Friday, July 22, 2005


“By the time this book is published, the tension between Martin and Chretien will have waned, if not disappeared.”

I decided I’d take the time to re-read Susan Delacourt’s Juggernaut to bring back all the great memories of “vendu” chants, restricted membership forms, and bloodthirsty backbenchers at the Regal Constellation. Given that the book was written by a reporter who, while being fairly balanced, did think highly of Paul, at a time when 200 seat predictions were the norm, I was curious if the book had any hints of what was to come. In addition to that beautiful nugget above, here are some other highlights I noticed:

p.55: At an April 1989 gathering of the old Grindstone group at Montebello, Quebec, where criticism of Meech was the primary topic of conversation, Martin delivered a vague, shaky performance in groups discussions, with no one sure what he was trying to say. Globe & Mail columnist Hugh Windsor described Martin as “dithering” before the microphones.

For fun, I kept a “dither counter” going of times Martin is described as being unsure, undecided or a waffler. The dither counter hit 28. From Meech, to the Clarity Bill, to his decision to quit…no, get fired…well, maybe not quit after all…

p.66: As soon as the results were known, Jean Lapierre announced to the media that he was leaving the Liberal Party. Fifteen years later Paul Martin was left wishing that Lapierre had stayed away.

OK, that second line was made up for fun.

p.78: “We, the Liberals, are not ashamed of our previous leadership and our record.” Chretien told the current and future MPs hamming the huge ballroom in the West Block of Parliament Hill [during the ’93 election]. While the Tories will spend the next election ducking their past, Liberals would present themselves as the proud heirs to the legacy of Pearson, Trudeau, and Turner. Yes, even Turner. Chretien could afford to be magnanimous in his new position as Turner’s successor.

And that strategy didn’t work too shabbily, did it? Of course, after the glorious Turner years, how could Chretien run away from such a successful record?

p.98: On every other issue, Martin came across as smooth, sophisticated, and savvy. When he opened his mouth on Quebec, he seemed accident-prone. He became even more reticent on the subject.

The more things change…

p.98: In candid moments with confidants, the Prime Minister would accuse Martin of being soft on separatists and too eager to grant concessions to the provinces.

If nothing else, Jean Chretien always had good political sense.

p.306-7: Martin placed a great emphasis on words, in the power of language to make a lasting impression. It was why he fretted so much over speeches and why it took him so long to come up with even the simplest responses to reporters’ questions. For his part, Chrétien believed in deeds. His decisions weren’t always explained, but they were carried out, sometimes too hastily.

I think this may have been one of the finest paragraphs of the book. It’s a pretty fair assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the two Prime Ministers.

p.320: Jokes began to circulate that [Martin] was hiding in a cave somewhere, releasing the odd video or audio tape, like Osama Bin Laden.

There's no real relevance to this quote - I just thought I'd include it to make poor old Jeff Norquay feel better.

p.341: Only Sheila Copps remained as a rival, possibly to test Martin’s ability to treat a second place finisher as he had been treated after 1990.

Safe to say Sheila is likely regretting putting Paul to the test on that one…

In all, it's almost surreal to read about this stuff again, given all that's happened since Martin took over.


  • It's very interesting that you mention the Chretien-Martin rivalry in your first quote. I spent some time last evening with a couple of staffers from the PMO, and they were not-too-subtly taking shots at "the previous administration," to use the official parlance. Martin's ability to connect with youth was the biggest one (being staffers they were both fairly young, and at 24 I'm still classified as a "young Liberal" despite not playing nice with them all the time and being the Policy Chair on my local riding executive), as this was almost non-existent "under the previous administration." Though both gents were nice guys, I still find it disheartening to see that the need to slag Chretien is prevalent under the current regime.

    By Blogger RGM, at 10:14 a.m.  

  • No we aren't behind that slagging yet. Just go over to Kinsella's site for one example and the comments. I'm surprised to still hear about it going the other way; I thought that that had died down a bit.

    Thanks for the refresher CG. Hopefully, they do their homework this summer and realize that two of their greatest assets are loyalty and benchstrength.

    Don't know if you read John Gray's book on him. A good read and not too fawning. He raised two questions throughout that are still relevant a year and a half after he became PM. (1) Why did Paul Martin Jr. want to be Prime Minister of Canada? (2) Was he a bad/hesitant decision maker?

    Gray picked up on and wondered about the perceived hesitation (he didn't use the word dithering I don't think). He wasn't sure of its source but suggested two possibilities.

    First, looking at what he did at Power, at CSL and in Finance, Martin spends an excruciating amount of time collecting data. It's not that he can't make up his mind, but that he refuses to until he has considered every possible better solution and every possible implementation strategy. There are countless stories of round-the-clock sessions. He didn't, for example, just balance the budget: he restructured the way budgets were put together, which is why it has been a lasting surplus. He did the same with GST and concluded that the GST model was actually, all things considered, the best tax model (compared to what was before and what could be put in its place). This frames the issue somewhat differently. It also makes another interesting contrast with Chretien, who trusted his Ministers to explore all possibilities and give him 2-3 choices, and he would then make quick work of the issue. Better political and leadership instincts, but maybe not the way to effect fulsome and lasting solutions to complex problems.

    The second thing Gray identified was an instinctive desire to be liked. Martin wants to be liked by everyone and is at pains not to offend. Similar to his decision-making approach, this is a good characteristic to have, but is it the best characteristic for a political leader. Any great leader who has accomplished anything significant and lasting did not really care too much about what people thought about him or her: it was more important to get the policy implemented, and who cares if a few skulls get cracked along the way to right.

    Which ties right back into the first question. Other than the perks and getting your painting on the wall, why does he want it? Why does it seem like he constantly has to convince us he is passionate about things? I think if he wants to convince the country to give him a majority or even a second minority, he's got figure out an answer to why he wants it and then convince us about it.

    What I want to read is more about perceptions of Pearson because I think a lot was said the same of him and that his greatest legacies, of which there are many, were not really his own. Personal things like dithering get forgotten; real change, like SSM, get remembered. So we'll have to see.


    By Blogger Ted Betts, at 10:37 p.m.  

  • I thought he wanted to know, you know, look Ralph Klein in the eye and say no?

    By Blogger matt, at 9:57 a.m.  

  • By Blogger Unknown, at 6:34 a.m.  

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