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Turning the Tide

"The price of leadership is a willingness to do what is right not in spite of the difficulty, but precisely because of the difficulty," Akaash Maharaj advises Paul Martin.


Akaash Maharaj
15 June 2004


Toronto - Recently, I received a late night call from a member of Paul Martin's war room, to assure me that the campaign was going "exactly according to strategy". If so, they are certainly pursuing an uncharacteristically subtle plan, which must involve lulling the Conservatives into a false sense of security for the next four or five years.

The past weeks have been calamitous for our party. Polls suggesting a Liberal majority ebbed to a Liberal minority, then flowed to a Conservative minority, and now have cascaded to a level where Conservatives muse aloud about a majority.

Much of our hope for a reversal of the tides must lie in the possibility that Canadians who may have wished to deliver a rebuke to Paul Martin may now recoil at the thought of delivering government into the hands of Stephen Harper.

Nevertheless, I believe it would be a terrible error for Martin to embrace a negative campaign strategy, to make the election less a clash of competing visions of the public good and more a squabble over which leader is the greater scoundrel.

Canadians will interpret a negative campaign as betraying the absence of a positive agenda. More importantly, in an era when rampant public cynicism is corroding public institutions, all politicians owe a duty to our country to inspire hope, not trade upon fears.

Many PMO operatives will argue that it is far easier to exploit cynicism than to combat it. However, the price of leadership is a willingness to do what is right not in spite of the difficulty, but precisely because of the difficulty, because it is only through the exercise of political courage that a leader proves himself worthy of our country’s name.

Moreover, though far from unblemished, the Liberal Party has a spectacularly positive story to tell about our tenure. Having inherited the largest deficit in history from the Conservatives, we brought in the largest surpluses ever. Elected during one of the deepest recessions since the Depression, we governed through the longest period of sustained growth since Confederation.

Of course, amidst the achievements were scandals that did more than devalue the currency of the Liberal Party; they threatened a run in public confidence in the political process itself. We are therefore honour-bound to redeem the covenant of trust between government and the people. To do so, we must assert our responsibility for our entire record, and explain honestly how we would improve that record in a new mandate.

With leaders' debates upon us, Martin faces a fundamental choice.

Will he transform the campaign to emphasise Liberalism at its best, or will he let slip his organisers to do their worst? Will he grapple against cynicism, or ally with it? In essence, will he serve our party best, by serving our country first?

Paul Martin has the qualities necessary to become one of Canada's great Prime Ministers. If he only places those qualities before the people, the people will give him a chance to be the leader we all crave.

Akaash Maharaj is President of the independent New Liberalism Ginger Group, and the past National Policy Chair of the Liberal Party of Canada. His web site is www.Maharaj.org

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