Jean Chretien

Liberal Party

Pierre Trudeau

Canadian Alliance

Chretien's circle angered by Martin's plan to steal leadership from prime minister

Date: MAR20-00
Source: National Post
Keywords: media, Paul Martin, Conrad Black
Comment: You have to be completely blind (if you read the National Post) to not see how aggressively the National Post is covering the Liberal leadership convention and especially all things nasty about Jean Chretien and all the threats to his leadership for the past week (following their equally aggressive coverage of the HRDC scandal). If I was a betting man, I'd bet that when he looks back, Jean Chretien will conclude that his worst political mistake was deciding to make his opposition to Conrad Black personal (by blocking his UK peerage request). Black knows how to play this game, and the way I see it, he looks like he's winning hands down right now. - TB
Posted: JUL14-00
Jean Chretien Index

'It's almost like a coup d'etat'
Robert Fife, Ottawa Bureau Chief, with files from Alan Toulin

OTTAWA - Paul Martin plans to mount a war of attrition against Jean Chretien to pressure the prime minister to resign before the next general election, the National Post has learned.

As the Liberal party convention came to a close yesterday with appeals from the prime minister for unity apparently falling on deaf ears, the Martin camp made it clear they plan to step up their attacks against Mr. Chretien.

Allies of the finance minister acknowledge there is no party mechanism in place to remove Mr. Chretien. They also concede there will be no attempt to line up caucus signatures to ask the prime minister to resign, as Mr. Chretien's supporters did to John Turner in 1987 when the latter was Liberal leader.

Nevertheless, inspired by the huge following in the party as demonstrated at the four-day convention when the 61-year-old finance minister was wildly cheered by the 2,800 party faithful, the Martin camp now plans to fight the leadership battle by concentrating on three fronts.

These are:

- That Mr. Chretien will face more calls from prominent Liberals to resign.

- That Mr. Martin has a better chance than the prime minister of raising the necessary finances to secure a healthy pre-election budget for the party.

- That disaffection within the Liberal caucus may force MPs to break party ranks and publicly denounce the direction of the government's policies.

Close advisors to the prime minister concede the battle with the Martin forces is not over.

A member of the Chretien re-election committee said: "These guys haven't stopped ... It's foolish to say it's over. They are trying to destabilize the prime minister. It's almost like a coup d'etat."

The Martin camp is convinced that Mr. Chretien lacks the vision, energy and ability to win a third majority government, especially if the Canadian Alliance gets a new leader such as Stockwell Day, the Alberta Treasurer, and receives the backing of Mike Harris, the Ontario Premier.

For the prime minister to attempt to force Mr. Martin from the cabinet is seen as an unacceptable political risk, partly because of the possible economic repercussions and partly because of the sense of debt senior Liberals feel for Mr. Martin, who is credited with balancing the federal government's books since becoming finance minister in 1993.

Mr. Martin will play no overt role in the conspiracy to oust Mr. Chretien.

Mr. Martin will continue to pay homage to Mr. Chretien while spending time on the road showing grassroots Liberals that he is the man to carry the torch in the next election.

As Mr. Chretien discovered on the eve of the Liberal convention, he will face more calls from prominent Liberals for him to resign. Aside from the 11 dissident Liberal MPs, Mr. Chretien has faced resignation demands from 10 Liberal members of the Quebec National Assembly -- all Martin supporters -- as well as from Greg Sorbara, the Ontario provincial Liberal president.

The Chretien camp will also find it difficult to raise money at events where the prime minister is the keynote speaker, something he has already discovered.

For example, Mr. Chretien was the main attraction last fall at the Maple Leaf Dinner, a major fundraiser in Toronto chaired by the chief executive of Ford Motor Co. of Canada. But 1,200 of the $500 tickets were bought by Ford dealerships and only 800 by party faithful. In the past, the Maple Leaf dinner has sold up to 4,000 tickets.

In February, Chretien organizers were able to sell only 400 tickets to a less expensive event in Toronto in a ballroom that can hold 600.

"They were arm-twisting to get people out for $50 a ticket," one Martin organizer said. "Contrast that with the 3,000 people who turned out for Martin at the Banquet Hall in Richmond Hill [Ont.] on Feb. 5," an event organized by Joe Volpe, a veteran Toronto Liberal MP who supports Martin.

If the strategy is successful, the message to the Liberal party, which needs to raise millions of dollars for the next election, is that Mr. Martin is the rainmaker -- that the prime minister cannot be counted on to bring out the crowds with their chequebooks.

Even more serious for Mr. Chretien will be the actions of Liberal MPs, particularly those from Northern Ontario and suburban Toronto.

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