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A Real Race for the Top Job

Martin has spoken at length that the Liberal apparatus should be separate and independent from government


Paul Wells
16 September 2003


OTTAWA - It looks like there really is a fight for the top job in the Liberal Party of Canada.

Not the leadership, which Paul Martin should sew up without problem this weekend when Liberals select an overwhelming number of pro-Martin delegates to the party's November convention. I'm talking about the other top job: the party presidency.

So far the race to replace the current president, Toronto lawyer Stephen LeDrew, has been dreadfully poky. More news has come from Liberals dropping out than from candidates getting in. Everyone pretty much assumed Akaash Maharaj, the party's erudite policy chairman, would take it in a walk.

Now comes word that Mike Eizenga, a lawyer from London, Ont., is joining the race. He's awfully late. The convention's in two months. Maharaj has already been campaigning for two years. But Eizenga has. . . other assets. The hot Ottawa rumour is that he's Paul Martin's preferred candidate for the top job in the party's executive.

That rumour seemed a lot more solid yesterday when I received a bulk e-mail sent to Ontario Liberals from someone with the coveted "@paulmartin.ca" e-mail address. This was a formal endorsement of Eizenga, a former president of the provincial Liberals, from Mike Crawley, current president of the federal party's Ontario wing. Crawley is a notorious Martinite.

But of course, almost every Liberal is a notorious Martinite, so more evidence is needed. Along comes Dan Lett's column, in Monday's Winnipeg Free Press, recounting how Eizenga was squired around Winnipeg earlier this month by the biggest pro-Martin MP in Manitoba, Reg Alcock. Alcock introduced his man to a bunch of Manitoba Liberals at a none-too-neutral venue: the Martin campaign's Winnipeg headquarters.

I polled a half-dozen Liberal MPs on Monday and most have never heard of Eizenga. The only one who knew him well has already formally endorsed Maharaj and has told Eizenga he's joined the race way too late to have a prayer of winning.

We'll see. The November convention will be a handy test of Martin's ability to install his people at the highest reaches of the party apparatus--and of his willingness to do so. If Eizenga really is the big guy's hand-picked candidate, it will represent two kinds of irony.

First, Maharaj went out of his way to stay neutral in the party leadership race--but he's also bent himself into pretzels to avoid offending Martin. If he's not sufficiently pliable for Martin's taste, almost nobody in the party can be.

Second, Martin has spoken at length about his belief that the Liberal apparatus should be separate and independent from government. In the party's last leadership debate, on June 7 in Ottawa, Martin said power shouldn't be concentrated "in a couple of hands at the PMO"; nor should national and provincial party organizations--including, one presumes, the presidency of the frickin' party-"be controlled by the PMO."

"PMO," in these quotes, stands for "Prime Minister's Office." Not, apparently, "Paul Martin Organization."

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