November 27, 1998 Halifax Herald

Chrétien: closet separatist or just out of touch?

In late October, at the beginning of the 1998 Quebec provincial election campaign, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien stated in an interview he granted to Montreal's La Presse that future constitutional change is not needed because the provinces, Quebec included, were satisfied with the status quo. This ill-considered assertion caused Parti Québécois Premier Lucien Bouchard to react with glee and Liberal Leader Jean Charest to cringe in horror. And, not surprisingly, it caused several of the other provincial premiers, including a Liberal, to publicly contradict him.

Why would Chrétien, a man who claims to be an unabashed "federalist," make such a seemingly stupid statement - especially one which gave the Separatist's re-election efforts a big boast? Is it because, as I overheard a gent mutter the next day in a coffee shop, he is a closet separatist, or is it because he isn't aware of what is going on in the real world around him.

Many people have indeed concluded that such a statement could only have come from a man who is out of touch with the country's political and social needs, and with reality. Based upon the fact that the Prime Minister has surrounded himself with advisors who shelter him from the Canadian public to the point that he cannot judge the mood of the public for himself, I concur with their beliefs. Being solely dependent on someone else for feeling the public pulse is a clear receipt for political disaster for any politician; for a PM, it is political suicide.

Further aggravating the situation are the facts that he has no credible opposition and that the news media, without qualification, continue to harp about how popular he is, which feeds a super-ego and nurtures arrogance.

One doesn't need a crystal ball to see that the level of dissatisfaction with those who govern, Chrétien included, is at an all-time high. But, how popular is Chrétien? Probably not very. The opposition leaders whom the pollsters ask the electors to compare him with are far less liked than he. In plain English, he has no highly regarded political competition to be compared with.

To better understand this thinking, I'll manufacture a fictional case scenario for you to ponder: The popularity of Reform's Preston Manning, the leader of the Opposition, is pitted by the pollsters against that of former Prime Minister Brian Mulrooney. Except for the votes of the most die-hard Tories and Mulrooney apologists, Manning is chosen by over 70 of th electors. The next day, the headlines shout: "Manning deemed the most popular politician by Nova Scotians."

The most obvious response to this statement would be: “Baloney.” The reason Manning won hands down was simple: He was pitted against a man who is still viewed by many Nova Scotians as the worst PM we've ever had. Try pitting Manning against a true national hero, such as Jean Belliveau, whose personal lifestyle is an impeccable role model for all citizens, and the headlines report the new poll results: "Manning unseated as most popular by a landslide by Belliveau."

Thus, it can be argued that the Prime Minister's popularity is mostly an illusion. Put someone credible up against him and he will probably fade, like Trudeau, into the night.

In the meantime, the question that should be giving us all feelings of serious unease must be answered forthrightly: Will he fade fast enough to save Canada from disintegration? It appears from a statement he made on November 2 - "I'll be around for many more elections" - that he won't.

I find it hard to believe that a man who has been rejected by most regions in Canada, and who is reported to be the most disliked politician in Quebec, cannot see that his continued presence in national politics is not in the best interest of the country he purports to love and is, in fact, a plus for Quebec's separatist. However, he probably cannot be persuaded to see the truth of this reality; we, the electors, are left, due to the polarization of politics in this country, helpless to effect his retirement on our own.

Therefore, our country's destiny is in the hands of the men and women who occupy the back benches of the Liberal government - a group Pierre Trudeau once described as "nobodies" and who have among them many who have high hopes of being handed pork-barrel goodies by the PM in exchange for blind support. Not a scenario to instill confidence, is it?

In spite the inclination of many Liberal MPs to put personal ambitions over the concerns of constituents, they must somehow be made to realize that with the baggage he carries, Chrétien, regardless of which Party wins the Quebec election, cannot effect national reconciliation. Over the years, he gave his best and contributed much to the country's social order, but his time has passed. If Canada is ever to be rejuvenated, we need change at the top and new ideas from new blood now!

Quebec society was stagnant until the "Quite Revolution." In order to restructure Canada's dated politics and other aspects of our social order, Canada itself is in dire need of a Quite Revolution!

Daniel N. Paul


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