Is Chretien starting to crack up?
Date: Friday, September 27 2002
Topic: International News
Is Chretien starting to crack up?
By TED BYFIELD -- Edmonton Sun
In the whole 135-year span of Canadian political history, we have never seen anything like the exhibition now unfolding at Ottawa. We have the spectacle of a prime minister introducing vast spending programs without a mandate - he was effectually driven out of office by his own caucus, remember - and, apparently, without a cabinet either.
Take last week. Somebody, either in the Prime Minister's Office or in the Department of Finance, called a reporter and deliberately leaked the program that is to be disclosed in the Throne Speech on Sept. 30. There is to be a five-year spending spree introducing new federal services in the fields of environment, health, the natives and medicare. It will dictate the social and fiscal policy of the next prime minister before he is even named. His hands will be tied.
Notice the course of events. Jean Chretien had announced he intended to run for a fourth term. The party rebelled. His own finance minister was fired for objecting to it. Something over 50% of the caucus signaled they wanted him to leave. The polls indicated most Canadians thought he should step down.
So he quits, and by quitting effectually concedes that he has no further mandate to govern. If the caucus wants him out, he's out. His power to decide derives from Parliament and is exercised by the Liberal majority in the House. When they want him gone, that's it. But then, clever as always, he announces a resignation 18 months in advance and discloses that in this 18 months he will do all the things he couldn't do before - couldn't do them because he would have had to face the financial and electoral consequences they entail. This way, he doesn't have to face those consequences. Somebody else will, notably those despicable people who turfed him out.
Paul Martin, the departed finance minister, is chief among them and he's already been fired. Anybody else who wants to run for the leadership will have to get out as well, says Chretien.
But why? There has never before been a rule that requires a would-be leader to resign from the cabinet. When Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau announced he would run as successor to Prime Minister Lester Pearson, Trudeau was not required to resign. When Deputy Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced he would run as successor to Prime Minister Trudeau, he was not required to resign either.
So why now? Obviously because Chretien doesn't want anybody in there who might seriously interfere with what he intends to do.
How will these innovations be paid for? Will we go back to deficit budgets? No, comes the answer, but the GST may have to go up to 10%. He'd jump off the Peace Tower before he'd do that, says Finance Minister John Manley. And, anyway, a new government could cancel Chretien's program. It won't be bound. Who is he kidding? If Chretien confers, say, special allowances on single mothers, will a new government take them away? Not very likely.
But notice this: Either Manley had been given no detail at all of what Chretien is actually intending or he had been given some indication and allowed the story to be leaked in a desperate move to call attention to what's going on. Either way, the spending plans are plainly being made without the concurrence, or possibly even the knowledge, of the man chiefly responsible for financing them. In other words, there's no cabinet either.
People under too much stress of office have been known before to, let us say, go over the brink. Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent did. So did American President Woodrow Wilson. But in those cases, they retired quietly to the side while others took over. C.D. Howe ran St. Laurent's government. Wilson was discreetly removed to special care.
Is Chretien similarly cracking? Look at the evidence: The wild assertion in Johannesburg that the Kyoto treaty will be signed, whatever devastation it causes. The bizarre comment on Sept. 11 that American greed and arrogance caused the attack. Now vast spending obviously unknown to the people who must make them work. Is it not possible something has gone really wrong in the PMO? And if so, shouldn't the Liberal caucus do something about it before he wrecks the country?