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The Chrétien-Martin feud boils over

The Story

The simmering tension between the two most powerful men in Canada has just exploded. Paul Martin's decade-old feud with Prime Minister Jean Chrétien culminated today in the finance minister's summary ejection from cabinet. Far from just another cabinet shuffle, the debacle has overtones of a government in crisis. As we see in this news story and press conference, Martin's time in cabinet ends with a simple "Dear Paul" letter. 

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: June 2, 2002
Guests: Eddie Goldenberg, Paul Martin
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Paul Hunter
Duration: 10:09

Did You know?

• For more than a decade, Paul Martin Jr. and Jean Chrétien managed to work together despite their differences, and complemented each other nicely. Martin was a relatively unknown businessman, while Chrétien was a popular and familiar political figure.

• In the background, however, Martin was always preparing for the day he would replace Chrétien. The relationship was irreparably damaged in March of 2000. Perhaps two dozen of Martin's most supportive Liberal MPs gathered at the Regal Constellation, a Toronto airport hotel, to meet with Martin's team of advisers (sometimes known as "The Board.")

• Martin later said the meeting was to tell the Martinites to reduce their lobbying for Chrétien's departure. But word leaked out to Chrétien that a pro-Martin cabal was plotting his overthrow, and he was suspicious of Martin thereafter. The event may have provoked Chrétien into calling an early election and staying on as leader for another term.

• Though the Chrétien-Martin relationship was always rocky, it began to deteriorate inexorably in 2001 with a series of perceived slights by the prime minister. Chrétien nixed a Martin economic statement after the Sept. 11 attacks, and committed Canada to several economic matters without consulting Martin.

• On May 30, 2002, Chrétien scolded his cabinet for premature leadership campaigning and fundraising. Without directly naming Martin, Chrétien blamed these undeclared candidates for embarrassing leaks. He said he would serve his full term in office and face a leadership review in February 2003.

• Chrétien also told reporters that if he found out who was "double-crossing the rest of the caucus and cabinet" that heads would roll.

• Soon after, Martin told reporters "I'm obviously going to have to reflect on my options," hinting that he was thinking of resigning.

• Two days later, Martin received a phone call from Chrétien policy advisor Eddie Goldenberg, who read him a draft of a letter saying that Martin was quitting due to differences of opinion. Martin said he was still considering his options, and would not sign such a letter. As he drove his car back to Ottawa from his farm in Quebec's Eastern Townships, Martin heard on the CBC Radio program Cross Country Checkup that he had been replaced as finance minister.

• The job of finance minister was assumed by John Manley, who also retained his role as deputy prime minister. Manley was also handed Martin's long-awaited honour of hosting the influential G7 summit in Kananaskis, Alta., in mid-June.

• That Monday, the prime minister released a letter he had sent to Paul Martin. It began as follows: "Dear Paul: It is with sadness that I confirm that you are leaving the cabinet. As I told you, I will always be grateful to you for your remarkable work as Minister of Finance. There are very few Canadians who have ever served in a cabinet with such distinction."

• "You and I have worked extremely well together, ever since we took office in November 1993, on all matters relating to government policy," the letter continued. "But, unfortunately, matters unrelated to governing have gotten in the way of our working together on government policy. As such, we both understand, with real regret, that it is in the best interest of the government and the country that you step down from the cabinet." The two men did not speak about the matter in person.

• Despite Martin's assurances to the financial markets that everything would be fine in his absence, the Canadian dollar did take a small hit when his removal was announced. The same thing had happened on April Fool's Day when Pierre Bourque's political website posted a joke about Martin retiring to raise rare ducks. The dollar lost a third of a cent at the mere suggestion. [Source: Juggernaut: Paul Martin's Campaign for Jean Chrétien's Crown, by Susan Delacourt.]


Paul Martin: Prime Minister in Waiting more