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
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
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
"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.
|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,
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
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
Chrétien has kept cabinet
a tight leash
With files from Graham Fraser