Monday, April 25, 2005

Paul Martin's Inevitable Reflection

It's only to be expected, as we watch the Paul Martin Minority in the middle of its death spiral, that people start to reflect upon the last minority government Canada had: the 1979-80 reign of the Red Tory Joe Clark. And if there's one thing Paul Martin accomplished that no one expected, it's that he managed to make Joe look pretty good as a PM.

People will recall Joe Clark as one of the most flawed PMs of consequence in Canadian history. (John Turner and Kim Campbell weren't really in office long enough to count.) He tried to bull through an austerity budget and, because of his stubborness, crashed along with his government after three days of debate. Scoring a leadership approval rating of 76 percent, he declared it wasn't good enough, launched a leadership campaign and got tossed out as leader in favour of Brian Mulroney.

He never really understood why the social conservatives who made up the Reform and Alliance parties never wanted to re-join the Progressive Conservatives that he led. He finally quit politics when the new Conservatives formed, declaring it a party he no longer recognized.

Both Joe then and Paul now have character traits that rendered them ineffective as leaders. In Joe's case, it was stubborness: a refusal to believe that people wouldn't want to follow him.

Of course, you can't call Paul Martin stubborn. But you can call him indecisive. Or, more to the point, you can describe Paul Martin as a man who'll put off making a decision until he has all the information he needs. (By which time, though, it may be too late.)

Joe, of course, could make a decision. Occasionally he got it right; remember that it was on his watch that the Iran hostage crisis broke out. Joe backed up ambassador Ken Taylor's plan to smuggle out six Americans from Iran, going so far as to brief the former PM (then Opposition leader) on the situation so that embarrassments wouldn't happen. Most of the time, though, he got it wrong (the budget debacle).

Joe and Paul do have a common trait in that voters consider them "well-meaning." They also both wanted a job for which they were ultimately unsuited. However, Joe was able to salvage his reputation as a parliamentarian.

One wonders if Paul Martin will ever get the chance to do the same.