THEEDITOR'SLETTER

THE MIGHTY ARE FALLING

We didn’t anticipate the Liberal collapse. But then we didn’t really know Paul Martin.

KENNETH WHYTE April 25 2005
THEEDITOR'SLETTER

THE MIGHTY ARE FALLING

We didn’t anticipate the Liberal collapse. But then we didn’t really know Paul Martin.

KENNETH WHYTE April 25 2005

THE MIGHTY ARE FALLING

We didn’t anticipate the Liberal collapse. But then we didn’t really know Paul Martin.

THEEDITOR'SLETTER

A MERE SIXTEEN MONTHS AGO, it looked as though the Liberals would rule Canada forever. Conventional wisdom was that we were a one-party state. None of the opposition parties had a hope of breaking the Liberal monopoly, especially with the impressive Paul Martin replacing Jean Chrétien. I recall meeting organizers of the Canadian Alliance, one of whom called another a fool for suggesting they could force the Grits into a minority

government in just five or six years. Serious political commentators opined that we needn’t worry about the lack of a viable opposition in Ottawa—voters could pick and choose between various Liberal factions, and that would suffice.

Of course, all of that thinking exploded during last year’s election. It was quickly replaced by a new line: minority parliaments need not be unstable. A steady hand like Paul Martin, we were told, could easily steer through three or four years of government before returning to the polls. That one began to wear thin months into his tenure. It gave out entirely last week when opinion polls showed Liberal support sinking in the wake of revelations at the Gomery inquiry, and all Ottawa was atwitter with election speculation.

The Liberals now look more vulnerable with each passing day. The Gomery inquiry, as political ethicist Andrew Stark says (page 34), is revealing “a perfect storm” of moral, legal and institutional breakdowns. Martin has not been directly implicated, but his obvious evasions aren’t sitting well with outraged Canadians. Why was a man who promised to get to the bottom of this mess refusing last week to answer direct questions about his dining companions?

A deeper problem still for the Liberals is that Martin has proved a blitheringly ineffectual leader. Ottawa Bureau Chief John Geddes recounts how the Prime Minister has failed to set clear priorities while surrounding himself with weak ministers and suffocating his government beneath a blanket of worthless process (page 20). He is not the man Canadians thought they were electing. His government will be very lucky to see autumn.

The new conventional wisdom is that the Tories won’t gain much from the Liberals’

Stephen Harper hardly comes across as lovable, but then many more chips are waiting to fall his way

decline. It has been widely noted that disenchanted Grits are parking their votes with the New Democrats rather than with the official opposition. Tory leader Stephen Harper is seen by many as extreme and shifty. The man with the “hidden agenda,” we are told, can do no better than a narrow minority next time out.

Harper hardly comes across as lovable, and moves like last week’s flip-flop on Kyoto don’t enhance his reliability. But many more chips are waiting to fall his way. The Gomery show has weeks left to run. A public accounts committee is beginning to dig into the apparent shenanigans of some of Martin’s closest associates. The Liberals are about to launch a blizzard of hasty initiatives to distract attention from these inquiries—a risky strategy for a government that can’t formulate policy when the pressure is off. The new conventional wisdom may be just as bankable as the old.

NOTE: This is the first editorial I’ve written since my appointment to Maclean’s several weeks ago. I don’t expect to use this column regularly. I hold publishing as well as editing duties at the magazine, and my schedule, as things stand, can’t accommodate a weekly writing assignment. Meanwhile, we will keep you abreast of developments at Maclean’s through Behind the Scenes, and use this space to bring you more of the original reportage that has always been the back-

bone of the magazine.

KENNETH WHYTE