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Jean Chrétien’s Departure


Bill Rodgers, Ottawa Bureau Chief
15 December 2002


OTTAWA - In the spirit of giving at Christmas, a growing number of Liberal MPs want Jean Chretien to give them just one thing -- a gift-wrapped resignation letter, effective early next year.

Many members of the caucus say they live in a world of two solitudes -- the growing legion of Martinites and dwindling supporters of the PM.

It's gotten so bad that Chretien, forced in August to say he'd retire in February 2004, has had to govern as if he was the leader of a minority government, fearing he is going to lose an important vote in the Commons.

"The amount of time between Mr. Chretien's announcement of his intention to leave, and the date by which he will formally leave office is extraordinarily long," said Akaash Maharaj, the party's national policy chair.

Maharaj suggests the PM became the author of his political misfortune when he decided to set his retirement date.

"Regrettably, the events of the past few months are, I fear, the inevitable consequence of this," said Maharaj.

One of the things Chretien wanted to ensure was he would celebrate 40 years of public service in April next year. But the events of the fall sitting of the Commons have more than just Grits worried about whether the PM can hang on another 14 months without throwing the country's governance into chaos.

The prime minister, however, isn't budging from his announced intention to leave in early 2004.

Last week, he said he had no plans for a walk in the snow, as Pierre Trudeau had done before announcing he was quitting.

Senator David Smith, long-time adviser and supporter, said it would be impractical to push Chretien into an early retirement and change the date for the Liberal leadership convention, now set for next November in Toronto.

Smith said deposit cheques have already been sent and, "we have financial commitments and we're talking very serious money for convention facilities and hotels. That's something you just don't walk away from."

Unhappy Grit backbenchers are likely to hold their fire until the February budget. It is that final Chretien budget document which could provide the ammunition for another chaotic political season.

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