Tag Archives: Paul Martin

Stars Aligned for Martin to Pull a Trudeau

By Jason Menard

Is it fair to say that Paul Martin got Kim Campbelled? And since we’re looking at former Prime Ministers, with a minority government always a sketchy and short-lived proposition, will he be able to pull a Pierre Trudeau and rise to power for one last legacy-making tour of duty?

As the Liberal leadership race slowly trudges along, time is running short for a suitable candidate to step to the fore. Big names like Frank McKenna and John Manley dropped out early in the process; others have question marks attached to their names – such as Michael Ignatieff, Belinda Stronach, and former Ontario NDP leader Bob Rae; and others, like Joe Fontana, David McGuinty, and Ken Dryden may choose to play the long-shot role in a wide-open race.

But time is not on the Liberals’ side. And if Stephen Harper attempts to be too aggressive with his budget and force a non-confidence vote, Canadians could find themselves heading back to the polls for the third time in two years. And, for Martin, the third time may prove to be the charm.

After 10 years of waiting – with a couple in exile – and a stellar reputation as a tough, but fiscally prescient, finance minister, Martin swam up to the head seat in the wake of Jean Chrétien’s departure from the PMO. Of course, as we found out, the waves created by the Chrétien government ended up drowning Martin and served as the anchor that dragged him and his party down.

Like Kim Campbell, who’s known less for being the first female Prime Minister, and more for being the final nail in the Progressive Conservative party’s coffin, Martin will be remembered for the brevity of his political reign. His entire Prime Ministerial legacy will be defined by his predecessor’s actions and how they stained his tenure.

That is, unless he gets another chance. If an election is called sooner than later, the Liberal Party might have to look to its past to resurrect its future. And it’s not unprecedented, even within the party’s own history.

Back in 1979, with a sliding economy, a public rapidly tiring of his perceived attitude, and increasing debt, Pierre Trudeau was forced to call an election in 1979. After suffering a defeat to Joe Clark, Trudeau announced his retirement, only to return to power after a vote of no confidence brought down the Tory minority. Trudeau’s return to majority prominence offered him the opportunity to polish his reputation, forge a new Constitution ratified by nine of the 10 provinces, and go into history as one of the country’s most dynamic leaders – love him or hate him. After a self-proclaimed long walk in the snow, Trudeau retired, on his own terms, in 1984.

Martin, on the other hand, spent the majority of his time fighting off the Mr. Dithers label that was placed on him by The Economist. However, a more apt title would have been The Fireman, as the beleaguered Prime Minister spent his 27 months putting out the myriad of blazes left behind by his predecessor: AdScam and the Gomery Report, Income Trust, and – of course – the perceived culture of entitlement that 13 years of unchallenged leadership had created within the Grit rank-and-file.

Now, the opportunity is there for Paul Martin to return to the ranks of the Liberal leadership, brandishing a humbled sword and commitment to honesty in the battle against a rapidly beleaguered Conservative Party with no natural ally in a fractured House of Commons. While the Liberals of the last Parliament could find some affiliation with the NDP and left-leaning views of the Bloc, the Conservatives are on their own island. Their skills in consensus-building will be put to the test if they are able to withstand the early assaults that will greet their minority status.

Of course, the other parties will also have to gauge the public’s appetite for yet another expensive election campaign. They’ll have to determine whether a less-than-ideal budget is more appealing than being blamed for causing even more political fatigue within the electorate. And, depending on how aggressively Prime Minister Harper plays his cards, they may have to ante up earlier in the game than they would like.

If that’s the case, look for Martin to be called back to the table, because no one else has shown that they’re ready to go all-in. They say that politics is a game and, for the foreseeable future, the Canadian version is looking more and more like a high-stakes came of poker.

And maybe, like Trudeau before him, Martin will get the chance to reshape his legacy into one that’s more appealing to him.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Advertisements

A Healthy Dose of Anti-Americanism Goes a Long Way

By Jason Menard

Congratulations Mr. Wilkins! You just earned yourself a spot on top of Paul Martin’s Christmas card list this year.

David Wilkins, the United States’ ambassador to Canada – and the spokesperson for President George Bush north of the 49 th – issued a stern warning to Canadian politicians about using North American relations as a campaign. Without naming names, it was clear that Wilkins was referring to Martin and his recent tough stand on American issues.

What he doesn’t realize is that, for many Canadians, a little anti-Americanism goes a long way. And by building the platform for the Liberal leader, he’s created another pulpit from which he can preach that he’s the true defender of Canada. Let’s face it, we Canadians are a touchy lot at the best of times when it comes to the elephant to the south – and when they start saber-rattling, then we really get our backs up.

What does it mean to be Canadian? First and foremost on many people’s list is that we’re not American. Sure, it may say something about our national self-confidence that we choose to define ourselves by what we’re not, as opposed to what we are, but the fact remains that Canadians are fiercely proud of not being Americans.

It’s a social superciliousness that extends through all walks of our lives. From our social programs to our foreign affairs, we Canucks love nothing more than to look down at our American neighbours.

Of course, that pompous nature and constant exhortation of all that is better about being Canadian belies our true fears. When it comes to North American life, we ride shotgun. Whether we talk, shout, or pout, really we’re riding shotgun to wherever the U.S. decides to steer the continent. As independent as we like to think we are, we know we’re beholden to our American friends for such important issues as defense and trade.

And what makes us feel even worse is that we know we’re powerless even when we’re right. Take, for example, the softwood lumber ruling. We knew we were in the right and the world’s court agreed with us. Yet, like a schoolyard bully holding our lunch money, they basically dared us to come and get it!

Of course, the schoolyard bully didn’t have designs on our overabundant supply of fresh water. And there’s no principal to step in and ensure fairness. When it comes to life, politics, and global economics, fair is only in the eye of the beholder.

So, with many Canadians harbouring an inferiority complex that would have Carl Jung salivating, any verbal spankings issued by our American cohorts is going to have us, as a nation, in a fighting mood! In fact, we’ll get downright ornery, kick our heels, wring our hands, and look for someone to champion our cause.

And in comes Paul Martin. The same Paul Martin who has been talking tough on softwood lumber for months. The same Paul Martin who has been throwing stones at the Yanks over Kyoto – despite living in a remarkably see-through house. And the same Paul Martin who can now turn attention away from beer-drinking, popcorn-popping mothers towards the more friendly confines of standing up against the Americans. Should Stephen Harper, who many see as the northern incarnation of George Bush, or Jack Layton step up and say anything, Martin now has the requisite foundation to call them out as profiteers looking to jump on the anti-American bandwagon.

Is it a risky game? Not for Martin. Any opposing sentiment suggesting a more mollifying touch with the United States would simply come across as weak pandering to the Americans. By spending a little of the trade capital earned south of the border, Martin’s able to exchange it for a much more valuable currency in the Great White North.

Christmas came early for Paul Martin, and the many wearing the bright red suit was named David Wilkins. And, as evidenced by the way he’s pounced on any of Harper’s gaffes this election campaign, Martin is not one to look a gift horse – or ambassador – in the mouth.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

A Matador in this Political Bullfight

By Jason Menard

Olé!

That sight you’re seeing is Jack Layton’s ass – or making an ass of himself – as he ran right by El Matador Paul Martin with his bull-headed determination to separate himself from the Liberals.

But has he done so at the expense of his own party?

Martin can afford to be cavalier with his negotiations with the New Democrats because, right now, they need him more than the Liberals need the NDP. It’s a far cry from a few months ago when the Liberals needed Layton’s support to stave off an election call in the midst of questions regarding the Gomery report.

Now Martin is not just emboldened by his exoneration, but also by the fact that he knows, as well as everyone else except Layton it appears, that no one really wants to call a snap election in the winter.

Believe whatever poll you want, the fact is that a winter election will favour the incumbents. At best, we may see a small Liberal minority as frustrated lower-case conservatives and disgruntled lefties who previously threw their weight behind the NDP find their way back to the new and improved Liberals!

Despite whatever tough-talk rhetoric the Conservatives may be spouting, the fact of the matter is that they’d much rather wait for a more opportune time to take on the Liberals. Still reeling from internal squabbling, a leader that hasn’t screamed authority, and the fact that many Canadians still don’t see the Party as a viable alternative, the Conservative Party would prefer to have the extra time to build up some momentum, strengthen its foundation, and head to battle in the early Spring.

And the NDP, possibly drunk from its relative power, seems to have gone in over its head. Instead of realizing that its position of power in a minority government is as good as it’s going to get, Layton is rolling the dice that people will view his tough talk as political savvy – not political folly.

Unfortunately, such delusions of grandeur can be political suicide. Instead of using the position of privilege to insert some NDP-flavoured social reforms into the budget, the party may find itself with a lesser position after the next election. But perhaps Layton was feeling pressured to make a statement and affirm the Party’s individuality so that the long-time NDP supporters wouldn’t feel like their leadership was getting too close to the enemy.

And the Bloc? Well, they’re pretty secure in Quebec, so they don’t really care one way or the other. Thanks to the Gomery bungling of the province, it’s pretty safe to say that the hard-liners and soft separatists alike will make a beeline to the BQ whenever the polls open. For at least a campaign or two, the Liberals are persona non grata in la belle province – and both the Liberals and Bloc know it, and will factor that into their campaign focus.

So now we’re going to be privy of the most genteel display of politicking. The Conservatives and the NDP will fall all over themselves in their public politeness, “After you,” “No, after you,” “No, I insist – you make the first move to bring down the government,” “No, no – you go first…”

Neither party wants to put its neck out on the line first. Nor do they want to get too cosy to each other with their ideological opposition. And, of course, nobody wants to incur the wrath of the voters who may be forced to cut into their holiday festivities as a result of electioneering.

All the while, the Liberals will be sitting back, steeling itself for another foray into the political ring, emboldened by the knowledge that they’ve taken their opponents best blows and, while they may be reeling, they’re still on their feet and not yet ready to throw in the towel. They now can work at putting the past behind them, focussing on important key regions, like urban British Columbia (hello Asian trade initiatives). They can talk tough trade with our neighbours to the south (nothing like a little anti-Americanism to stir up the political pot). And they can prepare to come out swinging next election – the heralds calling out the dawn of a new Liberal party, despite the fact that it’s comprised of a majority of people (except a noted 10) from the old guard.

Layton made his charge and Martin deftly avoided it, daring the NDP to make the next move. The NDP, and by extension the Conservatives, can only hope that their horns aren’t stuck in the wall – and that they don’t end up the traditional way bullfights end – dead with a triumphant matador standing above them.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Martin Targets Ontario with Gun Law Proposal

By Jason Menard

In order to keep the title he so dearly covets, Prime Minister Paul Martin is taking his best shot – by making it harder for Canadians to shoot. In doing so, he’s drawn the line in the sand and showing just which Canadians he’s targeting in his bid for re-election.

Essentially, by suggesting that guns should be restricted in Canada, Martin knows that he’s released an opinion that’s not going to fly in Alberta. But, the politically savvy Prime Minister knows that it’s a winning formula for B.C., Quebec, and – most importantly – Ontario.

Toronto is being subjected to daily stories of gun violence, in large part perpetrated by gangs, and the citizens are fed up. And, as Toronto goes, so too does a large part of our Hogtown-centred media. In smaller communities, such as London, any gun violence gets tied directly to the rise of crime in Toronto – and the fear-mongering begins.

As evidenced by the past few elections, Ontarians are looking for a reason to vote Liberal. No matter what the scandal, the citizens of Canada’s most populous province are apparently willing to forgive all transgressions in order to ensure the Liberal influence remains dominant in the House of Commons. Overall, Ontario can be categorized as centre-left, and restricting guns and getting tough on crime will be well received here.

If there’s one issue that Canadians are passionate – and polarized – about, it’s the issue of gun control. While Conservative Leader Stephen Harper tried to exhume the long-cooled body that is the gay marriage debate, Martin decided to take just as strong of a stance against another polarizing issue – but one that’s more appealing to the swing voters which both parties covet.

This election is going to be won down the middle. The idea of rescinding rights on marriage that have already been given remains the domain of the right. By bringing the gay marriage issue up, Harper released the spectre of the “hidden agenda” to rule over this campaign. Those wavering around the centre are generally not the type to be opposed to granting rights to all Canadians.

Gun control is just as polarizing, but without the spectre of treading on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In large part, we Canadians aren’t prone to bringing up the ol’ Right to Bear Arms argument that our friends to the south will trot out. And those that will are so set in their ways that they’ll search for any excuse to keep their beloved firearms.

Whether it’s the farmers demanding the right to bear arms against critters in their fields or sport shooters who use handguns for recreation, there will be those whose opposition to this idea is set in stone. Martin knows this and he’s aware that people that hold this ideal generally are going to vote Tory regardless of his stance. So, instead of appealing to the right, Martin’s wooing the far left by introducing a policy that will appeal greatly to Liberal and NDP supporters alike. And, more importantly, it will appeal to those undecideds wavering between Red and Orange.

But since the opportunity’s at hand, let’s make this a gun law with some teeth. Ban outright all handguns. Create strict penalties for anyone found possessing an illegal firearm in this country. And, most importantly, ensure that anyone caught using a firearm during the committing of a crime is sent to jail for a very, very long time. A firearm offense should result in a minimum 10-year sentence automatically tacked on to any punishment levied for the original crime.

If a criminal thinks they can get two years for robbery, that’s not much of a deterrent. But if they know that sticking up a store with a firearm’s going to add a dime to their ride – then the situation changes.

There can be no opposition to this. Guns kill. It’s their sole purpose. Rifles, while not much better, have their use in hunting, culling, and sport. Handguns don’t. They’re designed to kill. In a civilized society, we don’t need the spectre of handguns hanging over us. It’s time to do the right thing and remove them from society.

The people of Toronto will agree – and that’s exactly what Martin’s counting on. Ontario’s the key battleground. And while Harper’s policies have missed the mark on this vote-rich province, Martin’s anti-gun rhetoric is right on target.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Gomery Report Buoys Liberal Cause

By Jason Menard

That’s not the Liberal Way.

It’s a message Prime Minister Paul Martin has hammered home over the past few months, and reiterated ad nauseum during the reveal of the Gomery Report findings. And it’s certain to be a common theme in the upcoming election – a platform built upon the very report the Liberals’ opposition was hoping to bring down the government with.

With Justice Gomery absolving Martin of any responsibility in the sponsorship scandal and placing the blame on the previous regime, the Liberals have been given a new lease on life – and the opposition partys’ golden chance to topple the mighty Grits may have come and gone.

Already Martin is working to purge his party of any ties to the former regime. He’s created a Terrible 10 list, banning a selection of the allegedly worst offenders from the Liberal Party. He’s running as the man who chose to turn the light of introspection on his own party, forcing it to be accountable for the sins of its past. And, most importantly, he’s using this particularly nasty bit of Party history as the launching point for a more successful future.

And why? Because, as he states, corruption, patronage, and underhanded deals are not the Liberal Way.

Far from being Mr. Dithers, Martin has moved decisively and authoritatively during the Gomery report. By announcing that an election would be called within a month of Gomery’s recommendations, Martin not only staved off an election call that his Party could not be sure of winning, he also conscripted the Gomery report as a Party platform.

Obviously the final statements haven’t been written, but common sense dictates that Gomery’s recommendations are going to be for more independent accountability when it comes to doling out funds from the public purse. It’s going to insist on checks and balances, and a transparent tender process for any future contracts.

It’s the way a government should be run, it’s what Martin would have promised anyways, and it’s what Canadians want to hear. Exactly how are the opposition parties going to attack a platform built on truth, especially if they don’t want to come across as petty.

By asserting throughout the process that those responsible will be held accountable – and by following this up with a 10-fold banishment – Martin’s appearing strong before a country weakened by a minority government. By standing up and taking the reins and driving government to a new accountability, Martin may show voters that he has the strength, ability, and conviction needed to steer the entire country to a brighter future.

He added to this impression with the announcement that the Liberal Party itself would be repaying $1.14 million in squandered government funds. And, if that wasn’t enough, by turning the dossier over to the RCMP and requesting that chairs and boards of Crown corporations look at taking punitive action against any employees involved in the scandal, Marin is allowed to come across as the man with the big broom – sweeping corruption from the Canadian government and leading the way for a brave new world of accountability.

But in addition to Gomery, Martin also needs to thank the Canadian media, who has done much to ingrain the concept of a Martin/Chrétien rift over the past few years. While one may have trouble swallowing that a former Finance Minister wouldn’t have an inkling about some improprieties in the spending of federal funds, the fact that Gomery lays the blame at the PMO and its independent spending lends credibility to Martin’s declared ignorance of the scandal. It certainly doesn’t take much suspension of disbelief for the average Canadian to think that former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien would keep his bitter rival in the dark about these activities – especially when the goal was the glory of bringing this country together.

In the end, the opposition parties are left with the option of chasing ghosts. Any volleys lobbed at Martin can simply be bumped to the past. While the Liberals opponents can claim that the sponsorship scandal is indicative of the party itself, Martin can turn around and say that it was the result of the neglect and corruption of a previous regime – issues which the current government tackled head on and with a goal of cleaning up the house.

And maybe, thanks to Gomery, the Liberal Way will once again lead to victory.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Family Squabbles Threaten to Undermine Liberals

By Jason Menard

Generally, to run a government, you need your finger on the pulse of the populace. However, Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberals’ style of governance has seen that same finger used to point out blame at each an every opportunity.

To date, the modus operandi of the Ontario platform has been to find the best scapegoat and deflect criticism. But when you build your foundation on shifting blame, can you really be surprised when the whole house collapses?

Now that the statute of limitations on blaming the Harris/Eves government for all the provinces ills has expired, McGuinty has found a new target towards which to deflect criticism – the federal Liberals. Whether it’s the variance in gas prices in Ontario or the injustices of an allegedly unfair equalization program, McGuinty has worked hard to demonize the federal Liberals and cast them as the source of many of the provinces ills.

While the “I’m doing the best with what I can” platform may work in some cases, it can be a fatal recipe when you’re casting blame within the same family. Like it or not, the average voter sees little difference between the federal and provincial bodies of the respective Parties. And, for the most part, the defining policies and beliefs that guide these Parties is the same.

So, when you’re all painted with the same colour, why would you be surprised when your differences all begin to blend together? Instead of tearing each other apart, Liberal supporters of both the federal and provincial variety need to understand that to ensure the continued strength and political success that the Party has enjoyed, it needs to work to support one another. Essentially, whether you’re on the Varsity squad or in the Juvee ranks, you have to remember that you’re pulling on the same sweater and playing for the same team.

While McGuinty may have able to ride his focus on Ontario’s gap between what we contribute to the nation and what we receive in return to improved short-term ratings, has that been done at the long-term expense of undermining Party credibility?

Of course, this isn’t a one-sided argument. Ontario is arguably the most important province when it comes to deciding who wins federal elections. The composition of the existing minority government just goes to prove the power that Ontario can wield over the nation. As such, it’s imperative for Prime Minister Paul Martin and the federal Liberals to patch up the Party’s differences to present a more unified front going forward.

The federal Liberals can’t afford to look down their noses at provincial politics. They can’t run the risk of treating McGuinty as nothing more than an uppity kid brother who doesn’t know his place in the pecking order. His arguments need to be respected and action has to be taken if they want to continue to obtain the overwhelming support that the province has given to them.

But, while the risk is there, the lack of strong, powerful alternatives in the federal ranks means that there’s a little more wiggle room. At the provincial level, there is no such room. Despite being trounced in the last election, the Conservative party has enjoyed recent support. And the NDP remains a viable choice for those finding themselves on the centre-left range of the political spectrum. In fact, in 2004 the Hamilton East riding went overwhelmingly NDP (63.6 per cent) in its by-election to replace the seat vacated by the passing of Liberal Dominic Agostino.

Unfortunately, a significant number of people in our society don’t get to know their individual representatives or appreciate the unique aspects of each candidate’s platform and beliefs. They look to the example set by the Party leaders and the generic stances and beliefs that the Party is known for when it comes to casting their ballots. As such, how can confidence in a particular Party not be undermined when the respective wings can’t co-exist to get their house in order?

By targeting criticism at his federal brethren, McGuinty is essentially cutting of his nose to spite his face and runs the risk of cannibalizing votes in future elections. By undermining the credibility and integrity of the federal Party, McGuinty runs the very real risk that electors will apply those negative Liberal feelings to the provincial ranks.

It’s the basic laws of nature – when you annoy those who are farther up the food chain and nip at the bigger fish, you often end up finding your way to extinction.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Out of the Playground, Into the Real World

By Jason Menard

It certainly has been hard to be a proud Canadian over the past few weeks, hasn’t it? With our political leaders sniping, name-calling, and generally behaving like kids in a schoolyard, maybe it’s appropriate that the Queen has arrived to settle down her wayward children.

With Thursday’s vote, we saw the Liberal minority stave off its own extinction with the help of a high-profile defection and a lower-profile – but, ultimately, just as important – independent vote. Belinda Stronach may have grabbed the headlines earlier in the week, but it was Chuck Cadman who had the biggest spotlight shined on him during the actual vote.

But now, we turn our attention back to the principles – and the minute hand slowly ticks down on Mr. Cadman’s 15 minutes in the spotlight. The problem is, as usually happens in these types of skirmishes, is that few look good coming out of it.

Stephen Harper and the Conservative Coalition now look like nothing more than opportunistic schoolyard bullies. Flexing their muscles, using intimidation, and generally behaving rather badly to get what they want. But, like bullies, when the tide turns – and with Stronach’s defection, the Conservatives lost a lot of muscle – they tucked their tail between their legs and slinked off quietly, without much fuss.

If this is truly a fight against corruption and the belief truly was that the Liberals are evil, then you fight the good fight, no matter what the odds. You continue the rhetoric, you use every available means at your disposal (including enticing some fence-sitting MPs – paging Mr. O’Brien – to jump ship). But now it’s clear that this wasn’t a battle based on political principle, but political gain – an opportunistic grab for power that leaves a bad taste in some mouths.

The NDP’s Jack Layton continues to look like the cat who ate the canary, secure in the knowledge that – as he’s been trying to convince us for a while now – that the NDP are a legitimate power in Parliament. The previous Conservative/Bloc majority left the NDPs somewhat powerless, but now that the numbers are more even, his party has even more opportunity to flex its muscle.

The BQ deftly managed to stay out of the fray – Gilles Duceppe playing puppet master while Steven Harper took all the hits in the public. By remaining aloof, the Bloc gets to claim moral superiority, which it can use in a future election. Ironically, a group that’s allegedly tampered with election results in the past now gets to run on a platform built on accountability.

And where do the Liberals go from here? Well, the Liberals have to shore up their East Coast support, hold on to its power in Ontario (and probably pick up a few extra seats here and there), and work like mad to make some inroads in the West. And they have to forget about Quebec.

Sad to say, it’s done in Quebec for an election or two. The Liberals were granted a slight reprieve when the eminently likeable Paul Martin took power from the despised Jean Chrétien. But any goodwill has been washed away in this sponsorship scandal. Quebec’s stable of soft separatists are always looking for a reason to jump ship, and the findings from the Gomery inquiry are exactly the springboard they have been looking for. Add to that the miserable job Jean Charest has been doing propping up the Provincial Liberal name, and there’s little doubt that the BQ will pick up many, if not all, seats in Quebec.

Martin and his party have survived the flurry of the opening rounds. They’ve taken the Conservatives’ best shots and are still upright – however wobbly their legs may be. Yet the political rope-a-dope strategy needs to move into the next phase. The Liberals have absorbed the punches and, instead of waiting for its opponents to catch their breath, they need to come out swinging.

The Gomery inquiry needs to result in some rolling heads. Martin needs to show the electorate that the sins of the past will not be tolerated now or in the future. He needs to regain the trust of those Canadians who may be inclined to forgive and forget. The Liberals need to make a concerted effort to move forward with an aggressive and generous policy that creates a positive impression on the electorate. The new budget is a great start, but implementing it effectively is the key to long time success.

Like a veteran boxer, The Liberals have been through a number of these ring wars, so smart money says not to count them out. The second round’s just starting.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved