Wednesday, January 11, 2006
The Chrétien Factor
As recently as 3 weeks ago, the notion of a Conservative majority government seemed ridiculously far-fetched. Not so any longer. Not only have the Conservatives run a virtually flawless campaign to date, but the Liberals seem hellbent on self-destructing. The reasons for this dramatic turn of events are not hard to find.
The Conservative success has to be in large measure due to lessons learned from the last election, particularly with regard to strategy and communication. As well, Stephen Harper has demonstrated a willingness to acknowledge his personal shortcomings and deal with them.
Then we have the separatists who released their book on Option Canada at a moment which was undoubtedly meant to create the most trouble for the Liberals in Quebec, thus hopefully (at least in the authors' eyes) guaranteeing at least 50% of voters supporting the Bloc. Such a level of support would be seized on by the pur laine to demonstrate that another referendum would be a mere formality.
At the same time, the Liberals themselves - and the Canadian public - had become so (complacent?) accustomed to sleaze and misdoings, that it seemed to be almost a "taken-for-granted" non-issue. At least until the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission acknowledged that they were investigating the Income Trust situation. Given their past (lack of) performance, it's reasonable to presume that the RCMP would never have done anything, had the SEC not begun investigating. (And whatever happened to Bernie Shapiro anyway? Is he still collecting a paycheque for heaven's sake?)
Whether any of these issues would have significantly affected the outcome of the election (which seemed most likely to be another Liberal minority) is a moot point.
The real turning point at which all hope of a Liberal victory was lost was the appearance of the "Chrétien factor".
During the Gomery inquiry and also during the budget debate, it seemed that the Liberals were invincible. No matter what they did, somehow they excaped relatively unscathed. Yet in a few short months, this invincibility which was built up over many years has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared to reveal a party of the incompetent.
Why the sudden and dramatic change? Simple. Because Paul Martin won the battle but lost the war with Jean Chrétien. Undoubtedly there were many Liberals who never accepted Paul Martin being their leader, but they kept quiet knowing they would suffer the same fate as Allan Rock, Sheila Copps and other Chrétien loyalists, if they tipped their hand. And anyway, if Martin were to lead them to a majority government, then they could hold their noses and live with him for awhile.
But when they realised that the Conservatives were fighting a determined battle, and it became apparent that the best the Liberals could hope for was another minority government, they decided to pull the plug on Martin. By leaking information like a rusty sieve, they are hoping to guarantee total defeat in this election. Who will be blamed? Paul Martin of course. Why? Because it makes it that much easier to force him out and have a leadership review immediately, rather than allowing him to retain the leadership and continue to cause problems for months and perhaps years to come. Bite the bullet, get a new leader and prepare asap for the next election. A surgical operation designed to ensure that the Conservatives have the least opportunity to recover from the inevitable screwups of a young and inexperienced government before the rejuvenated Liberals take back their "rightful" position as the government of Canada.
Imagine Frank McKenna leading a (publicly, at least) thoroughly contrite Liberal Party of Canada before Harper has a chance to prove himself. He's reasonably bilingual, has lots of charisma and could conceivably be another Trudeau in the eyes of many wishful thinking Canadians. The Conservatives had better hit the ground running because they'll have a very short window of opportunity, perhaps 6 months to a year, before the Liberals are once again able to focus on ending Stephen Harper's tenuous honeymoon with the Canadian electorate.
(Meanwhile, what about the separatists? Ironically, it never occurred to them that the Liberals could fade so fast that kicking them when they were falling down would result in Quebecers supporting the Tories - at least to the extent that the separatists will fail to get their cherished 50% of the Quebec vote. How perfectly ironic. And who but a Liberal could have tipped them to the Option Canada documents after Sheila Fraser and the RCMP failed to find them? If Paul Martin had been doing better, would the documents have mysteriously appeared nevertheless?)