- The race to replace Prime Minister Jean Chretien isn't the only
leadership race facing the federal Liberal party.
Liberals are also preparing to elect a new party
president and one of the contenders for the post was on the Island
Akaash Maharaj, a 32-year-old Toronto-born descendent
from Trinidad, is no stranger to Liberal party insiders. He has
served as the Liberal party's national policy chairman for the past
four years and has been endorsed for the party's top post by people
like Allan Rock, Paul Martin and former Ontario premier David Peterson.
Maharaj will be going up against the well-connected
Patrick Gagnon, a lobbyist from eastern Quebec, and Francoise Patry,
a secretary at Power Corp. and the wife of a Quebec MP.
Maharaj contends that the bitter leadership
battle between Chretien and Martin is not only stealing the limelight
away from his race, it is also steering most Liberals' interest
away from important issues like party policies.
"Certainly, the coming leadership race
has absorbed the Liberal Party of Canada and has indeed occupied
most of the space on the entire political spectrum in Canada,"
Maharaj said in an interview with The Guardian.
"However, my own belief and I believe the
belief of the vast majority of Liberals is that if a change in leadership
is to be meaningful, if the leadership race itself is to be a meaningful
exercise, it must be less about a contest between individuals and
more about a choice between competing visions of the public interest."
Liberals will be meeting in February for their
first policy convention in six years. It is at that time that the
party's delegates will chose a new president.
However, many Liberals want that policy convention
put on hold until a new leader is chosen. They fear that holding
a policy convention during a leadership race will only prove to
be more divisive for the party.
Maharaj disagrees. He said it's important that
a policy convention be held in February.
"Were we to cancel the February 2003 biannual
convention, the Liberal party would have gone some six years without
a policy convention and for any political party, let alone the governing
political party, to allow six years to elapse without discussing
ideas and ideals would be to bring itself into pubic disrepute."
Maharaj does expect a hotly contested and divisive
race for the leader's post and ultimately the right to sit in the
prime minister's office. However, the Oxford University graduate
said that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Maharaj said democracy at best is noisy, unkempt
and vigorous and he added that Canadians should take comfort that
it cannot be controlled by any one person.
"I think this will be a vigorous race because
the stakes are so much higher for the Liberal party than any other
political party," said Maharaj, who won't say who he is supporting
so as to remain impartial.
"The victor will not simply become party
leader, he or she will also become prime minister. We can expect
to see this race conducted both with greater energy and under greater
scrutiny than any of the other party leadership races."
Maharaj, like many Liberals, would like to see
Liberals choose a new leader in the fall of 2003.
The prime minister has said that he wants to
remain in office until February 2004 but Maharaj said both could
"Were we to hold a leadership convention
in, for example, November 2003, it would nevertheless be possible
for the prime minister to remain in office until February during
the transition period which would after all stretch over the Christmas