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Ban business donations, PM urged


by Susan Delacourt
15 October 2002


TORONTO - The federal Liberals' senior statesman, Tom Kent, is urging the party to end history political donations, daring Jean Chrétien to make it the centrepiece of his "legacy" project.

"It would be the firmest and finest of legacies," Mr. Kent said on the eve of today's throne speech, which is supposed to spell out Mr. Chrétien's legacy.

Mr. Kent's advice was greeted with a standing ovation at a conference on "new Liberalism."

Paul Martin, the former finance minister, was among about 50 Liberals who jumped to their feet to applaud Mr. Kent's speech. Later, speaking to reporters, he stopped short of endorsing the idea to end history donations to the party.

"That's obviously something that people have got to obviously consider," Mr. Martin said. "The major issue is we've got to enhance individual giving and I think that we've got to ensure that there is openness and transparency."

Speaker after speaker took the podium at this weekend's conference to lament the state of the party after nine years in office under Mr. Chrétien's rule.

One of the most eloquent laments came from the party's policy director, Akaash Maharaj, who is angry that all the leadership jockeying and Mr. Chrétien's long-exit plan have once again delayed a policy convention for the party.

"The party has become complicit in its own emasculation," Mr. Maharaj said.

He intends to establish a series of policy conferences across the country over the coming months. It's an idea that appeals to Mr. Martin.

"Today is certainly part of the solution. There have to be a lot more todays. They have to be right across the country," Mr. Martin said.

Senator Jerry Grafstein also intervened several times over the weekend to complain how the Liberals had lost their way while in office. He said that there's too much emphasis on power and playing to polls or special interests.

Tom Axworthy, a former Trudeau aide who organized the conference, said there was no mistaking the message the conference sent to the central Liberal party establishment.

"Underneath everybody was a feeling of exclusion," Mr. Axworthy said. "That was a very clear message for the months ahead and for new leadership of the party that it has to open the doors, open the windows -- we're asphyxiated."

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