What do you think about the latest liberal tactics?

PM faces angry caucus critics

Some MPs tell Chr?tien he should consider quitting

By Les Whittington and Allan Thompson
Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA Liberal backbenchers angrily confronted Jean Chr?tien yesterday over his firing of former finance minister Paul Martin, some telling the Prime Minister that he should consider quitting. "It was very direct, no mincing words, they went after him," one MP reported. "He's got a lot to think about now." Chr?tien, 68, used a two-hour closed-door session of his 170-member caucus to defend his actions and warned Liberal MPs that they will be taking a gamble if they work against him in the vote of confidence on his leadership at the party convention in February. Veteran MPs said the outpouring of blunt criticism over the Martin incident and what it has done to the party's future prospects was unlike anything they've ever seen in Ottawa. Chr?tien heard from a parade of 17 MPs, with the bulk of them expressing concerns about his leadership and the damage the party suffered in last week's bruising clash between the Prime Minister and Martin, 63. The meeting reverberated with anger, tension and even a few tears. At an earlier meeting yesterday of Ontario members of the federal Liberal caucus, MPs were quoted as saying of Chr?tien: "He is nothing more than a big bully" and "He's got to go." The Prime Minister didn't attend that meeting. Chr?tien surprised many in the national caucus by talking about how Martin cried over the phone during his conversations with the Prime Minister on the weekend, one Liberal said. Many of the backbenchers told him they are worried about holding on to their seats in the next election without the popular Martin on the Liberal ticket. "There were several speakers who said the Prime Minister has a lot of options to consider, including departure, and that he should keep in mind the best interests of the party and the country," one MP added. Another recalled that a colleague had suggested Chr?tien is like a CEO who is being "sent a message by his shareholders" to think about leaving. "It was a very upfront and honest expression of opinion and a no-holds barred meeting," said Toronto MP Alan Tonks. "There were a lot of people there who were holding him (Chr?tien) to account for the events of the last little while. It was a very, very upfront, honest exchange of opi- nions." Chr?tien opened the meeting with a 45-minute talk about his role as leader of the party and gave a detailed defence of the events that led to Martin's departure from the government on Sunday. The Prime Minister said dismissing Martin was one of the most difficult decisions he's ever made and complained that he has not slept for the past few nights. "He looked ashen," one MP said. "He was clearly a little bit on the ropes." "It was probably the most frank caucus that I've attended," said Nick Discepola (Vaudreuil-Soulanges). He said Chr?tien admitted he had made a mistake last year when he gave would-be leadership aspirants the go-ahead to start organizing for a future race. "It was becoming a little bit of a chaotic situation, leaks were happening from all sides, it was impeding our ability to raise funds and therefore he shut it down last Thursday," Discepola said, recalling Chr?tien's explanation. The Prime Minister also confirmed that he intends to go through the mandatory vote of confidence in his leadership at the Liberal convention in February a vote that now looms as a de facto leadership race between him and Martin. Chr?tien let it be known that he would remember who went against him in the battle with Martin. "He said, `I'm going to contest the review, everybody can do what they want, but just keep in mind I might win,'" one MP recounted. The Prime Minister also reiterated that it is up to him alone to decide whether he will retire or run for another term in 2004.

`It's very sad to watch ... all of us being critical of him'

A Liberal source told The Star the federal Liberals' Ontario caucus held earlier yesterday was a vicious affair with MPs openly calling the Prime Minister "arrogant" and a "bul- ly." Deputy Prime Minister John Manley was the third speaker at the Ontario caucus, consisting of 99 MPs, and did his best to quell the troubled waters, the source said. "But then they started to get up one after the other and it just went from `He is nothing more than a big bully' to `He's got to go.' There was blood on the floor at that point." In the national caucus meeting, there were complaints about the communication efforts of the Prime Minister's Office. "At one point, there was a chant, `Peter, Peter, Peter, Peter,' said Discepola, a call for Chr?tien to bring back Peter Donolo, his well-liked former communications director. Although MPs were told Chr?tien would listen to all who wanted to speak, he called an end to the speeches after two hours and 15 minutes. "In the end, people said we want to do what is best for the Liberal party," said Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal. "Some people were angry because they felt that having Paul leave, there was some anger there. But in the end people felt we have to move on." Mississauga MP Carolyn Parrish said it was a sad day for Chr?tien. "Maybe the American system is good, where the leader changes every eight years no matter what," she said. "That takes the pressure off the leader to keep performing and it takes the pressure off everybody else it's predictable." She said it seemed after the last election that Chr?tien was moving toward retirement, perhaps after running the country for a couple of years and going through the G-8 summit in Canada this summer. "But now that seems to have all changed," Parrish said, indicating that it's now not clear when Chr?tien will step down. "And it's disconcerting and it's very sad to watch my colleagues and myself all of us being critical of him, it's not a pretty thing to have that happen." She added that the dismissal of Martin was a culmination of what many MPs consider inconsiderate treatment by Chr?tien of his Liberal colleagues in recent years. "A lot of it is, the way MPs have been handled lately, and I think Martin's outright firing kind of brought that to a head," she said. "A lot of people expressed concerns at caucus about a change in style in the Prime Minister's Office." Parrish said it's felt that the Prime Minister is not getting good advice from his current team of senior advisers, most of whom have only joined the PMO in the last few years. One MP used his speech to say the party had to go through a process of renewal and compared the current split to a "messy divorce," where both parties eventually have to hold things together for the sake of the kids. In this case, it is about holding together the party. Another MP even used his speech to caucus to suggest that Martin be called back into cabinet in a different portfolio, sources reported. In his remarks, Chr?tien acknowledged that Martin's ouster was abrupt, but offered the explanation that Martin had already made clear on Friday that he was likely to step down and a decision on his replacement had to be made before Sunday evening, because that's when the Monday morning markets open in Tokyo. And Chr?tien also made clear from the outset that the party convention and leadership review vote will go ahead as planned next February, putting to rest the concern in some quarters he might try to tamper with that process.
Now, if you ask me... Paul Martin was the only thing going for the liberal party. Not that I like the liberals. I dont.. I dont like any politics.

But what Mr. Cretien did completely crippled his party. Why doesnt he step aside and let a new leader arise to replace his obsolete values and goals.
I dont think the government does anything good... Can you honestly say they've done anything good for you?


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