The next prime minister?

Allan Fotheringham December 24 2001

The next prime minister?

Allan Fotheringham December 24 2001

The next prime minister?

Allan Fotheringham

The foreign ministers office has the best view in the nations capital, John Manleys huge corner office in the Lester B.

Pearson Building at 125 Sussex Drive overlooking the grand sweep of the Ottawa River onto the Gatineau Hills of Quebec. Alongside his computer is a kitschy mother-of-pearl re-creation, “Bethlehem 2000”—a gift from Yasser Arafat that is even more amusing, confesses the recipient, since the giver had given the same gift as a present a year earlier.

When did you decide you wanted to become prime minister?

“I haven’t decided that I don’t. I haven’t decided that I do. I probably will be on the ballot, but you know I’m not compelled to do it. I have a life.”

Napoleon said that in every French soldier’s knapsack was a marshal’s baton.

“John Crosbie was more colourful. He said that anyone who had anything between their ears wanted the top job.”

Well, surely when you enter politics, you would like to get to the top. Isn’t that a natural ambition for a capable person?

“You know that wasn’t sort of my walk through life. I mean, I was interested in politics since I was small, but I’m not quite so driven to feel that I had to have the top job. I think I have the possibility of achieving it and am going to do what I need to do to be able to make that choice when the time comes. But I do really mean that I have a life and I can be quite happy without it. I have had the last two months of having the RCMP with me all the time. I am not sure I enjoy being under house arrest.” Speaking of your other life, when did you start to run?

“I became really serious about it three years ago. I was 49 and I couldn’t afford a sports car and I thought—I want to run a marathon. So I bought good shoes and I got into a training program and I am bloody-minded enough that I decided that I would do it.”

Was the New York Marathon the first one?

“No, my third one. I’d just been in the Middle East for seven days. But I figured that I had to do something to maintain fitness and having the discipline of facing a marathon is a good way to make yourself roll out of bed in the morning when you would otherwise not want to.”

Your predecessor, Lloyd Axworthy, was the advocate of the “soft-power” philosophy. L take it you don’t agree with that?

“Well, I am not quite sure what the definition is, but I think a country’s influence in the world has to do with a combination of things. One element of it clearly is diplomatic skills. Another element of it is overseas development assistance, the money you put into solving the world’s problems. I believe a third element is what I guess you could call hard power—and you need a combination of all three. We have had to put ships and people’s lives on the line in the conflict.”

But the auditor general has just said your troops are badly equipped to do the job. Her report was pretty devastating.

“Well, there is no doubt we are going to have to put money into defence. We are also going to have to persuade Canadians that this is something that we need to do.”

You don’t think the public has a perception now that the military forces we have are undermanned, badly equipped?

“I don’t know if I have seen any polling of what the public perception is. What I know is that when you ask people what their priorities for government spending are, defence doesn’t rank that highly, neither does foreign aid, neither does diplomacy for that matter.”

Now Russia has been brought into the NATO 19, making it the so-called 19-plus-one. Was Canada one of the inventors, the big pushers of that?

“I’m told that we sort of launched it and a paper that our people put together and circulated at NATO back in November was sort of the first thing that started this.”

But if some of y our diplomats were thefirst to push this—you ’re the boss of all the diplomats. Wouldn’t it have to flow from you?

“Yes, I’m responsible for it. It wasn’t my idea, is what I am saying. I won’t take credit for it. I will take the blame for it.”

Speaking of the leadership, do you have an organization, people out there raising money, like everyone else is?

“There are people urging me to run. But we haven’t tried to take over the Manitoba Young Liberals or anything like that. To my knowledge, nobody has collected money. I think it’s still too soon. I mean, if it happens tomorrow, then I am not ready, but I think this is still a good distance out in the future and there are some people who tell me they can raise money and I will have to test that out because I don’t have money of my own to burn.” ES]