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