For diehard Liberals it threatens to be the equivalent of a rainy parade, mumps on your birthday and a Christmas without snow-all rolled into one. Jean Chrétien’s lockdown of the none-too-covert race to succeed him as leader appears to have deprived party members across the country of their annual chance to press the flesh with the stars of his cabinet.
In recent years, local Liberal riding associations have seen the cachet of their summer golf tourna-
ments, corn roasts and barbecues immeasurably enhanced as Ottawa heavy hitters like Paul Martin, John Manley, Allan Rock and Sheila Copps criss-crossed the country lining up support. But the Prime Minister’s Queeg-like efforts to quell dissent have left many ministers reluctant to commit to the barbecue circuit, lest they be perceived as plotting mutiny. And while the media and public might count themselves lucky to be spared the sight of doughy politicos in Dockers
and golf shirts duffing their way to the 19th hole, many riding executives are not happy. “There was a chance that maybe Manley or Sheila Copps was coming,” says Phil Mooney, the organizer of a “Grit Golf, Auction and Supper” in Yarmouth, N.S. “But not anymore, with all this big kerfuffle in Ottawa.” The only minister now scheduled to attend is Robert Thibault, the local MP and guest of honour.
Ernest Lustig, the riding association president in Toronto’s York West district, says he’s still hopeful that a “Cocktails with Cabinet” evening scheduled
for June 18 will live up to its billing. “June is always a bad month anyway,” he says. “But we’ll have a good representation." Lustig also intends to extend a special invitation to Paul Martin. “It’s time for a change,” he says flatly.
Still, the fallout from the party’s power struggle won’t be felt everywhere. Herb Ibbotson says the Liberal events he organizes in Hagersville, Ont.-remembered as the scene of Canada’s worst-ever tire fire-have always been a tough sell to the Ottawa glitterati. This year’s barbecue will have a strongturnout,
but probably no ministers, unless Jane Stewart or Gar Knutson, who have neighbouring ridings, drop by. And even though he counts himself as a Martin supporter, Ibbotson says it’s probably a good thing that someone is finally reining in the leadership candidates. “Liberals don’t assassinate our prime ministers in public,” he says. “We leave that kind of thing to the Conservatives.” Jonathon Gatehouse
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