March 4, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 80  

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NEWS

Come spring or fall, it’s time to fire Martin

Ad Nauseam
Anton Vidgen

News Editor

A first minister’s ability to call an election has long been considered unfair — and rightly so. It favours the incumbent party, allowing them to schedule the vote at a time they believe to be at their peak of electability.

Citizens across Canada have demanded electoral reform, and only recently have politicians taken heed; among them Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Prime Minister Paul Martin.

But while McGuinty has just begun to get comfy in the premier’s chair, Martin is understandably fidgeting as his seat of power will soon be up for grabs. How close the Grits are to judgment day is questionable and only Martin himself can provide that answer.

Buoyed by opinion polls released in the past couple of days, it now looks as though Canadians will be heading to the voting booth in May, contrary to earlier predictions of a fall election. Pundits believed an election after the summer would give Martin’s team a chance to lick their wounds, inflicted mostly by the sponsorship scandal in which the government granted lucrative contracts to Liberal-friendly ad agencies with no bidding process attached.

When auditor general Sheila Fraser’s report came out, severely criticizing those involved in the scandal, Martin moved with haste to fire key figures who would have had knowledge of the partisan arrangement. Gearing up for an election, he has to be seen as ridding the house of former PM Jean Chrétien’s loyalists and those plumped by the past decade of political opaqueness.

Polls released in the past couple days show the Liberals rebounding, clearly on the strength of Martin’s quick and decisive response.

Publicly, Martin has said he prefers an earlier election, to obtain his own political mandate from the public. But clearly his desire for a May vote is not a result of his sheer democratic altruism.

Though the merger of the former Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties has gone relatively smoothly, a comprehensive political strategy is crucially missing as the Conservative Party of Canada still lacks a leader. The selection of one on Mar. 20 will deliver much-needed guidance, but Martin cleverly understands that two months before an election is precious little time for a leader to work with.

Whichever candidate can demonstrate to the Tories that they alone can bridge the gap between the two camps and galvanize the grassroots, will have the best chance at cutting into the Liberals’ lead.

The federal New Democratic Party is flying high with its media-savvy leader, Jack Layton, and has attracted many celebrities of the Canadian left. Whether they will be able to translate their increase in the polls to an increase in seats is always a challenge for a smaller party, but Layton at least seems more capable than his predecessors. Martin recognizes the NDP’s rising popularity and has sought to undercut them by introducing many spending initiatives.

A fall election would give these two parties time to mobilize the troops and also leave open the possibility that the public inquiry into the sponsorship scandal would come back to haunt the Liberals. This is why on May 10, voters should fault Martin for abusing his position of power. After all, Chrétien did the same.

 

 

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