It is common knowledge within the Liberal Party of Canada that the 1990 leadership fight between Jean Chretien and Paul Martin never really ended with Chretien’s victory. That feud became public in early June when Prime Minister Chretien fired Martin from his post as finance minister at a time when Martin was thinking of quitting anyway because the prime minister had called on prospective leadership candidates to shut down their campaigns.
Martin enjoys a great deal of popularity within the Liberal caucus, and the prime minister’s decision appears to contradict popular opinion. “I’m not happy about it. I can’t imagine many of us will be,” Liberal MP and strong Martin supporter Dan McTeague told the Toronto Sun. “It’s obvious Paul Martin was forced out – it’s time the prime minister had the higher interests of the party and the country in mind. He can fire cabinet ministers, but he can’t fire the caucus.” Chretien faces a leadership review at the party’s convention in February, and McTeague indicated to the Sun that he will assist Martin to prepare for it.
While there is not much difference between Chretien and Martin on moral issues such as abortion, a number of pro-life and pro-family Liberal MPs such as McTeague, Albina Guanieri, Paul Szabo, Janko Peric, Tom Wappell and others have aligned themselves with the Martin camp.
For his part, Peric tells The Interim “now is the time for some new vision. My personal view is the prime minister has served his country well for the past 40 years, and it’s time to move on and pass the torch.”
Wappell told The Interim he was “shocked, surprised, and dismayed” when he heard that Martin had been fired from Cabinet, and believes the former finance minister might be friendlier to pro-life MPs than the current occupant of 24 Sussex Drive. “I would say that Chretien is of the old school of politics in that he wants to keep a tight control of politicians,” Wappell said. “That doesn’t mean Martin is pro-life, but I think he may be more open to parliamentary change. It remains to be seen what happens, and (pro-life MPs) have to play the cards we’re dealt, but we can’t be any worse off than we are now.”
Asked what he expects will happen next, Wappell is diplomatic. “There’s a feeling in the party that Chretien has done a wonderful job. He’s fulfilled the mandate he wanted to fulfill, he’s left the country in good financial shape, and he ought to retire on a high note,” says Wappell. “If Chretien indicates he doesn’t wish to retire and the rank and file members want him to, well, there will be blood on the floor, just by definition.”
Carolyn Bennett, a pro-abortion Martin supporter, is skeptical that pro-life MPs will make any gains under a Martin-led party. Speaking to The Interim, Bennett says: “I have no fears (that abortion) is even remotely a possible part of this leadership battle.” Asked about the support of so many pro-life Liberal MPs for her preferred candidate, Bennett lashed out at The Interim. “I can’t believe you’re asking these questions,” Bennett exploded. “Minister Martin has the broadest possible support within the party. The fact that you see these quotes from people in the newspaper and ask these questions is a disservice to Martin, bad methodology, and appalling journalism.”
In contrast to Bennett’s shrill denial, Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes thinks the leadership contest between Martin and Chretien could lead to opportunities for the pro-life movement, especially if a genuinely pro-life leadership candidate steps forward.
“It’s the responsibility of citizens to mitigate whatever evil is out there,” says Hughes, “and I would say that of the few leadership candidates that have been mentioned so far – Chretien, Martin, Allan Rock and Brian Tobin, Martin seems to be the best of a bad bunch.”