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A slim Liberal victory

Paul Martin Jr. has worn many crowns: captain of industry, slayer of the deficit, heir to his father's Liberal party leadership aspirations. But the crown he most desperately wanted took two decades to attain, and just two years to lose. Martin's ascent to the Prime Minister's Office was slow, calculated and fraught with obstacles. The CBC Archives website looks back at the political career of the Right Honourable Paul Martin.

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If an election victory can be described as humbling, this one certainly fits the bill. Paul Martin's Liberals achieve a minority government, but lose 37 seats and some key ministers in the process. A party that recently enjoyed overwhelming popularity is now faced with the prospect of courting support from opposition members. As we see in this post-election coverage, there are serious questions about how Martin's Liberals will govern, and for how long. 
• Soon after Paul Martin replaced Jean Chrétien as prime minister, the Liberals were dealt a crushing blow. On Feb. 10, 2004, auditor general Sheila Fraser released a damning report on a federal program designed to raise federal support in Quebec. The report on the sponsorship scandal, as it became known, showed that advertising agencies with Liberal ties had wasted or lost millions of dollars, and channelled funds back into Liberal coffers.

• Martin ordered a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the affair, headed by Justice John Gomery. But he also called an early election that would take place before Gomery had time to report his findings. Martin also hoped to catch the newly-merged Conservative Party of Canada off guard.

• Heading into the election, most pollsters predicted a Conservative victory. But the Liberals achieved a minority, winning 135 of the 308 seats. That was enough to form a government, but well short of the 155 needed for a majority or the 172 the party captured in 2000.

• Voter turnout in the 2004 federal election was 60.9 per cent, the lowest in Canadian history.
• The election was also the first one pitting the Liberals against the newly-united Conservative Party of Canada. The party was formed in October 2003 with a merger of Stephen Harper's Canadian Alliance (formerly the Reform Party of Canada) and Peter MacKay's Progressive Conservative Party.

• A minority government is one where the party in power has fewer seats than the combined total held by all other parties. A minority government is therefore vulnerable to a no-confidence vote in the House.

• Martin's minority was the ninth in Canadian federal history. The Liberals had dealt successfully with them in the past: Lester Pearson had minorities in 1963 and 1965, becoming the first prime minister to never head a majority, and Pierre Trudeau earned one in 1972, converting it into a majority in an election two years later.

• The most recent minority was far less successful. Conservative Joe Clark's 1979 minority government lasted just seven months before Trudeau's Liberals won a slim majority. (Clark became the second prime minister to never hold a majority.)
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: June 29, 2004
Guest(s): Ujjal Dosanjh, Paul Martin, David Pratt
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Paul Hunter
Duration: 2:57

Last updated: April 24, 2012

Page consulted on November 4, 2014

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