Poll results slow Martin rivals
Tim Harper
Joe Gibbons/CP
Former Federal Industry Minister Brian Tobin, his wife Jodean at his side, is shown prior to making the announcement he would leave politics Jan. 14, 2002.
OTTAWA — A poll showing almost two-thirds of Canadians felt Paul Martin would make a good prime minister acted as a splash of cold water on those backing other leadership aspirants yesterday.

Liberal insiders were unanimous in their view that everything can change in 18 months and that Canadians were reacting to a Martin-Jean Chrétien battle, not the new challengers lying in wait for the former finance minister.

But many felt the poll by EKOS Research Associates, done for The Toronto Star and CBC, also showed there is no obvious standard-bearer for those wishing to back a centre-left Liberal candidate.

Sources independently threw two new names into the leadership mix yesterday — Human Resources Minister Jane Stewart, 47, and junior minister of financial institutions Maurizio Bevilacqua, 42, — as Liberals look for a fresh face to take on the Martin juggernaut.

When EKOS asked who they expected would become the next Liberal leader, 56 per cent of those polled named Martin, 5 per cent named Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, 3 per cent named former Newfoundland premier Brian Tobin, and 2 per cent each named Industry Minister Allan Rock, Heritage Minister Sheila Copps and former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna.

"I'm sure it disheartened a lot of people," said one senior Chrétien loyalist, who is not aligned with any potential candidate.

"I wouldn't get too disheartened, but I would think they would all realize there is no point in running to be embarrassed."

One Liberal strategist said the poll is further proof that Tobin erred when he suddenly quit politics last January because his centre-left orientation and age (he's 47) meant he could have been the major challenger to Martin, who turned 64 today.

"I would be very surprised if he were to run," said his former campaign manager, Dave MacInnis, "but I know there are people close to him who are making phone calls trying to get him back into the race."

There were also questions raised about whether Manley, 52, or Copps, 49, would ultimately decide to run.

Manley has stated in the past that he would not try to raise millions of dollars for a shot at the top job if he didn't think he could win. Copps could survey her support, some said yesterday, and decide a posting could be a better option for her.

Rock, 54, who has a formidable campaign team in place and has been raising funds for years, is almost certain to formally declare his candidacy some months into the future.

A number of names well-known in Ottawa circles are on the Rock team, including his executive assistant Cyrus Reporter, Ottawa lobbyist and former British Columbia organizer Randy Pettipas, Raj Chahal, who worked as Chrétien's Alberta liaison, John Cordeau of Calgary, a former Alberta campaign chair for the Liberals, Benoit Corbeil, a Quebec organizer, George Smitherman, an Ontario Liberal MPP, New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc, and organizer John McNair, former executive director of the party in New Brunswick.

Chrétien has kept cabinet ministers on

a tight leash

One former Rock backer, Liberal strategist and Chrétien loyalist, Warren Kinsella, has left the Rock team.

"These are formidable organizers," one Liberal said.

One Rock strategist said Martin is already burdened by unrealistic expectations and will not have the same type of lustre in the party by the time the campaign officially begins.

Chrétien, 68, has kept those in his cabinet on a tight leash by preventing them from campaigning, a move that won an endorsement from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation yesterday.

The federation's executive director, Walter Robinson, said Chrétien should go further.

"He should insist all cabinet ministers wishing to purse the Liberal leadership resign their cabinet posts once the contest officially begins, to minimize the clear and present danger that public dollars will become entwined in a private and partisan political contest," Robinson said.

The timing of the Liberal vote and the likely cancellation of a February, 2003, policy convention sparked more controversy yesterday.

Akaash Maharaj, the party's national policy chair and a candidate for the presidency, expressed his indignation at the suggestion that the February convention be cancelled.

Stephen LeDrew, the current president of the party, made it clear Monday that he thought that the convention should be cancelled, since there was no longer any need for a leadership review vote, and that Liberals could not afford two conventions in a 12-month period.

In a letter to LeDrew that he released yesterday, Maharaj said that decision would mean the party's executive would be doubling its term from two years to four years.

"When foreign governments have cancelled constitutionally mandated elections and illegally extended their terms in office, Liberal governments have never flinched from condemning them in the harshest of terms," he wrote.

"For the Liberal party itself to fall short of standards we expect of foreign dictatorships would be to bring ourselves, our party, and our government into public disrepute."

Maharaj said the party makes money on conventions, and that to cancel it would be to forego revenue the party — heavily in debt — badly needs.

With files from Graham Fraser

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