Monday, January 04, 2010

Moments of the Decade: #10 Paul Martin is Quit-Fired

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada's top political moment of the decade. Over the next two weeks, I'll be counting down the top 10 vote getters.

You wouldn’t expect a Cabinet Shuffle to make the top 10, but this was the culmination of a bitter feud that had defined the Liberal Party for a generation. Hell, even today, Liberals can’t agree on whether Paul Martin quit, or was fired.

So, in the interests of Liberal unity, it’s likely best to say: "Jean Chretien and Paul Martin ran against each other for leadership in 1990 and, yada yada yada, John Manley was named Finance Minister a dozen years later."

No one will ever really be able to agree on what happened during those yada yadas. Did the kids really think they were shouting “fondue”? What exactly happened at the Regal Constelation? Did Chretien do a third term out of spite? Would Martin have forced him out in a leadership review? Were the campaign finance rules a giant F U from Chretien to his successor?

None at that really matters because, through the beauty of politics, one of the biggest political feuds in Canada's history would simultaneously be the most successful PM-Finance Minister partnership this country has ever seen. Go figure.

That’s not to say it wasn’t ugly. The Liberal Party spent a dozen years eating itself alive, and the scars of this fight would be felt throughout the decade. It was the political version of the Jets and Sharks. In the words of Stephen Colbert – “we’re at war, pick a side”. I joined the Liberal Party my first year of University as a naïve kid who liked politics, and quickly had to decide which half of the party I would hate and which half I would go to war for. It was like that everywhere. In Alberta, you couldn’t get membership forms to sign up new Liberals if you didn’t support the right guy. Because, after all, the worst thing that could happen to the Liberal Party in Alberta would be getting more card carrying members.

And while it’s true this feud may have been more about the 90s than the 00s, the over-arching political story of the aughts was the fall of the Liberals and the rise of Stephen Harper. And Martin leaving Cabinet was the first domino in a series of events that would define the decade.

Later that year, the next domino – Chretien announcing his long goodbye – fell. That pushed over the CPC merger domino. And the Chretien-forced-out-early-leaving-Adscam-on-Martin’s-lap domino. Which hit the Mad-As-Hell domino, and the ’04 election domino and, well, you get the picture. The feud forced a lot of big names out of politics – Allan Rock, John Manley, Sheila Copps – changing the dynamics of the next two Liberal leadership races and the shape of the political decade that was.

On June 2nd, 2002, the first domino was pushed over. Or pulled itself down, depending on your perspective.

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  • The damage the Martin and his supporters did to the Liberal Party will last for a generation.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:07 a.m.  

  • Good summary of this story, Grit. It really has been the first domino in a long decade for not only the Liberals, but Canada. I look forward to the rest!

    By Blogger Kyle H., at 9:52 a.m.  

  • I like Paul Martin and if he'd been given a majority government I think Canadians would have seen just how good a Prime Minister he could have been. However, his disloyalty to the leader was unacceptable. If Chretien didn't fire him he should have, and he should have done it long ago. We all have our sides in leadership races and ideology within the party. But the leader is the leader and he/she deserves our loyalty.

    By Blogger Liberal Justice, at 5:49 p.m.  

  • Hey now, Liberal Justice, lets not get carried away.

    Loyalty to the Leader is dependent upon one thing, and one thing only - that leader's loyalty to the party, not only as an organization, but its members, its ideology, and its issues. If the Leader of a party is seemingly not following the party where it needs to go, where it wants to go, then I say that no loyalty is deserved.

    However, this was never the case with Martin, of course. His squabbles with Chretien stretch back to his father's issues with Trudeau, and probably even farther back than that. It was about power dynamics and stupid division in a party known for its power dynamics and stupid division. It just exacerbated everything. That is what was inexcusable about Martin's actions, possible-excellent PM or not.

    By Blogger Kyle H., at 6:14 p.m.  

  • What you fail to understand is that loyalty to ideals requires loyalty to the leader best able to implement those ideals. Undermining the leader only serves to help those with different ideals. Yes, if there is a massive departure from those ideals some sort of disloyalty might be acceptable. But that is more theoretical than part of any reality we have today, or have had in modern Canadian history. And the natural conclusion of this is either leave the party if you do not like the leader or be disloyal and undermine the values you claim to want to implement.

    By Blogger Liberal Justice, at 6:38 p.m.  

  • Why can you not be "disloyal" to the leader who is going against the values that the party stands for, in order to uphold those values? I don't see anywhere where absolute loyalty is a virtue, because everyone knows blind followers aren't conducive to an active party - you need dissent in order to stay alive as a viable force, capable of representing the interests of anyone outside of the leadership. This is what differentiates between elitist organizations, and democratic ones.

    I'm all for loyalty to the leader, but that leader needs to know there will be Hell to pay if he crosses lines this party doesn't want.

    By Blogger Kyle H., at 6:53 p.m.  

  • Paul Martin brought backstabbing to the Liberal party. He was never really a Liberal in my books, his father was. He belonged in the Conservative party.

    The dynamic tension between Paul Martin and his types and the more traditional Chretien Liberals did produce some great times for Canada, I agree.

    I wonder if it was worth it in the long run.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:44 p.m.  

  • Paul Martin was certainly a Liberal! Fiscally prudent butfocused on: fixing wait times (medicare, Liberal value); promoting a duty to protect (continuing Axworthy's Liberal engagement with the international community); engaging with First Nations; moving forward on same-sex marriage (young-Liberal priority that he personally did not seem fond of); etc, etc. His problem was not that he was not a Liberal, because he clearly was, just as much as his father. His problems related to the way he and his advisors gained power, and then how they treated other Liberals once in power.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:19 p.m.  

  • I think if Paul Martin had different people around him he would have become a two-term majority PM, and a good one at that. But for all the respect he had for his team, they were mostly just a bunch of thugs who started tearing down every bit of the Liberal Party in their attempt to destroy the Chretien legacy and anyone associated with it. Why they felt the need to do that is beyond me. That wasn't the only thing that has damaged the party, but it was the start and it was really, really bad and the damage is long lasting.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:18 a.m.  

  • For the record, he quit. He just didn't realize it.

    By Anonymous herringchoker, at 11:36 a.m.  

  • "Paul Martin brought backstabbing to the Liberal party."

    let me guess... you probably believe that Kurt Cobain invented Rock n Roll.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:17 p.m.  

  • i worked for the chretien government and was around for Paul's time. i knew them both, and knew the whole board, and the whole PMO. here' the unvarnished truth: they both had strengths and weakness which made them so potent when they rowed in the same direction. Chretien had the instincts Paul lacked. Chretien knew the country in a way paul never could. He knew how to appeal to people's hopes. Paul just never had that.

    It's hard to find anyone who served both that would say Paul had anything on chretien on policy, machinery of government, or politics. Yet Paul could talk to people and make them feel he was listening. Chretien just told stories about himself all day, and was slightly boorish in person.

    There was a lot of middling minds around Paul and ambition drove many of them. A lot of the tier 1 and tier 2 martin people had backed him in 1990 in their 20s and were pushing 40 by 2002. THey were desperate and knew they could cash in lobbying when he finally got to be PM. and they had to define theirr roles to the exclusion of others to bank on it. they blackballed all the good staff from chretien's time- and we all know how that turned out.

    Paul could have been a good PM. He was bright on finance and was dogged with a task when you gave him clear marching orders. (but he still took crazy things to cabinet knwo and then- ie, he proposed CPP clawbacks in 1995). if he had a solid mandate and a clear problem to tackle, hw could have been good.

    Sad thing is, most people who were involved in this period of time, now regret it. We were all just ambitious kids, and no where near enough respect was shown.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:56 p.m.  

  • By Blogger John, at 7:15 a.m.  

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