The Back Page

LEADER OF THE PACK

With Manley out, Martin’s focus shifts from campaigners to pragmatists

PAUL WELLS August 4 2003
The Back Page

LEADER OF THE PACK

With Manley out, Martin’s focus shifts from campaigners to pragmatists

PAUL WELLS August 4 2003

LEADER OF THE PACK

With Manley out, Martin’s focus shifts from campaigners to pragmatists

The Back Page

PAUL WELLS

DON’T CRY FOR John Manley. Last week the deputy prime minister finally ended his shambling campaign for the Liberal leadership. The scribes immediately wrote off his political career. Your average pundit is nothing if not predictable.

So what if Manley’s a bad campaigner? He’s a versatile, level-headed cabinet minister, which would make him rare as hen’s teeth in anyone’s government. He’ll be a handy guy to keep around. When you’re running a government department you’re not supposed to be running for higher office all the time too, although if there’s anyone in Ottawa who never figured that out, it’s Paul Martin. If Martin does celebrate his victory in the leadership race by dumping Manley from cabinet, he will be telling us worse things about his own judgment than about Manley’s competence.

The leadership campaign, to the dismay of some Martinites, continues. It would be easy to mock Sheila Copps for staying in the race, since she faces inevitable doom at November’s leadership convention. But of course Copps has every right to run. There are many good reasons for running even if you can’t win: to broaden the debate, test the eventual leader, give voice to the voiceless. Only in the Liberal Party of Canada would a candidate be forced to keep mum about such motives. This party fetishizes winning, so Copps has to pretend she expects to win. It makes her look even goofier than she otherwise would.

Her stubbornness offers this handy bonus: it’s a reminder to the gleeful Martinite hordes that not everyone will knuckle under to make life easier for the big guy. More such reminders are on the way.

Soon enough Martin will look back at the campaign with nostalgia. It was nice work while it lasted. He didn’t have to wear a tie, have an opinion or choose between factions in any number of nasty debates. Soon he will have to govern, and soon enough—whether in September or November or February really makes very little difference—he won’t

have Jean Chrétien to blame any more. Martin is starting to look like the dog that spends its life chasing cars, until one day it actually catches one. Suddenly the operative question is: Now what?

Precisely because that moment has arrived, a sea change is taking place in the Martin entourage. Campaigners are out. Governors are in. The hard men and the fast talkers who stacked meetings and sold membership forms—the guys who clinched Martin’s victory by making sure the other

candidates would have no hope of catching up—are nearing the end of their usefulness. The other night in a swank Bytown watering hole, I listened as a few of them traded war stories about a thousand organizational fights in a hundred riding associations. They swapped anecdotes about two campus organizers named—I could not possibly make this up—“Mookie” and “La Banane,” whose sales of membership forms, occasionally lubricated with beer, helped make Martin unbeatable among young Grits.

But now the work of people with names like Mookie is nearly done, and people with

names like Ralph Goodale are getting busier. The rise of Goodale shows that even a candidate who bills himself as a revolutionary needs to surround himself with pragmatists. It is a safe assumption the public works minister, a stone-faced Saskatchewanian who keeps a sharp sense of humour very well hidden, will be Martin’s deputy prime minister. Soon we’ll also be hearing from other names in the virtual Martin government, including Senator Jack Austin, a former principal secretary to Pierre Trudeau, who’ll keep the trains running for the new boss from his perch in the upper chamber.

The papers are already full of speculation that Maurice Strong, the millionaire environmentalist and businessman, will be on deck to help Martin implement his international agenda. Other key advisers, who’ll be only a phone call away even if Martin can’t lure them out of their office suites and into Ottawa cubbyholes, include Scotiabank chairman Peter Godsoe; Michael Phelps, former chairman of Westcoast Energy; and Peter Nicholson, all-star executive at a whack of corporations and NGOs.

One characteristic that distinguishes this emerging Martin kitchen cabinet is that it couldn’t possibly bear less resemblance to the braying pack of Ontario backbench Grit MPs who have been competing in their calls for Chrétien’s head. That lot—Dan McTeague, Roger Gallaway, Carolyn Parrish and a dozen more—are uniquely skilled at making a leader’s life hell. Nobody will be surprised when Martin re-evaluates their stock downward, now that he’s about to become the leader.

As luck will have it, the moment is coming when the whiners will get a chance to show they understand times have changed. The Liberal caucus will convene in North Bay, Ont., Aug. 19-21 for its annual retreat. In recent years, these meetings have been the forum for no end of backbench muttering about the inequities of life under Chrétien. This year’s will be the last such retreat Chrétien will ever chair. It will also be a chance for Martin to see which of his backbench colleagues are skilled in the arts of diplomacy, restraint and dignity.

A smart MP would be on his best behaviour. Given the number of smart MPs in this caucus, it’s safe to assume North Bay will be a circus.

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