About the author
|The author, a retired career diplomat, served as minister-counselor for political affairs at the U. S. embassy in Ottawa during the mid-1990s and has retained his close interest in Canadian politics. Mr. Jones has published previously on the topic in American Diplomacy. He holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. Ed.|
In contrast, Preston Manning appeared to be a man with a plan. Step by step, he was moving to transform his rather rough-hewn creation, the Reform Party, into an organization with sufficient polish to play on the Toronto stage and not just in church basements in Wild Rose, Alberta. In effect the operation was a success, but the patient died; Mannings new creation, the Canadian Alliance, rejected him for the former Alberta finance minister, Stockwell Day. In the end, Manning was too convincing: the logic that a new party with a new direction needed a new leader was compelling.
Indeed, Day was much that Manning was not: telegenic, media savvy, quip quick, and French speaking. His coming confrontation with Chretien looked like an adroit juxtaposition between the boomer generation and "yesterdays man," with "time for a change" a powerful theme. If the new Alliance program was not quite the old garbage in a new dumpster, at least with a new trash collector, it projected the potential for appeal beyond the West. While only the most convinced Alliance spinmeisters hypothesized an Alliance victory in the next election, many observers (including Liberal MPs) believed the Liberals would take significant losses, perhaps even being forced into a minority government.
A Different Reality in 2001
The Liberals: The Pleasures of Victory
Nor, on the other hand, is the Canadian electorate crying out for action. If no longer quite the very best of good times, the economy remains strong and recession (given prospective U.S. economic recovery) looks avoidable. Finance Minister Paul Martin errs only on the side of prudence, and tax cuts coming on line combined with reserve funds retained for possible pump-priming expenditures provide further economic stimulus. The societal problems are those of privileged societies: How to manage health care costs for the aging boomer generation? How to respond to the increasingly strident claims for economic benefits from "First Nations"? How to improve the quality of education at all levels to match the prospect of sophisticated technological needs for later in the 21st century? While these are real problems, they are not those that will bring the citizenry to a boil let alone to the barricades.
The security of power, however, leads to its own frustrations. With no real external challenges, the Liberals have the luxury of internecine backbiting. Every caucus has its "ins" and its "outs." The "outs" in the Liberal caucus know that they will never get to front bench, ministerial status as long as Chretien is in power; for various reasons, they have offended him or his coterie (or convinced them that they do not have the competence for higher position). These "outs" rarely agree with a negative evaluation of their talents, e.g., the failed multi-time minister Diane Marleau, or know that their differences are irreconcilable, e.g., Joe Volpe or Tom Wappel and resent endless years of back bench "trained seal" activity. Consequently, they have turned to alternative potential party leaders, the most obvious of whom remains Paul Martin.
The rivalry between Chretien and Martin, dating from Chretiens leadership victory in 1990, has never been resolved. Martin, at sixty-two only a few years younger than Chretien, is clearly ready for top leadership; popular within the party, intelligent, and accomplished, most believe he would be an effective prime minister. Additionally, Martin reportedly is concerned with the current ethical level in government and would seek a cleansing; however, he is practical as well as principled. Privately, he has been quoted as saying that it is necessary to do the wrong thing twenty-five percent of the time in order to do the right thing the other seventy-five percent.
But equally obviously, PM Chretien has shown no interest in retiring. And likewise, Martin realizes that neither directly challenging Chretien nor departing from politics is any answer. Departing would be snidely characterized as "going away mad" and be a fast track to nowhereas evidenced by former Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthys disappearance from effective versus visible political life. There are no shortage of next generation alternatives to Martin (Health Minister Alan Rock; Foreign Minister John Manley; Industry Minister Brian Tobin) should he abdicate from the day-to-day cultivating of his supporters. Moreover, to be fair, the internal sniping and media leaks appear more an exercise by supporters than principals. Although the Prime Minister is persistently reported to believe that Martin is "soft" on Quebec sovereignty issues, that issue is now quiescent if not solved. Moreover, he has not humiliated Martin on finance-related issues in the manner in which Chretien himself was humbled by Pierre Trudeaus announcement in 1978 of a $2 billion cut in federal expenditures about which Chretien knew nothing until Trudeau announced it. Although their relationship is hardly chummy, Chretien did not hesitate to co-opt Martins popularity in Quebec during the election campaign with several carefully calculated political commercials. For his part, Martin participated vigorously, concluding that anything less than a full effort could leave him blamed for a Liberal defeat. Everyone recognizes that the good soldier, even if an old soldier, often gets rewarded in the end.
Does the "Grand-Mere Affair" Mean Anything?
The controversy has been the primary element in Canadian politicssubsumed only by the election campaignfor over eight months. Following the election, Tory party leader Joe Clark refurbished his reputation for parliamentary effectiveness by days of persistent questioning on the topic. Nevertheless, there are strong indications that the Canadian population is unconvinced that there is any fire, despite the clouds of smoke. Polls suggest that while they would support an independent inquiry into the issues, they believe the country should "move on," and the Prime Ministers popularity has not suffered.
So is there a "there" there? In U.S. terms, if the President repeatedly called his political appointee at a major financial institution to urge a loan for an unqualified applicant, public criticism would be intense. But Canada is not the United States. Indeed, the worst the prime ministers ethics counselor could say was that there was no law against Chretiens action (although perhaps there should be), and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found no reason for legal action.
The most plausible explanation is a construct from available information. One Liberal insider close to the prime minister said that Chretien had made comparable telephone calls throughout his political career; he regarded them as normal exercises in constituent support for an MP and sees no reason to apologize for what has been lifetime policy. (A comparably placed Tory contended that Joe Clark would never have made such calls; Brian Mulroneys staff would have intervened comparably but made sure that Mulroney was protected from any formal knowledge.) Simultaneously, Chretien anticipated a tough electoral fight against a BQ opponent in his Shawinigan riding in 1997 and was directing various grants to his constituents benefit. Hence, more HRDC money to Shawinigan than to all of Alberta and preventing the Grand Meres bankruptcy was just another item on the list of why voters should reelect Jean Chretien.
The paperwork associated with Chretiens sale of his golf course interest appears more problematic albeit less meaningful. The official bill of sale is remarkably casual for an agreement between two lawyers over a substantial sum of money. Likewise, the perceptible backstage flailing to locate a substitute purchaser seems designed to rationalize away a technical financial reporting error on the status of an outstanding debt, i.e., money owed the prime minister for the sale of his share in the golf course. Given the complexities of almost any financial transaction, let alone those associated with blind trusts, it is easy to hypothesize inattention on the part of the prime minister who after all had a country to run. PM Chretiens problems appear less the magnitude of his sins, either of omission or commission, than his absolute refusal to admit the slightest scintilla of errora position that convinces his enemies that there is more to be found and irritates supporters who wish that stubborn pride had an earlier limit. But in essence, Grand Mere appears more on the level of "Whitewater" than "Watergate."
So When Does the Prime Minister Retireor Does He?
Nor is there any indication that he has other unmet objectives in life. He is not mega wealthy, but he is certainly as well cushioned financially as he desires. Although intelligent, he is hardly an intellectual; there is no heavily-footnoted, six-volume series on How I Saved Canada and Solved My Crabgrass Problem burning to be written. If he wants to write Straight from the Soul, he can bring back his previous ghost from Heart. Likewise, there is an upper limit to the amount of time even the most doting grandfather wishes to spend with his childrens children. And the PM is hardly limited in the amount of golf he can play on virtually any course around the world (and probably get better tee times as an active rather than a former prime minister).
So will he ever go? Some simply appear resigned, taking a "Hell go when he goes" approach. Others pore over various possible bench mark dates in 2003 when he will mark the fortieth anniversary of his first election to parliament and his tenth year as prime minister. The sanguine hope that the leadership review conference now scheduled for February 2003 will be the point when he announces that he will retire. Others remember semi-public statements that he only wanted to lead Canada into the twenty-first century or just sought a third consecutive electoral victory. They note his jocular (?) references to the advanced age of Louis St. Laurent who won his first majority when older than Chretien is now-and then won another majority four years later. Certainly, Chretien is a contrarian and reportedly he determined to remain as PM and run again virtually in rebellion against pressure from Martin supporters to retire. But now his critics (and those who simply believe that he has had his turn at bat) glumly conclude that he can remain until he decides otherwise; one commented "Hell go only when everyone has decided that he will stay."
The Alliance Meltdown: A Political Chernoble for Stockwell Day
Although Days sternest critics are doubtless the MPs who supported Reform leader Preston Mannings effort to create the Canadian Alliance (CA) and become its leader, it is too facile to dismiss Days critics as revanchist Manningites. Indeed, they accept albeit reluctantly, that Manning will never lead the party again and that he is determined to retire at the end of the year to take up new options in another life. CA leaders such as Chuck Strahl, Grant McNally, and Deborah Grey certainly regretted Mannings defeat, but recognized that he had been beaten "fair and square" and that Day had a popular mandate from Alliance members to be leader. Their decision to step down from leadership positions along with the resignation of Days chief of staff, Ian Todd, although providing a prima facia case of calculated coordination, has been convincingly described by CA insiders as individually motivated and, in the case of Deborah Grey, virtually spontaneous. Certainly it was costly for Strahl who lost $24,000 by stepping down from his House Leader position. According to one senior Alliance MP, they felt "sullied" by their continued association with Day for whom they had lost all respect and whose leadership they concluded could not be redeemed.
In this regard, they cite Days apparently endless errors: a leader-centered, error-filled election campaign; his failure to reach out beyond lip-service to others beyond his immediate circle of family and intimate advisers; his extremely expensive legal costs paid by the province of Alberta stemming from criticism he made of a lawyer for defending a pedophile; his confusion over whether or not he met/hired a private investigator to seek "dirt" on the Liberals; and undisciplined criticism of the motives of the judge who authorized the seizure of BDC documents from its former bank president. Day appeared at that point to have exceeded the apocryphal diplomatic efficiency report judgment that, "This officer never makes the same mistake twice; he appears, however, to have made them all once."
Musing over the willingness of so many Alliance members to drop a newly elected leader, one observer noted that many CAers are farmers and small businessmen; entrepreneurial realities force them to make quick decisions and change course to fit new circumstances. In contrast parties such as the Liberals and NDP are heavily staffed by government and union officialsindividuals who are with organizations for the long haul and know they can survive a mediocre leader.