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 countrys 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