in Ottawa

On stay your set, marks, steady get now, set, hold that position for a year or two ... GO!

With Jean Chrétien gripping the starters pistol, the patience of Liberal leadership aspirants jostling for positions in the undeclared run for the Prime Ministers job is going to be sorely tested. The betting inside the party is that a leadership convention may be called as late as the spring of 2003. Yet as House of Commons business wound down before this weeks beginning of the MPs’ summer break, the held seemed to grow more crowded by the day.

Chrétien has been sending subtle—some might say confused— signals about the rules of engagement. Broadly speaking, the guidelines for cabinet ministers assessing their chances amount to

this: by all means, bloat up this summer by eating at barbecues attended by the party rank and file, but shirk your duties or, much worse, do anything that smacks of trying to hasten Chrétiens exit, and you will be punished.

1 he pack assembling for this political marathon is made up of three tiers—four if you think Paul Martin stands alone as the favourite. For those unwilling to concede him that big a lead, the finance minister is counted first in a trio, along with Allan Rock and Brian Tobin, of candidates genuinely running to win. Behind them is a cluster of credible figures assumed to be contemplating bids mainly to enhance their clout. Finally, there are the brave comefrom-way-behind hopefuls for whom running might be a way of promoting special policy interests—or just exercising their egos.

Macleans presents an early assessment of the field:



REP: Captain Canada

When Brian Tobin abandoned federal politics in

1996 to run his province, there were few doubts as to why. With Chretien settling in for the long haul, being Newfoundland premier seemed like a good place to build a separate political identity. He returned to the major leagues for last fall’s election assuming what everyone else did—that Chrétien would not seek a fourth term. Tobin and Rock are rivals for the party’s so-called social wing. Sources close to both say they have an informal understanding that if they finish second and third behind Martin on a first ballot, the third-place man will throw his support to the guy running second. But for

Tobin to be ahead of Rock, he will have to make up a lot of ground. Tobins organization is far weaker—and this is a battle to elect delegates at the riding level, not win over public opinion through the media. Then there’s the image issue: Tobin’s was fixed in the public mind during 1995’s fish war with Spain. But as Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day has learned the hard way, a gift for flashy photo-ops is not always the best way to look prime ministerial.



While nobody seriously questions that Martin has the best na-

tional organization, Rock’s network is also extensive. He is strong on his home turf of Toronto, and in Winnipeg and Vancouver. Surprisingly for this left-ofcentre contender, his strategists also insist he will show well in Alberta. Their reasoning: in Canadian conservatism’s heartland, anyone still a Liberal tends to be a true believer. Rock will present himself as a man who has stood up for those core party beliefs—as health minister, battling the provinces to maintain Ottawa’s mande as medicare’s champion, and before that, as justice minister, pushing through a gun-registration law that made him a prime target for attacks from the right. Yet Rock’s political persona is hardly that of a scrapper. His measured demeanour is not the style of a firebrand. Still, a top Rock strategist argues that he can “be

positioned as the agent of change,” while Martin is yesterday’s news—coarchitect of the three-term ChrétienMartin era.



REP: Deficit Slayer

He is so far ahead that his main problem might be the ten-

dency of crowds to cheer for an underdog. On the other hand, Liberals love a winner even more. The superficial take on Martin’s long tenure in Finance emphasizes the dramatic reversal of public-finance fortunes from crushing deficits to cushioning surpluses. If that were

Martin, Tobin and Rock are really in it to win. Others have different motives for running

all there was to his record, though, he would be far more vulnerable to being portrayed as nothing more than a tight-fisted business type. In fact, if Martin is the centre-right candidate, the accent falls far more on the centre than the right. His fiscal successes owe more to booming tax revenues than lowering the boom on spending. Insiders say his campaign will emphasize the more openhanded part of his legacy. Watch for a big focus on the way he enriched registered education savings plans in 1998. “I’m the guy who chipped in when you were saving to send your kids to university” sounds a lot better on the hustings than “I’m the guy whom bankers in New York and London adore because I balanced the books.”



REP: Western Credibility

If McLellan throws her hat in the ring—far from a sure

thing—it will be because Liberals persuaded her to show that their party has a presence in the West. She would have next to no hope of winning, but McLellan would not likely be embarrassed. The federal Liberals are, for the first time, choosing delegates on a proportional, rather than winner-

take-all, system. That means a candidate who can put up a good showing in a given region will send at least some delegates to the convention, even without winning outright in a single riding. The problem, to use the actors cliché, is figuring out McLellan’s motivation. After all, as the party’s Alberta

heavyweight, respected chairwoman of the cabinet social policy committee and a close ally of Martin to boot, McLellan has no need to shore up her position.

She is assured a big cabinet job for as long as she can keep getting re-elected. Still, should she run and perform well, McLellan might expect to reap two dividends: the party’s gratitude and an even better position in the Martin fold, if she could bring him western delegates and credibility on the convention floor.



REP: Ms. Volatility

Copps was a flamboyant performer in opposition as a member of the

Liberal Rat Pack, and then a prominent player in the first stint of the Chrétien government as deputy prime minister. Since then, however, her prominence has declined. Another run for the leadership (she was a contender in 1990 as well) would seek to shore up her status to secure a major role in the next Liberal regime. Yet some former Copps supporters are urging her privately not to run. At least one major regional organizer from Copps’s 1990 bid has already signed on to campaign for Rock. Still, a handful of loyalists have begun talking her up in recent weeks since she signalled her interest in a long-shot bid. “Sheila is very committed at this point,” said a Copps

strategist. But, he added, “we’re only in the qualifying heats now.” The same strategist said her campaign would present her as a champion of “making sure Canadian stories are told and heard”— touting the government’s recent commitment of $500 million to culture, from the CBC to the Canada Council, as primarily her accomplishment.


REP: High-tech, Low-profile

While his name has started pop-

ping up regularly in leadership

speculation, the Ottawa MP’s entry in

the race is by no means certain. To run, says Manley, he would need to be convinced he could win. “I’ve been minis-

ter of industry for seven years, now

minister of foreign affairs,” he says.

“What on earth would I gain by run-

ning and losing?” Maybe a chance next

time around. Manley is interestingly

positioned as the leading cabinet rival

to Rock and Tobin who tilts right

rather than left. Consider the long

view. Given his age, Martin might be a

one-term leader. If business-oriented

Ontario Liberals are looking to help

position a candidate who might deny

Rock or Tobin after Martin has his

turn, Manley might be their guy. But

that is several chess moves away, and

leadership politics is usually more like

checkers. So look for Manley to possi-

bly throw his support to Martin before

the convention. Then, he can perhaps

claim the job he covets—finance.