My cousin, Bertram, hails from Massachusetts and recently joined me in Ottawa for a sightseeing trip through our Parliament buildings, to compare how we run our country with how the Americans run theirs. Bertram is a political junky who lives, breathes and talks politics. But his knowledge of politics ends at the Canadian border. My job was to enlighten him about the situation up here.
I warned Bertram that we had a bit of a quandary in Canada. I explained that the Liberal party runs the government but Prime Minister Jean Chrétien is not the leader of the Liberal party. “Not the leader? Who is?” my cousin asked with a startled look.
“Paul Martin,” I replied, “But he’s just a lowly member of Parliament.”
“Just a member of Parliament?”
“Yes, but he has enough guaranteed delegate support to get him elected the new leader of the Liberal party on Nov. 15 on the first ballot.”
“Then he becomes the prime minister!”
“No, Paul Martin has to wait until the prime minister steps down.”
“On Nov. 15?”
“No. Sometime in February next year.”
“February!” cried Bertram. “That’s going-on three months! In the States, we would call Chrétien a lame duck. What’s this Martin guy doing in the meantime?”
I said: “He’s running all over the country visiting trouble spots and acting like he’s the prime minister!”
Bertram said: “You mean you’ve got two prime ministers in Canada at the same time? Why, that would be like having two presidents in the U.S at the same time! What is the ‘other prime minister’ doing?”
“Chrétien’s just hanging around.” I said. “He’s scheduled three international trips after Martin becomes the new prime minister.”
“After Martin takes over?”
“Has your prime minister never heard of the expression, ‘It’s time to quit?'”
I pointed out to him a spacious committee room. “This is where Paul Martin has invited the whole Liberal caucus today, as well as senators from the Upper House. It’s one day ahead of the regular Liberal caucus meeting. Paul is going to chair it.”
“Sounds like he’s running another government.”
“Looks that way.”
“Why doesn’t Chrétien kick these Benedict Arnolds out of the party?”
“Unfortunately, Bertram,” I explained, “he would be kicking out the next duly elected prime minister of Canada. Tomorrow, Chrétien will be using this same committee room and chairing a caucus meeting with many of the same Liberals.”
“Who’s on first? Are they both running the country?” my cousin queried.
I said: “No. Chrétien is still the official prime minister. But Martin also invited the prime minister to come to his caucus meeting.”
“Martin? In the States,” Bertram explained, “that would be like a corporal inviting a general to lunch.”
I told him that Chrétien declined to attend, suggesting those that went were just seeking committee chair jobs. “That sounds insulting.” said Bertram. “Even Bush wouldn’t publicly kick around another Republican. And certainly not Arnold Schwarzenegger!”
Bertram continued: “I don’t like your Canadian political system. You have a prime minister who can call an election any time he feels like it and a prime minister who is no longer the leader of his own party. Another guy is acting like he’s the prime minister. Heavens! At least we know a president is going to be elected every four years. I’m beginning to get the picture now. Chrétien’s like a kid in a candy store who doesn’t like to leave behind all the goodies. What do most Liberals think of him hanging on?”
I replied: “Dan McTeague, a Toronto-area Liberal MP said: ‘We’re in a form of political limbo that doesn’t allow us to move forward. The current emperor has no clothes. The next one has a full wardrobe’.”
“There are a lot of nasty things I could say about our own government,” Bertram said, “but at least we don’t have two prime ministers trying to run the country.”
Only in Canada.