ON THE ISSUES

PEACEMAKER POLITICS

Yes, Martin won the election, but he still has to win over a divided Liberal party,Mary Janigan August 16 2004
ON THE ISSUES

PEACEMAKER POLITICS

Yes, Martin won the election, but he still has to win over a divided Liberal party,Mary Janigan August 16 2004

PEACEMAKER POLITICS

Yes, Martin won the election, but he still has to win over a divided Liberal party

ON THE ISSUES

Mary Janigan

DURING THOSE grim days of 1917 when the horrors of the First World War had sapped the zeal of aspiring volunteers, Sir Robert Borden’s Conservative government reluctantly turned to conscription. To bolster his position, Borden invited Liberal leader Sir Wilfrid Laurier to join a coalition government. Mindful of Quebec’s opposition to forced enlistment, Laurier demurred. But his English Canadian colleagues were not so constrained: many, with the notable exception of William Lyon Mackenzie King, streamed across the floor to Borden’s “Unionist” ranks. The Liberal party disintegrated. But not for long. By December 1921, King was the new PM of a Grit minority government.

The wily Liberals had patched up their rifts. “That was a much more serious division than exists now,” says Queen’s University political studies expert Hugh Thorburn. “But King pulled them together very quickly. It didn’t take long before the old dispute was forgotten.” So will the current rift between the Paul Martin crowd and everyone else heal rapidly? After all, prior to the election, insular Martinites had ignored fellow Grits with ill-concealed disdain. And that dangerous sense of “us” and “them” still persists. Thorburn is blunt: “I don’t recall a case of such a flagrant and publicized row continuing after one person had clearly won the leadership.”

The Martin group is confident such tensions are already dissipating. The neardeath experience at the polls lured many offended Grits back into the fold. The PM has a clear mandate to act in at least three areas with wide appeal

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The Prime Minister should create a highly visible advisory board to reach beyond his insular inner circle for advice

to party members: health, cities and child care. His decision to put staunch Quebec federalist Stéphane Dion back in cabinet has somewhat placated ruffled loyalists of former PM Jean Chrétien. And, perhaps most importantly, there is no clear aspirant for Martin’s job. (Some key followers of former leadership contender John Manley have quietly drifted away, keeping their options open for the next contest.)

But Martin is not out of the woods. “He is surrounded by conflict,” says another Queen’s policy expert, Kathy Brock. “There is conflict within the party—and confrontation with the bureaucracy and the premiers.” Martin should move fast to heal party and caucus wounds. He should create a highly visible advisory board to reach beyond his insular inner circle for expert advice. And he should involve offended bureaucrats in change—instead of forcing it upon them. “He has to manage out of this situation,” she warns. “Or he will be besieged.” The PM seems to get the fact that this is no ordinary, indolent summer lull: he has quietly given his blessing as the party takes steps to revitalize itself. Prior to the next Liberal convention, which should be held in late 2005, there will be a series of regional policy meetings, culminating in convention resolutions. (There will also be a vote on Martin’s leadership.) “The party has to go through both renewal and healing,” says former president Stephen LeDrew. “We are nearing the end of history for Liberal social policies from the 1960s and 1970s: many have been achieved. So where do we go from here? The party has to regenerate itself.” For Martin, this is a chance to be part of the solution to problems he helped to create. For the party, this is a lifesaver: with or without its new PM and his coterie, it is once again cobbling itself together. [?]

Mary Janigan is a political and policy writer. mary.janigan@macleans.rogers.com