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KIM CAMPBELL NEEDS A MIRACLE « Douglas Fisher

Fisher

 

KIM CAMPBELL NEEDS A MIRACLE

Who will win the general election?

The odds now strongly favor the Liberals. With yesterday’s choice of Kim Campbell, Jean Chretien jumps into the square-off with her as a good bet to remove her as prime minister very soon.

In my forecast Jean Charest stood a better chance to beat Chretien than Campbell, only in part because he could carry such a hefty block of MPs from Quebec. The leadership campaign itself has wiped away both Campbell’s novelty and her pretensions as a linguistic and scholarly polymath. The Liberals will never leave her exposed bluffing alone, nor will the media, in particular her once-claimed mastery of French. Charest was less venerable, a steadier campaigner, and above all a politician easier for the public to like. That last factor is intangible, and one which a prime minister usually does not keep for long, but with the election so close with Charest it would have helped the Tories. Campbell? She’s smart, sharp, but not likeable.
Rationally, the Tories should have chosen Charest but reason arrived too late. Yes, many were realizing it this week but her early edge in hundreds of commitments was too much. Granted she earned that edge. Campbell’s first backers gave her a wonderful campaign start.

Let’s turn to the profiteer of the day. For three years Chretien has been leading the official opposition, his party heading the opinion polls, and he the obvious prime minister-in-waiting. But for much of that time the clarity of his prospects were roiled.
Would the very unpopular Mulroney run again?

Would the recession end and an economic surge come, belatedly making the free trade agreement and the GST less damaging to the Tories?

Would the move to substantial regional strength of the quite contrary pair, the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois, plus the NDPs success in capturing three provincial governments help deprive the Liberals of a majority, even let the Tories survive an election as a minority government?

Neither Preston Manning nor Lucien Bouchard has disappeared, but with the election less than four months away each is well below his worth of two years ago. As for the federal NDP, it has been a long freefall to where it was “before the Broadbent Days.” An NDP rally now seems preposterous unless Premier Bob Rae makes some magic with the unions.

Put these shifting situations alongside Mulroney’s retirement and the quick evidence that his party is still strong in membership and funds and has good leadership prospects and you could discount Chretien. This discount was heeded by stories of his unpopularity in Quebec. His knack of murdering grammar and pronunciation in two languages once made him a loveable mascot in English Canada. Now it has become a drawback.
In my judgment the changes in political circumstances this year have been capped by the choice of Kim Campbell. Now we have a remarkable simplification for most voters, even those in Alberta and Quebec. Their fixation will be overwhelmingly on the Liberal and the Tories.

In a politics where leaders now symbolize and represent so much, suddenly though not surprisingly the choice is urgent, plain, and clear: Chretien or Campbell?
Jean Chretien was 29 when he became MP in 1963. Kim Campbell was then 16. My scan through decades of The Parliamentary Guide shows his combination of 10 different portfolios and 15 years as a minister is unmatched. Other ministers since Confederation have been longer in cabinet but none, not even Alan MacEachen or the late C.D. Howe, held such a variety of posts. He’s been minister of justice, of finance and external affairs, the top three posts in bureaucratic Ottawa below the prime minister. Perhaps even more to his credit, for six years he held the worst of all portfolios for gaining or keeping a good reputation – Indian and Northern Affairs.

His present caucus of some 80 MPs is moderately loyal to him with office in sight and has some modest talent. He hasn’t an array of distinctive policies or priority programs to defend in the campaign. While his party isn’t rolling in money his performance shouldn’t suffer from the lack of it. And despite recent discouraging poll comparisons, with Charest in particular, Chretien is almost to the hustings with a party that has been well ahead of the Tories for two years and still is, with the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth parties less threatening than they were a mere quarter ago.

So on this day when it’s as simple as Chretien against Campbell, he has to be a heavy favorite, and she will need miracles.

Source: BY DOUGLAS FISHER, TORONTO SUN
Column: Fisher Report

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