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.