Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Could Jean Chrétien's Ego Put the Tories In Power?

This idea isn't has far-fetched as you might think.

The former prime minister has decided that his ego and reputation are far more important to him than the Liberal Party of Canada, and he's going to ask the Federal Court to review the Gomery findings.

It's difficult to say what, exactly, he wants to accomplish. If he's trying to get the Court to declare the report invalid due to bias, the Court will point out that the Judge's declaration of personal authorship and responsibility makes such a point moot. And in any case, it won't result in an overnight change of mind about Chrétien in the eyes of the public.

If he's trying to get the Court to force Judge Gomery to change his conclusions ... well, that's judicial interference.

If he wants to sue Judge Gomery for libel, he'd have to demonstrate that the Judge really did act maliciously in his writing. He would also have to demonstrate how the Judge's conclusions adversely affect his ability to work, not his past legacy (or what there is of it).

In any case, if the Federal Court decides to hear his case, it can mean nothing but trouble for the federal Liberals, and a golden opportunity for the Opposition.

First, if Chrétien raises a big enough ruckus during the proceedings, it will keep the Adscam story alive and in the headlines long after people have gotten tired of it. This, ironically, lessens the burden on Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe to hammer on the issue as an example of Liberal corruption. Why should they, when the ex-PM can do it for them?

Second, if Chrétien insists on going through a trial it will shift Paul Martin's campaign strategy onto grounds not of his own choosing. If Adscam had been allowed to die down, Martin could have run on his minority record. However, Chrétien's actions during a pre-campaign period will generate so much publicity on his term in office that Martin will be forced to defend the entire 12-year period of Liberal rule, not just his own time in power.

He'll be forced to do that because he needs Chrétien's supporters, the ones still in the Liberal party infrastructure who can help with campaign logistics. If he tries to distance himself from Chrétien, he risks losing those loyalists and splitting an already demoralized party.

Third, and possibly most dangerous, is the possibility of Liberal scandal burnout. The Grits may presume that, no matter how bad they are, their supporters won't automatically go to the Tories, and the opinion polls so far have supported that. What the polls have not reported on, and what the Liberals should worry about, is the possibility that disenchanted voters will stay home on Election Day, no matter when it might come.

True, it's also a risk for the federal Tories, who'll need to devote a lot of time to rallying and shoring up their base of voters -- Stephen Harper really needs to harp less and propose more. But the more Chrétien pops up in the headlines, the harder it will be for the Liberals to appeal to voters who think it's time to change the government.

It's an admitted irony to think that Chrétien's last legacy would be a Tory government. But it's certainly something the ex-PM had better consider.