party, one assumes this news cheers you up. Which therefore means I probably shouldn’t have told you.

The last thing you need is to cheer up. What you need is to give your head a shake.

For every Canadian willing to be conscripted into a fear campaign against the Conservatives, there are others who are refusing to vote Liberal because they know you would take each vote as an endorsement of your appalling behaviour over the last few years.

There is a steadily growing portion of the Canadian public for whom the problem is not Jean Chrétien, or 10-year itch, or the profoundly limited charms of your senior campaign advisers. The problem is Paul Martin.

It’s a bit rich to watch you go down fight-

ing on grand principles like gay rights, choice in abortion, national unity and an independent foreign policy when for half a decade you cultivated as much ambiguity as possible on each of those issues.

Gay marriage? You’re the guy who amended the Supreme Court reference on gay marriage, buying a half-year delay, so you could avoid fighting an election on the issue.

Iraq? We have cozy little conventions in the Ottawa press gallery that forbid me from naming the Martin adviser who explained to me, on the eve of the Iraq war, why Jean Chrétien was wrong to sit the war out.

National unity? Give me a break. In 1990 Jean Lapierre quit the Liberal Party of Canada only after he had watched his preferred candidate—you—lose the leadership. Then he helped form the Bloc Québécois. The problem is not so much that he flirted with separatism. If solid convictions had driven that conversion or bought him his return tick-

et to federalism, they could be explained. The problem is that his allegiance to party and country spun like a weather vane. He is as shallow as a paint tray. You never cared. All that mattered was that he was your pal.

And good things happen to Paul Martin’s pals, don’t they? It must have been hard to run a campaign against cronyism while the people who ran your leadership campaign—John Bethel, Bill Cunningham, Dennis Dawson, Ruby Dhalla—kept magically discovering that nobody opposed them for Liberal nominations. It must be hard to claim you are getting to the bottom of the sponsorship scandal when the only bottoms that wind up on the line belong to friends of Jean Chrétien.

In your eagerness to admit others’ mistakes but not your own—what Andrew Coyne called your fondness for the theya culpathere’s a lack of adult responsibility. In your fondness for the artfully tailored talking point, designed to get you out of a scrum by saying as little as possible, there is a lack of adult respect for your audience. Us. The Canadian electorate.

You had more than a year after you stagemanaged your dismissal from cabinet to tell Canadians your plans for government. You decided not to risk it. You came to power without an agenda, confident you could find one after we re-elected you. You wonder why we won’t buy grand promises about a Paul Martin government. The answer is simple: we’ve seen one. It wasn’t that great. It left people with no feeling that anything will be lost if you go away.

You may yet scare enough Canadians into re-electing you. But frankly, sir, that’s not the way to bet it. So it’s time to put your dreams of a decade in power on hold. You may enter the history books sooner, like in two weeks. Which raises a question: how do you want history to remember your last two weeks in public life? M

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