"They will have plenty of time to organize because they will not be ministers anymore," the PM stated. But this is a self-defeating goal. By strongarming any potential leadership rivals out of the cabinet, M. Chrétien is ensuring one of four scenarios: his cabinet will lose some of its most capable members, at a time when it is beset by rumours of conflict of interest scandals and needs to be re-stabilized; his party will lose some of its most capable leadership alternatives; certain Party members may just pull out and start a new party, taking with them a considerable number of supporters from the Liberals; or, somehow, the Canadian people will believe whatever M. Chrétien wants them to until he decides to retire.
The PM has already rid himself of some annoying burrs in his side in a surprise cabinet shuffle on Sunday evening, almost a week ago. How much sense did it make, though, to replace the Defense Minister, Art Eggleton, while Canadian Forces are deployed in Afghanistan as active troops? The Ministry of Public Works has changed hands three times in four months. This constant changing of the cabinet cannot lend confidence in its members besides leading to an instable government. It seems almost as if Chrétien is using this Ministry as his private dumping ground: any party member he wants disgraced suddenly becomes Public Works Minister. Dan Boudria, on the other hand, seems content to return to his former position of House Leader. He must be happy to be out of the line of fire and still with a modicum of respectability.
Jean Chrétien runs the risk of overplaying his conflict of interest card, however. The Opposition will always be accusing one member or another of whatever they can dig up, no matter how shaky the evidence. By bowing to them and getting rid of so many Ministers in the past few months, M. Chrétien could soon lead the Canadian public to believe that all Liberal Party members are corrupt. Why would this be bad? Because Chrétien would cost his party the leadership during the next vote of confidence due to his petty scheming.
The Prime Minister of Canada is not as immutable a position as that of the President of the U.S.A. Earlier this week, Chrétien was even quoted saying, "It's always the same with him[the President of the U.S.A.], 'Yes, but the Senate, the House.'" He went on to say in Canada, the Prime Minister is responsible and can blame nobody else for its policies. Canadians vote for their local party representative to sit in the House. Whichever party wins the most votes gains leadership, with the Party Leader claiming the title of Prime Minister. The party which claims the next most number of seats in the House is termed the Official Opposition, with their leader as The Leader of the Opposition.
The Liberal party has enjoyed a majority government (where they not only have the most seats of all the parties, but hold the majority of those seats) for quite a long time. In part, the Liberal party's influence lies in the fact that the opposition have been split up among too many parties: The Progressive Conservatives (who split off the now long-gone Tories), the Alliance (which attempts to unite the parties of the Right so they could stop splitting seats), and the New Democratic Party are the most influential. If the Liberal Party were to split, they would most likely lose their position of leadership. Another way seats may be reassigned is to send Canadians to the polls in a "vote of confidence," which may be called by the PM or by the Leader of the Opposition.
"You know me, for 39 years I never ran away from a fight, so I'm not about to start at my age," he said Friday night. But will this stubborn refusal to back down cost the Liberals their position as the majority? As Party Leader, Jean Chrétien has a duty to his party and constituents to do what is best for the party. As Prime Minister, he even has the duty to serve all Canadian citizens.
The best place for potential leaders is in the Cabinet. There, they can be most beneficial to the party and prove their worth as potential leaders. It is the perfect place to test their worth and mettle, and to establish a track record. M. Chrétien, by contending that a Cabinet Minister cannot wage a leadership campaign and serve his post successfully, is slyly suggesting that anyone who has the potential to usurp him is harming the Liberals through neglect. By focusing on his not backing down, he is casting potential leadership rivals as either spineless, if they back down now, or agents sabateurs, looking for their own personal gain instead of the party's good.
Industry Minister Allan Rock said, "I'm going to focus on my fulltime job as minister of industry and stand behind the PM." Rock should have followed Sheila Copp's lead and said nothing. Instead, he'll have to sit back and watch the master at work.