The Chretien-Martin Rivalry
During the years which Chretien served as Prime Minister, there were frequent reports of tension between him and his popular Finance Minister, Martin. Relations had begun acrimoniously, when Chretien defeated Martin at the Liberal Party’s 1990 leadership convention in a particularly nasty campaign. Nonetheless, they were an effective duo in government. As a reward (or bone of appeasement) for his efforts in creating the Liberals’ election strategy for the 1993 campaign, Martin, not the leader, was the one selected to unveil the platform, the famous “Red Book.”[i] After the election, however, Chretien moved to ensure that Martin was under close watch. Even though Finance is at the centre of the centre of power, and Martin had (and still has) a reputation as a “hands-on” leader, he still found himself at odds with Chretien’s style of leadership that often saw the Prime Minister relying “heavily on his coterie of advisers at the centre of government, especially in the PMO and PCO, to govern from the centre via the command mode of cabinet government.”[ii] The growing power in the PMO has been described as a “hierarchical political system” which makes a mockery of “the trappings of egalitarianism” in Parliament.[iii] That concentration of power would become a major foundation for Martin’s agenda to reduce the democratic deficit which Chretien had helped to propagate while in power. Thus, long before the tensions between Chretien and Martin exploded in 2002, when Martin was relegated to the backbenches, there were clear signs that the relationship was destined to end in bitterness.
The rift first became glaringly evident during the 2000 election campaign. By this time, Martin’s star was dramatically rising as a result of consecutive balanced budgets, while many in the Liberal Party were speculating Chretien had become tired and was stagnating the party and the government. Though Chretien had profited politically from Martin’s work in Finance, he remained weary of Martin’s ambitions and thus sought to publicly air the notion that while appreciative, he still held the dominant position of influencing Martin’s career in a decisive fashion as long as he remained the Prime Minister.[iv] The television images of Chretien and Martin walking together, discussing their shared vision of Canada, was political cynicism at its finest. Less publicly, Chretien began to discuss his great concerns surrounding Martin, fearing that he would be “soft on separatists and too eager to grant concessions to the provinces.”[v]
The situation would continue to get progressively worse. Chretien’s open talk of running for a fourth term to solidify his legacy as the only modern prime minister to win four consecutive majorities was the final straw for the Martin camp. The considerable power Martin had come to wield in the Liberal Party essentially forced Chretien to capitulate and announce his retirement, to take effect in February 2004, in the summer of 2002.[vi] There has been ex post facto speculation amongst Liberal insiders that the date is very significant, as though Chretien had been anticipating the outbreak of the sponsorship scandal, and whether he was in essence offering to weather the storm of that scandal before turning over leadership to Martin. To this day, members of Martin’s staff refuse to acknowledge the accomplishments of “the previous administration,” a break from the Liberal tradition of celebrating the past great deeds of party leaders and prime ministers.[vii]
[i] Warren Kinsella, Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics, (Toronto: Random House, 2001), 116.
[ii] Peter Aucoin, “Prime Minister and Cabinet: Power at the Apex,” James Bickerton and Alain G. Gagnon, eds., Canadian Politics, 3rd ed., (Peterborough: Broadview, 1999), 126.
[iii] Jeffery Simpson, “Canadian Politics and One-Party Government,” Policy Options 22.1 (2001), 19. Simpson would follow up this article with a book entitled The Friendly Dictatorship, a penetrating view of the extent to which Chretien was a hands-on leader.
[iv] Robert J. Jackson et al., North American Politics: Canada, USA, and Mexico in a Comparative Perspective, (Toronto: Prentice-Hall, 2004), 90.
[v] Susan Delacourt, Juggernaut: Paul Martin’s Campaign for Chretien’s Crown, (Toronto: McClellandand Stewart, 2003), 98.
[vi] Anne McIlroy, “Revenge of ousted Chretien,” The Guardian 26 Aug. 2002. 7 Oct. 2005.
[vii] Delacourt, Juggernaut, 307. The comments regarding “the previous administration” have been experienced first-had repeatedly in discussions of policy between the author and people from the Martin PMO.