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Senior Liberals reject idea of coronation


27 September 2002


OTTAWA - A chorus of senior Liberals said the party can't afford to have its leadership race turn into a coronation.

The possibility of a Paul Martin coronation was raised earlier this week, following a Toronto fundraising dinner that produced a haul of $750,000 for his campaign war chest.

Union leader Tony Dionisio, one of the organizers of the dinner, suggested it would be "a nice gesture" if other candidates would accept the inevitable and drop out.

Some backbench MPs who support Martin have made similar comments, and even party president Stephen LeDrew has speculated that a coronation may not be a bad thing.

"Every leadership race is full of tensions and splits," LeDrew said in an interview Friday. "If there was no race there certainly wouldn't be any of those, would there?"

LeDrew was careful to note, however, that even if Martin ends up with no opponents, the party brass can't just anoint him. "We'd have to have a convention, even it it's by acclamation."

Akaash Maharaj, the Liberal policy chairman, said a vigorous contest is essential for the health of the party.

"Changing leaders should offer the party an opportunity to renew itself," said Maharaj. "Part and parcel of that is open, frank, and meaningful debate. It would be difficult to have a debate if we had only one person debating."

Martin, who has been raising money for his leadership bid since 1998 and who controls many of the party's key executive posts, has long been considered the Liberal heir-apparent.

His departure from cabinet, following a run-in with Chrétien in June, freed him of the campaign restrictions faced by other contenders.

Rock, Manley and Copps have been labouring under a temporary ban on fundraisng imposed by the prime minister in a bid to keep his ministers focussed for the time being on the job of running the country.

Rock and Copps, in particular, have been quietly lobbying Chrétien to lift the ban but have shied away from open confrontation. They now hope he will turn them loose once the party sets a firm convention date next month.

Chrétien, who announced in August that he would step down in February 2004, has been preoccupied with plans for the legislative agenda that will fill his final 17 months in office.

But sources say he realizes he will soon have to lift the cabinet campaign ban if anybody is to have a chance against Martin.

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