IN THE YEARS since the departure of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, the Liberal Party of Canada has been trapped in a political Groundhog Day. Three times across a decade, the party has risen at what it expected to be the dawn of its charismatic leader. During the fall of 2003, for example, the word coronation was applied more thickly than the autumn leaves, the media consensus being that Paul Martin was beyond challenge. One after another, up came the saviours — and with equal and opposite force, down they went.
SOME DAYS AGO I spoke to the former Finance Minister and Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin, who in 1995 tabled the federal budget balancing Canada’s books. It’s become an established (and easily falsifiable) political cliché that Liberals tax and spend whilst Conservatives tidy the fiscal house. Speaking to Mr. Martin, I was reminded of the conspiracy theory that Reagan had tripled the US deficit in order to undermine the welfare state. Well, some thought it a conspiracy theory — and then David Stockman, the Office of Management and Budget Director, confirmed the supply side ruse.
OVER THE PAST few years I’ve had some off-the-record discussions with senior federal bureaucrats and politicians, folks who are in a position to know of what they speak. In such company the prospect of the politically practicable invariably rises to the river’s surface, through implication or, more often, inferences. Here the word “inference” alludes to the immovable fact that even in those cases where the spirit is willing, the flesh is bound to cabinet confidence and other such protocols of discretion. Hearing what I’ve heard, and seeing what I’ve seen, I’m not at all surprised by the outcome of the recent Crown-First Nation Gathering in Ottawa.
One of the very few politically insignificant legacies of the Sponsorship Scandal is that ever since I have been of a sympathetic disposition toward the then Minister of Human Resources Development, Jane Stewart. She more than any politician — and here I include Paul Martin, who clearly was designated by the early-retiring Jean Chrétien as the bag holder — was bespattered by the ill-will which finally brought to an end what seemed the inevitability of Liberal rule in Canada.