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Martin has president in mind

Martin's organizers spark bitter suggestions of heavy-handedness


Campbell Clark
13 November 2003


TORONTO - Paul Martin's organizers are indicating to delegates that they have a favourite candidate for the Liberal presidency, Mike Eizenga.

Even before Mr. Martin takes over the reins of government, the new leader will put his stamp on the Liberal Party, placing his people in staff jobs and appointing new chairs of key committees on the platform and election campaign team.

The backing of Mr. Martin's organizers appears to have sparked some bitter suggestions that the leader's machine has been heavy-handed in locking up control over the party apparatus.

Some regional and local organizers for Mr. Martin said they have been asked to put the word out to delegates that Mr. Eizenga is their favoured candidate.

Mr. Maharaj said Mr. Martin has campaigned on curing the democratic deficit, so he cannot believe the next Liberal leader would "fall foul" of party democracy by backing a presidential candidate.

"Any person who wields a leadership candidate's name in aid of a presidential candidate is doing a disservice both to their leadership candidate and to the party," he said.

Some of Mr. Maharaj's organizers have charged that Mr. Martin's camp wanted a president they could control. Even a Martin supporter who is backing Mr. Eizenga said it was felt that Mr. Maharaj might speak out on policy as if "there are two prime ministers."

Mr. Eizenga, a London, Ont., lawyer with fundraising and party-finance experience, has argued that dealing with financial operations is "absolutely crucial" and made his ability to handle that transition the key issue in his platform. Mr. Maharaj, the head of a non-profit conflict-resolution firm, is more policy-oriented.

"[My campaign] looks towards a vision of a more inclusive party that is able to act as the conscience of the government, rather than as an apologist for the government," Mr. Maharaj said.

Mr. Martin's long-standing lock on much of the party machine and his overwhelming backing -- he won almost 90 per cent of delegates to the leadership convention in September selection votes -- may suggest he has little work to do to reunite the Liberal Party.

However, his victory came after a gloves-off move to oust Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and after a series of erstwhile rivals -- Brian Tobin, Allan Rock, John Manley and Sheila Copps -- were forced out over time.

The control exerted by the close-knit group of insiders around Mr. Martin has already begun to spark grumbles that his much-touted inclusive style is giving way to top-down direction from an exclusive club.

Mr. Martin is expected to move as soon as this week to place insiders in key party staff jobs, such as the national director's post, and possibly in senior volunteer spots, such as the chief financial officers, and chairs of the platform and election-readiness committees.

But the third candidate for the presidency, Greg Ashley, a former aide to Liberal ministers including Sheila Copps, said there will be divisions to heal.

"Anybody who thinks that there's not going to be some dissension within the ranks -- please, what planet are you from?" Mr. Ashley said.

"Sooner or later we're going into a general election, and we need the Sheila Copps people, we need the Brian Tobin people, the Allan Rock people, not just Paul Martin Liberals. There's more than Paul Martin Liberals in this world."

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