Jean Chretien: Destroying the Liberal Party

The Mechanic:  "Eh..  You need some help wit dat merger?"

Today we read that Jean Chretien is predicting a merger of the Liberal and NDP parties, and suggesting that if it had happened earlier, the Harper government may not be in power today.

According to the Globe and Mail:
Pushing for a merger is nothing new for Mr. Chrétien. He caused a stir during the last Parliament with behind the scenes talks with NDP veterans exploring the possibility of a merger.

“If they had done it,” Mr. Chrétien said, “a lot of people think, and I think too, they would have been the government today.”

How about that?

The "elder statesman" of the Liberal Party of Canada is pressing the party to merge.  Must be a good idea (for Liberals) no?

Maybe not.

Think about these few facts, for just a moment:

a) Jean Chretien was instrumental in putting Bryan Mulroney into power.  When Pierre Trudeau stepped down as Liberal leader in 1984, the ensuing leadership convention pitted Trudeau confidante and loyalist Jean Chretien against John Turner.  After Turner overcame Chretien to obtain the leadership of the Liberal party, Chretien ally Pierre Trudeau, unloaded a boat-load of political patronage appointments on John Turner shortly before the  1984 election - which was  Turner's undoing.  Clearly, Trudeau and Chretien were close allies, and one cannot imagine that the appointments would have occurred without Chretien's assent.  One might, fairly, suggest that the fragile Chretien ego was at work in the undoing of the party.

Prior to the leadership convention, the Liberals were 20 points behind the Conservatives, yet, with Turner's election, the Liberals surged ahead.  And then, overnight, with the patronage appointments being announced, and with the infamous beat down by Bryan Mulroney in the 1984 election debate (You had an option, sir!), the Liberals were decimated - winning only 40 seats ( the worst ever until 2011).

b)  After the disastrous 1984 election, Chretien, who had "retired" suddenly "unretired", and challenged and prevailed over Paul Martin for the Liberal leadership - a battle that left long scars in their relationship.  This lead to Chretien's election as Prime Minister, largely on promises to scrap the GST and renegotiate the Free Trade Agreement - promises that were never met.  Eventually, massively embarrassing efforts on the part of Chretien, including the disastrous cancellation of the Sea King helicopter contracts and, ultimately, the AdScam debacle left the Liberal party in a shambles;

c) The election of Paul Martin as leader of the Liberal party promised to bring back some semblance of stability to the party, however, when the AdScam scandal came to light, and Martin took the responsible step of calling an inquiry into the affair, once again, Chretien's ego became more important than the success of the party - refusing to accept responsibility as leader of the party, Chretien battled the inquiry throughout and in fact brought court action to declare the inquiry biased.

While Martin's effort ultimately helped disclose the wide-spread dishonesty and abuse of tax-payer dollars which had been endemic to Quebec Liberals under Chretien's rule, ultimately, the Sponsorship Scandal proved to be Paul Martin's (and the Liberals) undoing - giving Stephen Harper his first term as Prime Minister of Canada.

d) Since the election of Prime Minister Harper, Chretien continued to meddle in party affairs - to the harm of his party - seeking to broker a deal withe NDP and the Bloc, that the vast majority of Canadians perceived as an "informal coup" over the government of the day.  While the poor selection of Stephane Dion and then Michael Ignatieff didn't help - there is little doubt that, yet again, Chretien's effort to insert himself into national politics, pitted his own ego against the interests of his own party.

e) Now - today, we see Chretien again opening his mouth to the chagrin of  the party mainstream.  Suggesting a merger of the Liberals and the NDP which is not likely to succeed will make it much easier for the Conservatives to continue to shave off the votes from middle-ground Canadians by pointing to the Liberals as "NDP in red clothing".

As a Conservative, I welcome Chretien's recent exercise of his always fragile ego.

However - I might suggest that, perhaps, once and for all the Liberal party would do well to sever it's ties with this false friend of the party who, given the chance, will most certainly harm the Liberal party while seeking to create some semblance of historical legacy for himself by trying to set himself up as a "merger mechanic".