The only reason Chrétien sought a third mandate was to frustrate Martin’s ambitions. That decision crystallized when it emerged on the eve of the March 2000 convention in Ottawa, that a meeting of Martin’s leadership organizers had taken place days before at a Toronto airport hotel. An excerpt from Jason Moscovitz’s story for CBC's The National, as recounted in Toronto Star reporter Susan Delacourt’s book Juggernaut: Paul Martin’s Campaign for Chrétien’s Crown:
CBC News has found out that there was a meeting at this airport hotel in Toronto last Friday. Close to twenty-five MPs met with key Martin advisers to discuss leadership strategy. . . . At the meeting [David] Herle provided polling information on how Martin would outperform Chrétien in Quebec, as well as in Western Canada in the next election. . . . As for the twenty to twenty-five MPs, they expressed the following concerns: Martin could quit if Chrétien stayed. Some could lose their seats if Chrétien stayed.
Delacourt then recounts the Chrétiens’ reaction to the CBC report:
And at 24 Sussex Drive, Jean Chrétien was watching the news too. Francie Ducros had received a heads-up about the item when she was called for comment an hour before it went on the air. Aline Chrétien was in the room with her husband. Here it was, all the proof they needed of Martin’s treachery. Aline clenched her hand into a fist and uttered three simple words: “Four more years.”
The signal image of the Ottawa convention was a flustered Martin denying any leadership organizing, and escaping further media questions by starting down a set of escalators. Some reporters gamely followed, stretching out the never-flattering spectacle of a politician running away from the media. That set of escalators at the Westin/convention centre goes down only three stories, yet it was just the beginning of Martin’s descent.
I felt sure that in light of all this, Martin would refuse to patiently lend his credibility and popularity to another Chrétien grab for glory. Hence, I was baffled when he lined up to have his ticket punched a third time.
Now I understand why: Martin’s time as PM showed that he lacks decisiveness, audacity and is risk-averse (except when in danger of losing – then he’s willing to say or do anything!). Martin wasn’t prepared to take the heat for abandoning Liberals in 2000, despite the growing tensions between him and Chrétien. Neither did he want to abandon his caucus followers. (Chrétien, on the other hand, may have been a tad thuggish, but you could never accuse the man of lacking cojones.)
Chrétien was able to exploit Martin’s popularity in Quebec for another majority, but what Martin got out of it was an industrial-strength bond between himself and the Chrétien years. By the time of the passive-aggressive games that led up to Martin's "firing" in the summer of 2002, it was too late to establish an identity separate from the Chrétien years. At the time, the Martin people may have thought that the manner of Martin's ejection had safely ejected him a good distance from Chrétien. But today, who even remembers that Martin was a backbencher for over a year?
In my mind’s eye, I can’t help but contrast Martin and Chrétien in that French campaign commercial where they’re waving to kids, with Martin’s explanation for being unaware of sponsorship shenanigans, at a news conference after the Auditor-General report on the sponsorship program was released in February 2004: “It is no secret that I did not have an easy relationship with those around the former prime minister. . . . my advice was not routinely sought on issues related to Quebec.”
So, just to be helpful, below is a series of 2002-2004 prognostications, from various pollsters, professors and pundits, anticipating the Martin onslaught and cowering appropriately. Keep in mind, however, that all of these were made before the worst Auditor-General and Gomery revelations (February 2004 and April 2005, respectively), and most were prior to the PC/Alliance merger. That merger may be the only true legacy of the Martin Juggernaut, a ghost ship that never was.
Martin Juggernaut, we hardly knew ye . . .
(Sorry, there are no quotes from the Globe or Sun Media due to database limitations and, er, laziness.)
Perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, voters in the province have been waiting for Jean Chrétien to retire so their favourite federal Liberal can take over.
Jean-Herman Guay, a professor of political science at the Universite de Sherbrooke, said during an interview yesterday that a change in leadership could be enough to restore the Liberal domination over Quebec that disappeared with Brian Mulroney’s arrival on the federal scene.
“I think that with a new face, the Liberal Party could recapture its hegemony. It used to be that this, not Ontario, was the Liberals’ province,” he said.
--National Post, February 12, 2002
Edmonton Ellerslie MLA Debby Carlson, an active federal Liberal, said Chrétien has weakened his own position by attacking Martin. “It undermines the ability of the prime minister to do his job. I’m looking forward to a federal leadership review.”
Carlson said the Liberals could win six to eight seats across Northern Alberta in the next federal election, with Martin as leader. The Liberals now hold two Edmonton ridings.
--Edmonton Journal, June 2, 2002
The poll, conducted for The Gazette this week by SOM Recherches et Sondages, found that if an election were to be held today, the Liberals under Martin would win a whopping 60.5 per cent of the popular vote in Quebec. Under Chrétien, they would take 33.8 per cent.
If Martin were leader, the Liberal Party would decimate the Bloc Quebecois (which the survey showed would take 20.8 per cent), and would probably steamroll to the largest majority in the province since Brian Mulroney won 63 of 75 seats in 1988.
--Edmonton Journal, June 8, 2003
According to public opinion polled in the immediate aftermath of the extraordinary unpleasantness in Chicoutimi, voters so enthusiastically endorse Jean Chrétien’s departure and his assumed, if delayed, replacement by Martin that Liberals are again the first choice in every region from coast to coast. In that wonderfully shopworn phrase, if an election were held tomorrow Liberals, who won three consecutive majorities with Jean Chrétien, would grab more than 200 seats as they sweep the country behind Martin.
--James Travers, Toronto Star, August 27, 2002
As things stand now, only the Liberals are in contention for the Bloc seats. With Paul Martin as their leader, they figure they can expect to win most of Quebec’s 75 seats. If the Liberals achieve their goal, their re-established dominance of Quebec would allow them to offset any losses in Ontario in the future.
--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, September 2, 2002
Paul Martin spoke as if he were already prime minister in an emotional, campaign-style speech Saturday night that rallied Liberal supporters with hope of big ballot-box gains.
“It’s not only a question of us coming out of Western Canada with a large number of seats,” the Liberal leadership front-runner told about 450 of the party faithful at a $100-a-plate dinner.
“It’s not only a question of us coming out with seats in Winnipeg, in Regina and Edmonton and Vancouver,” he said before receiving a standing ovation. He said he wants to make sure the Liberals elect MPs in rural areas such as Drayton Valley, across the four western provinces.
The Liberal message must be that all of Western Canada will be at the table, he said.
“I don’t believe that we will ever have as good a chance as we will have at the next election. The Alliance is going nowhere.”
--Edmonton Journal, May 4, 2003
Even Chrétien was a believer – or was he?
As his rival Paul Martin listened politely, Chrétien told the crowd his legacy ensures Liberals will sweep Quebec in the next federal election. “As leader of the party, I can say that everything is in place for my successor to win a large majority of seats in Quebec at the next general election,” the Prime Minister told the Liberals, who paid at least $500 each to attend the fundraising banquet. “I would say at least 60 seats.” There are 75 seats in Quebec.
--Toronto Star, May 15, 2003
As well, the next election will not just see yet another Liberal victory but, as well, certainly a large Liberal majority as a result of the combination of the proven appeal of Paul Martin and of a couple of dozen seats in Quebec waiting to be snapped up from the now lifeless grasp of the Bloc Quebecois.
--Richard Gwyn, Toronto Star, June 4, 2003
Rod Love, Stockwell Day’s sometime campaign manager, doesn’t think so. He predicted recently that the Liberals under Paul Martin will win about 220 seats in the next federal election; the handful of seats left over will be split about evenly between the NDP and the Alliance. The federal PCs, Love says, will be wiped out.
--Ian Hunter, National Post, June 26, 2003
The federal Liberals are poised to grab up to eight seats in Saskatchewan in the next election, predicts a senior party official. Provincial party president Greg Gallagher said he’s noticed a marked change in the attitude toward the federal government.
--Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, July 15, 2003
Liberal president Stephen LeDrew calls the membership level a party record and says it bodes well for the Grits in the next election, likely the spring of 2004. In particular, he noted the significant gains in B.C. are bad news for the Canadian Alliance, which currently holds 26 of the province’s 34 seats. The Liberals have six and the NDP, two.
“The Liberal party stands poised to gain support in British Columbia in the next election. As far as the Alliance is concerned, it shows that they probably shouldn’t be taking the summer off. If the Alliance is getting the pulse of their membership in B.C., it should be rapidly quickening because we’re on the move,” said LeDrew.
--Vancouver Sun, July 25, 2003
Up to now, Martin has been all things to all people, right and left, federalist and accommodationist, nationalist and continentalist, social reformer and fiscal conservative. But the more Alberta Premier Ralph Klein cheers his view of interprovincial relations, the more Corporate Canada applauds his commitment to lower taxes, the more Martin appears to waffle on Kyoto, gay marriage and social spending, the more he looks like a conservative.
While this will help him in western Canada, where the Canadian Alliance could lose 20 seats, it could hurt him in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, where a rejuvenated New Democratic Party could draw disaffected Liberals.
In fact, if the right doesn’t unite, the NDP could become the official Opposition.
--Andrew Cohen, Edmonton Journal, September 23, 2003
[Joan’s note: Okay, this is a weak quote, but after Cohen’s trashing of Harper during the campaign, I couldn’t resist!]
It has also never seemed more natural for Quebecers to abandon the federal Tories for the Liberal family since Charest blazed that particular trail. On that score, Paul Martin’s arrival as Liberal leader will amount to the final nail in the Quebec Tory coffin.
--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, September 26, 2003
Martin could make up for any potential Ontario loss in Quebec. But that would involve a shift of sorts in his strategic thinking. So far, his brain trust has treated Quebec as the icing on his election cake. But if the Tories and the Alliance carried out a successful merger, Quebec could become the bread and butter of a Martin majority.
--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, September 29, 2003
A Liberal party led by Paul Martin, with his right-of-centre economic message, will be a contender in the West and could win several extra seats. And the New Democratic Party, under its new leader, the charismatic Jack Layton, could pick up a few more seats in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and even British Columbia.
The next election is thus shaping up as a nightmare for both Mr. Harper and Mr. MacKay -- their “mutual assured destruction” in the words of Don Martin, a columnist with the National Post.
--Editorial, Vancouver Sun, October 1, 2003
Yet even using a new leader and a new name, merger math does not necessarily add up to great things for this hybrid. Simply taking any riding where the combined Alliance and Conservative vote exceeds the 2000 Liberal result (and there are 25 in Ontario alone) does not automatically equal a right-wing win.
Polling shows many Tories would rather vote Liberal than anything resembling the Alliance and Martin will have much longer Liberal coat-tails to win new seats in 2004 than Jean Chrétien had in 2000.
--Don Martin, National Post, October 16, 2003
[Joan’s Note: PC/Alliance merger agreement announced October 16, 2003. All quotes from here on are subsequent to that event.]
The advent of a new Conservative party may dampen the already uncertain Liberal prospects for growth in western Canada. It could make Ontario more competitive than it has been in years.
But the one place where it will have little or no impact in the upcoming campaign is Quebec. If there is one region Martin can count on to make up for losses elsewhere in Canada, it is his home province.--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, October 20, 2003
Liberals are energized under their new leader, Paul Martin, and the party is ready to win more seats in Alberta, where they now hold only two of 26 ridings, federal Health Minister Anne McLellan said Saturday.
“Our prospects in Alberta look as good as they have in a long time,” the Edmonton West MP said in a phone interview from the Liberal convention in Toronto, where Martin won the leadership Friday night.
--Edmonton Journal, November 16, 2003
The merger of Canada’s two right-wing parties has so far failed to make a dent in the overwhelming popular support for Paul Martin’s Liberals, according to a new poll.
The Compas/National Post poll, conducted last week, found 49% of voters support the Liberals, compared with 19% for the new Conservative Party of Canada.
Heading into a leadership convention next month, the Conservatives are barely ahead of the New Democratic Party, which under leader Jack Layton has edged up to 17% support, the poll found.
“The Liberals are headed for a landslide in the next federal election, if this holds up,” Conrad Winn, the president of Compas Inc., said yesterday. “The public is clearly comfortable with Mr. Martin and with the party.”
A previous poll, taken six weeks earlier, also suggested the new party is less popular than the former Tory and Canadian Alliance parties combined.
That survey, by JMCK Polling of Calgary, placed the Liberals at 42.8%, the Conservatives at 17.5%, the NDP at 12.6% and the Bloc at 8.1%. Two months earlier, the Alliance registered 16% and the Tories 11.2% in a JMCK poll.
In October, a Compas poll put the Liberals under Mr. Martin at 50%, compared with 14% for the Conservatives and 10% for the Alliance. The NDP was at 14% and the Bloc at 9%.
That poll also suggested that against a united conservative party, Liberal support could drop as low as 46%, while the new Conservatives would pull in 29%.
--National Post, February 2, 2004