Moments of the Decade: #10 Paul Martin is Quit-Fired

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada’s top political moment of the decade. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be counting down the top 10 vote getters.

You wouldn’t expect a Cabinet Shuffle to make the top 10, but this was the culmination of a bitter feud that had defined the Liberal Party for a generation. Hell, even today, Liberals can’t agree on whether Paul Martin quit, or was fired.

So, in the interests of Liberal unity, it’s likely best to say: “Jean Chretien and Paul Martin ran against each other for leadership in 1990 and, yada yada yada, John Manley was named Finance Minister a dozen years later.”

No one will ever really be able to agree on what happened during those yada yadas. Did the kids really think they were shouting “fondue”? What exactly happened at the Regal Constelation? Did Chretien do a third term out of spite? Would Martin have forced him out in a leadership review? Were the campaign finance rules a giant F U from Chretien to his successor?

None at that really matters because, through the beauty of politics, one of the biggest political feuds in Canada’s history would simultaneously be the most successful PM-Finance Minister partnership this country has ever seen. Go figure.

That’s not to say it wasn’t ugly. The Liberal Party spent a dozen years eating itself alive, and the scars of this fight would be felt throughout the decade. It was the political version of the Jets and Sharks. In the words of Stephen Colbert – “we’re at war, pick a side”. I joined the Liberal Party my first year of University as a naïve kid who liked politics, and quickly had to decide which half of the party I would hate and which half I would go to war for. It was like that everywhere. In Alberta, you couldn’t get membership forms to sign up new Liberals if you didn’t support the right guy. Because, after all, the worst thing that could happen to the Liberal Party in Alberta would be getting more card carrying members.

And while it’s true this feud may have been more about the 90s than the 00s, the over-arching political story of the aughts was the fall of the Liberals and the rise of Stephen Harper. And Martin leaving Cabinet was the first domino in a series of events that would define the decade.

Later that year, the next domino – Chretien announcing his long goodbye – fell. That pushed over the CPC merger domino. And the Chretien-forced-out-early-leaving-Adscam-on-Martin’s-lap domino. Which hit the Mad-As-Hell domino, and the ’04 election domino and, well, you get the picture. The feud forced a lot of big names out of politics – Allan Rock, John Manley, Sheila Copps – changing the dynamics of the next two Liberal leadership races and the shape of the political decade that was.

On June 2nd, 2002, the first domino was pushed over. Or pulled itself down, depending on your perspective.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Political moment of the decade

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at and online at the National Post.

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