When I toiled, and I really mean toiled, for John Turner as his communica- tions director, we were all hunkered down like jackrabbits in a Prairie hail- storm. It was our unpleasant mission to return fire not from the Mulroney Tories or the Broadbent socialists but from the enemy within ”” the faceless rebels in our own party who tirelessly conspired to force Turner from office.
Indeed, working for Turner reminded me of the 1960s cult movie Night of the Living Dead. You could not tell the bad guys from the good guys; they all wore Brooks Brothers suits. By my count, the Chrétienites made six futile bids to unseat Turner. They even tried to take him out early in the 1988 election campaign before he memorably bested Brian Mulroney in the TV debate, a feat that forced his party belatedly, and very briefly, to close ranks. When he came to power, Chrétien rewarded these latter day Brutuses with cabinet offices in which their service to the nation has not, by and large, been distinguished.
Given this dismal history, as a sup- porter of Martin but never one of his strategists, I have been observing, with the delight of a sub-Arctic Machiavelli, the 10-year-long crusade of the Martinites, many of whom worked for Turner, to do to Chrétien, by fair means or foul, what his capos did to his predecessor. It sure does go round in Gritland.
Which brings us perhaps to the key moment in Susan Delacourt’s truly riveting (at least to inside-the- Queensway political junkies) account of how Martin’s loyal and disciplined inner circle, led by David Herle and his partner in life, Terrie O’Leary, succeed- ed in hounding Chrétien into his belated retirement.
After the media has disclosed the notorious ”œsecret” meeting of Martin strategists and MPs to plot Chrétien’s ouster at the Regal Constellation Hotel near Pearson Airport in 2001, dimuni- tive (he could have played a Munchkin) Eddie Goldenberg, the PM’s alter ego, confronts Herle, Martin’s bulky and bearded retainer, at a Liberal conclave.
Goldenberg is livid. The Regal meeting was absolutely wrong, proof of Herle’s deceit.
”œThat’s a bit rich coming from you after what you did to John Turner,” Herle replies.
Delacourt confirms, as does John Gray in his shorter account of the Chrétien-Martin wars, that by staging the Regal meeting, Martin’s team, instead of hastening Chrétien’s depar- ture, actually persuaded him to accept his wife Aline’s advice, and seek yet another term.
In reviews of the Delacourt dissection of how Martin’s well-funded (some $11-million) machine prevailed, fellow journalists have claimed that it under- scores the ”œfact” that, and now I quote Jeffrey Simpson in the Globe and Mail, ”œThere were…no compelling conflicts over vision between the Liberals’ two rivals…The prolonged catfight Ms. Delacourt chronicles was not about ideas or policies or principles, but about per- sonal ambition and factional policics of the kind endemic in one-party states.”
I disagree. The Martin-Chrétien war, as Delacourt notes without ever highlighting it as the seminal differ- ence, had a clear policy source: how to handle Quebec. Paul Martin, like his mentor, John Turner, his Montreal friend, Brian Mulroney, Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa, and Ontario premiers David Peterson and Bob Rae, believed that, through concoctions like Meech Lake, Quebec’s soft nation- alists, who comprise roughly a third of the voters there, could be persuaded to give Canada one last chance.
Chrétien and his hardline federal- ist hawks preferred to play hardball with all separatists, not just the purs et durs, thus respecting the legacy of their mentor, Pierre Trudeau, and his pro- tégé, Donald Johnston, the original foes of the Meech compromise.
History, in my judgment, vindicat- ed the concerns of the Martin ”œdoves” when the complacent Jean Chrétien, slumbering at the wheel, nearly lost Canada in the Quebec referendum, a neglect for which history will judge him harshly.
There are, then, two Liberal par- ties. There is the now-triumphant party of Paul Martin that is so soft on Quebec nationalism that one of his leading Quebec strategists, and a pos- sible future cabinet minister, is Montreal talk-show star Jean Lapierre, who left the Liberals after Meech to launch the Bloc Québécois with Lucien Bouchard. Then there is the receding party of Chrétien, which may yet regroup when Martin leaves 24 Sussex, quite possibly as the victim of yet another coup.
For a ripping good read that might make the script of an Ottawa take-off on The West Wing, I recommend Delacourt’s book. One quibble is that, because they spoke to her so generous- ly, she is a bit too nice to her sources, the vast majority of whom are Martinites. Another is that, at the end, Martin remains what Churchill, in dif- ferent circumstances, called a mystery wrapped in an enigma.
The real Paul Martin does not stand up here, but he will have to as he directs our destiny in the years to come. On the other hand, there are vivid profiles of Herle, O’Leary and other Martin power-brokers. Which brings to mind a vignette from the Turner years. After Doug Fisher had declared in a column that Ray Heard had a TV and print record that just might help Turner to survive the Chrétienite slings and arrows, Turner called me to task. ”œI hired you to get columns written about me,” he yelled, ”œnot columns about what a great guy you claim to be!”
John Gray, one of the many tal- ented protégés of the great editor Frank B. Walker of the Montreal Star, obviously had to hurry to beat Delacourt to the book stands with his spicy chronicle of the life and times of Paul Martin and his father, Paul Sr. The general reader who wants to see Martin in the broad new national perspective of the post- Chrétien era will find Gray’s tome easier to digest than Delacourt’s detailed study.
Both books, in sum, tell us how Paul Martin got here. Where he’s tak- ing us remains a mystery, reminis- cent of a classic exchange in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, when one Beat asks the other: ”œWhere we goin’, man?” and gets the reply, ”œI dunno. But we gotta go!”