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Paul Martin got what he wanted, so why does he look so glum?

JULIAN BELTRAME September 2 2002
Cover

GET READY, GET SET...NOOO

Paul Martin got what he wanted, so why does he look so glum?

JULIAN BELTRAME September 2 2002

GET READY, GET SET...NOOO

Cover

Paul Martin got what he wanted, so why does he look so glum?

JULIAN BELTRAME

BODY LANGUAGE never lies. And Paul Martin’s slumped shoulders, sagging cheeks, eyes wandering aimlessly side to side, told a different story from the fulsome praise he recited, as if by rote, for the man who had thwarted his ambition for years. Standing at the podium where Prime Minister Jean Chrétien only three hours earlier had announced he would be leaving office in February, 2004, the former finance minister gave little appearance of a man who had won a titanic power struggle. Fie had come to the Showdown in Saguenay to bury the Prime Minister. He ended up praising him. “An outstanding prime minister has just announced that he will step down,” Martin said at the Liberal caucus meeting. And he will be required to continue doing so, swallowing hard, for the next 18 months.

It was clear that Chrétien, if not having bested Martin as he did for the Liberal leadership a dozen years back, had at least managed to extract the biggest advantage from a hopeless predicament. As the Prime Minister, and many close to him, attested, Chrétien had never intended to contest another election. He would later say that he had confided to his wife before the 2000 election campaign, “That’s the last time.” So setting a retirement date only made it official, and spared him the embarrassment of having to submit to a humiliating leadership review in February he could not win. Even his most starryeyed admirers worried that a review, aside from splitting the party, would have done maximum damage to his legacy. “The vote of confidence was perilous for him,” Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said in an understatement.

MP, MINISTER OF FINANCE 1993-JUNE 2002

Three words-organization, organization, organization. OK, four words: money. No one else can match the Martin machine, which will be able to sell (is that buy?) more memberships, pack more riding association halls and babysit more delegates than anyone else. But he should get on a treadmill-some of his rivals have that lean and hungry look.

MINISTER OF FINANCE

He’s the Boss’s choice, so he starts off with the support of a sizable rump of Liberals who want to deny Martin the top job. He’ll also get a lot of TV time, but Manley must resist the pressure to beef up Chrétien’s legacy with a mountain of costly programs, or risk becoming the finance minister that spent Canada back into a deficit.

MINISTER OF INDUSTRY

Personable, Rock has held a number of key government posts and will likely appeal to social activists of the Liberal party. But he’s tended to be error-prone in every portfolio he’s held, and he also has a tendency to sound humourless and solemn in public appearances. In fact, he’s the exact opposite in private.

The decision had weighed on Chrétien for weeks. But in the last few days, say those close to him, it had become increasingly apparent the party he had devoted his life to was tearing itself apart—because of him. A loyalty letter designed to unmask the Martinites in caucus as a mutinous rump confirmed his weak position. Of 170 Liberal MPs, only 88 said they could be counted on to support Chrétien. Emboldened, Martinites waited to ambush the Prime Minister at Wednesday afternoon’s caucus meeting.

Lunching with his senior policy adviser Eddie Goldenberg at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel on Tuesday, the Prime Minister asked: “Should I do it tomorrow?” By then, the only question remaining about his retirement announcement, Goldenberg told Maclean’s, was whether to hold off another week or two. They decided to move immediately, in part to head off a raucous caucus meeting. That evening, after having flown to Saguenay, Chrétien phoned his wife Aline to tell her

his intentions. When the Prime Minister headed into caucus the next day, only a few knew about the political bombshell he was about to drop. “I have reflected on the best way to bring back unity,” he said. “To end the fighting. To resume interrupted friendships.” Some fought back tears, some were shocked, some Martinites realized the difficult task he had set for their champion.

The wounds won’t heal easily. “This has never happened before and it may take some time for people like me to calm down,” said Chrétien strategist Warren Kinsella. Peter Donolo, the Prime Minister’s former director of communications who had recently been conscripted to the cause, talked about rekindling friendships that had cooled. “You’re never going to have unanimity,” conceded Goldenberg, “but if you’re asking, ‘Are we going to have a happier family, now,’ absolutely.”

For Martin, last week’s tumultuous turn of events is a mixed blessing. He will now have an opportunity to run for the Liberal leadership and try to fulfill a frustrated family dream of becoming prime minister. But he is no longer in cabinet, and no longer at the epicentre of the government’s agenda, and 18 months is a long time to try to protect the sizable advantage he has doggedly laboured to build over the years. And the dangers for Martin, or the trap many believe Chrétien laid for his nemesis, are uncannily similar to those that ensnared Martin’s father

when he lost the Liberal contest to Trudeaumania in 1968.

Foremost is age. When the time comes to select Chretien’s successor, Martin will be 65, one year older than his father was when he lost to Pierre Trudeau. “People are looking for experience,” said Conservative strategist John Laschinger. “I don’t know that they are looking for a senior citizen.” And as with his father, Paul Sr., regarded as the father of Canada’s social safety net, the junior Martin’s biggest achievement—slaying the deficit dragon—may be too far into the past to be first in delegates’ minds.

Meanwhile, Martin’s younger rivals have been given ample time to shine. By February, 2004, Finance Minister John Manley will have tabled two budgets that may have established him as just as capable a manager of the public purse. Industry Minister Allan Rock, who was recently put in charge of infrastructure spending, will be travelling around the country delivering government largesse for new roads, public transit, sewers and urban renewal. And outsiders may be ready to step into the breach if Martin falters, particularly former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna and former Newfoundland premier and federal minister Brian Tobin.

Martinites admit it would have been preferable if the leadership convention came sooner rather than much later. The fear among some is that Martin may have peaked. An Ipsos-Reid poll published days before last week’s caucus meeting found that 78 per cent of Canadians would have voted to replace Chrétien, with Martin as the likely successor. And 45 per cent said their opinion of the deposed finance minister had improved over the summer months as opposed to only 16 per cent who said it had worsened. “For us, the best time to start the leadership race was yesterday,” said Michael Robinson, who was Martin’s campaign manager in 1990 and remains one of his key strategists. But Martin will not contest the timing set down by Chrétien, Robinson added—it would appear churlish, and he likely couldn’t win anyway. “I don’t think it’s a big problem for us,” Robinson said. “Paul has demonstrated that he can operate out of cabinet without any loss of stature with the electorate or Liberals.”

NEW BRUNSWICK PREMIER, 1987-1997

A natural and gifted politician, he’s shown he can smooth-talk both Main Street and Bay Street. But with no national organization, the former premier must decide quickly if he’s to have a chance. McKenna might be better off going to the Big Show first as a cabinet minister under Martin, then waiting for the next time to go for the leadership.

MINISTER OF JUSTICE

Best chance among the dark horses. Although he is largely unknown in English Canada, Cauchon is fast becoming a star in Quebec. He needs to brush up on his English diction. Still, someone’s already proven that being oratorically challenged, sometimes in both official languages, is no impediment to success in Canadian politics.

EX-NEWFOUNDLAND PREMIER, EX-FEDERAL MINISTER, EX-CAPTAIN CANADA

The “former” in all his credentials tells the story. A fiery, impassioned podium performer, he’s always been a crowd favourite. But the rap on Tobin is that he can’t stick it out and jumps too quickly to the next dazzling opportunity that presents itself. Also can’t speak French well.

Despite the many perils, Martin’s advantage remains formidable. His organization’s tentacles stretch from Newfoundland to British Columbia. He controls the executives of the vast majority of the 301 riding associations that will send delegates to the leadership convention. And then there is the money question. Laschinger says the longest leadership campaign he has worked on was the 10month marathon for Mike Harris in Ontario in 1989-1990: “It was difficult and expensive.” Here too, Martin is far ahead of his challengers. Although he has not revealed the size of his campaign chest, it is believed bigger than those of all the

MINISTER OF CANADIAN HERITAGE

She surprised many in 1990 with her freshness and energy, but Copps will fare worse this time around. Her record as a minister has been spotty at best and she’s no longer seen as having the gravitas needed for leadership. If she runs, it will only be to get the leverage to hold on to a cabinet portfolio under the new leader.

MINISTER OF NATURAL RESOURCES

He wants to run, but nobody can seem to figure out why. Dhaliwal has been a lacklustre minister, and the best that can be said is he hasn’t screwed up. He had the misfortune of being fisheries minister when Burnt Church, N.B. was, well, burning. Didn’t throw fuel on the fire, but didn’t douse it either. No profile, no organization, no chance.

other prospective candidates combined. And while Chrétien has yet to release his cabinet ministers from his May edict to cease campaigning, Martin has already made plans to travel across the country next month. “I wouldn’t worry about Martin being out of the limelight,” added Laschinger.

If Chrétien has succeeded in complicating matters for Martin, he has done no less for himself. Unity and discipline traditionally take a back seat when leading cabinet members are preoccupied with campaigning and viewing government initiatives through the prism of their leadership aspirations. But last week, Chrétien wasted no time in reminding his caucus he remains the boss. “People talk about lame duck,” he scoffed. “The president of the United States in the second term is a lame duck the first day [of his reelection].” But he continues to govern— to underscore his point, Chrétien warned cabinet ministers that if they feel constrained by the rules of campaigning he is laying out, they can always follow Martin’s lead-out of the cabinet. “There are lots of guys who want to take their place,” he noted. And he still holds the carrot of appointments. Several ministers close to Chrétien, notably House Leader Don Boudria and Transport Minister David Collenette, would likely not be included in a Martin cabinet and will be looking for a continued sinecure from the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, Chrétien has laid out an

ambitious agenda to keep the government’s eye on the ball. Uppermost is reform of Canada’s health-care system. Roy Romanow, head of a commission of inquiry, is expected to table his recommendations this November, and Chrétien has pledged to convene a First Ministers’ summit on the issue. Health Minister Anne McLellan has said she wants to move quickly on the Romanow report, stressing that it would be a matter of months rather than years, even though Manley has warned there may not be enough money in federal coffers. Chrétien also hinted strongly last week his government will ratify the Kyoto accord to curtail greenhouse gases. He also wants action on early childhood development and Aboriginal governance. Other initiatives: beginning the work of rebuilding Canada’s infrastructure, particularly as it relates to urban renewal, and setting a new conflict-of-interest code for MPs and cabinet. “There is no fighting on the program,” he stressed. “Absolutely none.”

In Chrétien’s mind, that should go some way in cementing a legacy that so far he’s had to share with Martin. The Prime Minister has always chafed at the perception that his finance minister was primarily responsible for bringing overdue sanity to the government’s finances, when he as prime minister signed off on all budget measures. Equally, Chrétien believes he has received only grudging credit for winning three majority governments, a feat critics assert could have been achieved by any credible Liberal leader given the disarray in the opposition parties. He has always been underestimated, said a confidant. But last week, Chrétien proved he has lost none of his vaunted touch for political tactics. “After 1990, the Martin people tolerated Jean Chrétien because they thought he was only going to be a transitional figure,” said one loyalist. “Now, here we are 10 years later, and at best what’s going to happen is that Martin will be the transitional prime minister until Liberals choose the next generation leader.” Little wonder Martin looked so glum last week—at the very moment he should have been smiling. 1^1

Should Jean Chrétien step down sooner than 2004? Vote on-line, www.macleans.ca