Why Paul Martin Will Lose
Those of us who were around during the Tory debacle of 1993 remember the feeling of desperation that filled the air of the campaign office each day.
No matter what Kim Campbell said, or how she said it, or where she said it, the result was always the same. Nothing. The momentum from the very start was in Chretien’s hands and the “Red Book” promises dominated the agenda.
Up until the debates on Monday night, this year’s campaign was razor close. With two weeks left until voting day, a concerted push by the Liberals might have edged Martin back into minority government territory.
Dogged as he had been by friendly fire and an unexpectedly highly-disciplined Conservative campaign, his passionate defense of Canada was good for some key Ontario seats and other traditional Liberal territory. The lackluster effort by Jack Layton also provided breathing room for Liberals who might have been under NDP threat.
But in the blink of an eye, with an off-the-cuff remark – because surely to goodness it wasn’t actually scripted - Martin threw out a position so bizarre that I actually gasped. And, frankly, at that moment he sunk his chances of re-forming his minority government.
What could be more powerful than the sponsorship scandal or the Option Canada scandal or the income trust scandal or the myriad of other missteps and bad news that has characterized the Liberal campaign?
The Not Withstanding Clause.
Please stay with me here.
The Not Withstanding Clause allows our democratically elected officials – the people’s representatives – to make laws that might run contrary to a court decision. It is a key element of our Constitution and, in fact, was a critical reason that all provinces except Quebec signed on in 1982. They knew that even if the courts ruled a certain way, they would keep their ability to implement the laws that their citizens wanted.
Do we want judges making laws or do we want elected and accountable people making laws?
And does it get used? Rarely. But it is a key principle of our constitution and can’t get tossed away because Paul Martin is getting desperate. First of all, it takes the agreement of seven provinces with 50% of the country’s population to nix the Not Withstanding Clause. The very fact that he’s raising it in a debate format speaks volumes for his disrespect for the provinces and their duly elected governments.
Paul Martin has been in Ottawa so long that he’s forgotten that Canada isn’t a dictatorship, it’s a federation of provinces – each unique. He’s forgotten that he can’t just steam-roll over Alberta and BC and Quebec because his numbers are tanking and he needs a new wedge issue.
Last night’s ill-conceived remark was the “TSN Turning Point” of the campaign and was as serious as Kim Campbell’s “elections are not the time to discuss policy” declaration in 1993.
And we all remember how well that went.
(As seen today in 24 Hours Daily)