08.28.2012 06:55 AM

In today’s Sun: the lost Liberal decade

KENNEBUNKPORT – Not a bad day.

Ten years ago, just like today, I was on a sunny Maine beach with my kids. A call came through from the ever-efficient switchboard at the office of the prime minister.

“Time for me to go,” said the familiar voice on the phone. “So I will tell caucus I’m going to resign.” Pause. “In 18 months.”

We had a good laugh about that one. The thuggish supporters of Paul Martin would take hours to analyze Jean Chretien’s announcement, and eventually declare themselves satisfied with it, even though they weren’t. The Martinite enablers in the press gallery worked themselves into paroxysms of indignation over what they would call “Chretien’s long goodbye.”

But that was that. By December 2003, the most successful Liberal leader since Mackenzie King would be gone. And Paul Martin — he of the 200-plus seats, he of the “juggernaut” — would set about piloting the Liberal Party of Canada into the electoral ditch.

Mad as hell. Gomery. Income trusts. Separatists running as Liberals. Billions in crazy spending. Promises of constitutional change in TV debates. It went on and on. By the time Martin was done with it, the once-great Liberal party had been reduced to a piddling minority. And then, in the next go-round, bruising defeat. Martin did much to wreck the cause of Liberalism. But he wasn’t solely to blame for what would happen in the next decade.


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    Dan says:

    Deep thoughts. Chretien won, so he’s the best leader.

    Ignore that he worked with that loser Martin on the budget. Ignore the party’s credibility gap due to inaction on the GST, on child care, and kyoto. Ignore the spending scandals.

    We can sweep it under the rug, because Chretien won. It’s not like the opposition parties were in disarray, while the electorate got angrier and angrier, waiting for the first chance to hold the Liberals accountable.

    The Liberal party’s best leader was still Pierre Trudeau. First and foremost, because he promised to do things, and then he did them.

    Then the Liberal party stopped caring about governing, and focused entirely on electoral strategy. The #1 goal: keep the PCs from supporting the Reform. The platform went out the window to pay for corporate tax cuts. Throw in a little fear of U.S. style Republicanism, a little fear of separatism, and it wouldn’t matter how the Liberals governed. There would be no legitimate opposition to throw them out.

    For more than 10 years, the electorate had virtually no choice but to support the Liberal party. That has a way of masking all the damage the brand sustained before 2003.

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      dave says:

      Well…actually, seems to me that in an election campaign that Robert Stanfield said ‘wage and price’ controls, and Trudeau said no way…then Trudeau’s bunch won the right to form government..and we got wage and price controls (which was heavy on the wage control side)

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        Dan says:

        And Trudeau lost the next election.

        Again, not to say people threw him out because of wage and price controls. But the issue did lead to a loss of trust.

        The only thing that saved him? The Conservatives were dependent on a shaky coalition, and it completely imploded.

        It’s sort of like what killed the Roman Empire. The obvious answer is “franks, goths, huns, and vandals”. But that’s a shitty explanation, because it takes zero responsibility for the bad decisions that softened the empire up in the first place.

        Trust is everything.

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    dave says:

    I watched the front bench of the Libs under Chretien, at thier version of open and transparent government and thought, way too often, ‘You people are guaranteeing us a Reform government somewhere down the road.’ Chretien government’s failure to take climate/environment seriously, and failure on the child care thing, and, finally, double talk about involvement in the invasion and occupation of Iraq disappointed a lot of people.

    I still think that the RCMP involvement in the 2006 election (income trust allegations that simply disappeared after the election)was just enough to give us a Conservative minority, rather than a Liberal minority government.

    In the NDP leadership (2001?) I was Blaikie/Nystrom advocate. I did not see us going far with another party leader from Toronto. I placed him bottom of my ballot. I saw Layton’s NDP go after the Libs (successfully)as much as they went after the Conservatives.

    Trudeau might be a good bet, although, seems to me that Leblanc is also a credible candidate, and, not attached to Central Canada or the Trudeau name, might do well in the West.

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    LD says:

    Political alchemy, pure and simple. You can’t turn base metal into gold. This sounds very much like ‘religious’ belief … if ONLY Justin Trudeau will accept the mantle of leadership … the Liberal Party of Canada will rebound and form government! Nonsense.

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    The Doctor says:

    I have a lot of respect for Chretien’s political abilities, BUT . . . Martin had to run against a united right. Chretien did not. In fact, he never had to. So in my books, Chretien’s 3 majorities are a bit like winning lots of medals at the LA Olympics in 1984, i.e., they should always have an asterisk beside them.

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    Ted B says:

    Other than Louis St. Laurent, has a number 2 ever been successful? Paul Martin, Ernie Eves, Gordon Brown, Al Gore. It seems that the kind of person who is willing to sit for long periods of time as a number 2, with a number 1 behind him making the final decisions, is never very good at being number 1. George Bush 1 is another example. Even John Tory, content to be number 2 behind Ted Rogers at Rogers Communications for so long, is another example.

    It seems the kind of person who makes the best leaders and decision-makers are never satisfied being second in command.

    Just an observation.

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      Michael says:

      You could argue Chretien was a number 2 that became successful. He didn’t just come out of nowhere. He was an MP for 33 out of 41 years and he held many major cabinet portfolios including Finance under Trudeau. So it would seem like he sat around a long time waiting for his chance to be #1.

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    TimL says:

    Chretien wasn’t going to be around forever even if he wasn’t forced out, so what steps had he taken to ensure the party would thrive when he was gone? Did he try to groom any better successors than Martin?
    Mulroney also won huge majorities, but left his party in a shambles when he left. If he has to wear that, so should Chretien. (not a perfect comparison, I know).

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    kettal says:

    was Dion’s english skills really worse than Chretiens?

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      Pat C. says:

      Really really worse in fact. I’m in the camp that was never fond of Cretien’s politics. But the man communicated very effectively in English. Dion was awful.

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    WestcoastJim says:

    Easy to mathematically determine blame to the decline of the party.

    Martin 75% to blame
    Chretien 15%
    Everyone else in the party 10%

    More interesting question is how to revive it.

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      Elisabeth Lindsay says:

      I just can`t figure out why Warren picked this particular time to remind the country of the Liberal “Decade of Darkness”.

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    Chris P says:

    Warren are you going to put your money where your mouth is and finally get back to the Federal scene and turn the Decade of Darkness into the Decade of Light?

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      Warren says:

      I think I’m more useful in the biggest newspaper chain in Canada, don’t you?

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        Chris P says:

        No I don’t! You would have the most impact if you helped the party win – get to power and implement policies that will make real tangible differences in people’s lives. You can use the PR apparatus of government or the Liberal Party war room to communicate your message to the masses as well. What has a bigger impact 1. writing articles “in the biggest newspaper chain in Canada” informing the electorate about BIG tobacco’s motives or 2. actually being in government and passing legislation on stopping BIG tobacco from doing what they want to do? Option 2 wins.

        Get to work – stop making excuses for not getting back on scene – A whole decade has passed in darkness it’s time for all of us to move on re-focus and get to work. So when will you be offering up your services to the Party and Country?

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          Warren says:

          You’re a good egg. But I think it’s time for some fresh new faces.

          But NOT just under-forty types!

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            Chris P says:

            Agreed. But why can’t we have fresh faces and experienced people? It’s not an all or none proposition..The under 40 type ‘rule’ is stupid and immature no doubt. Stop resisting what you and I know deep down you want to do – you can’t bare to watch this: dis-organized, strategic less, non creative, non forceful, non focused, leaderless Liberal Party PR apparatus anymore. If I have to get Chretien or Dalton to ask you personally I will.

            Stop delaying – Stephen Harper’s 10 yr hockey book in the making can’t wait for the Liberal PR machine to ‘critique’ it’s non existence any longer!

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