Politics 2005 was the topic of discussion and Prime Minister Paul Martin the muse as Gazette op-ed columnist L. Ian MacDonald, spoke Monday to a full house of Women’s Canadian Club of Montreal members at the Montreal Citadel. MacDonald focused on politicians, mainly federal, and kicked off his speech by asking why Prime Minister Martin was such a disappointment.
“He looked like he was 10 feet tall for a while,” MacDonald said of Martin before he became Prime Minister.
He said the only thing Martin has handled correctly thus far is the budget, for which he deserves a lot of credit. “But finance is only one department,” he added.
MacDonald then turned his attention to the U.S. missile defense system, an issue he considered to have been poorly handled. He criticized Martin’s refusal to hint anything to U.S. President Bush about not joining the program during what MacDonald described as an eight-hour opportunity at last month’s NATO summit in Brussels. He suggested that Martin left the dirty work to his Foreign Affairs Minister, Bill Graham. “The next day, he had Bill Graham call Condoleezza Rice.”
MacDonald said Martin’s unsuccessful phone call to President Bush and his week-and-a-half wait for a response escalated into a spectacle.
MacDonald also suggested that Martin’s decision to decline entry into the program was partially driven by a majority opposition to the anti-missile defense resolution from the powerful youth wing of the Liberal Party during a Liberal policy convention at the beginning of the month. “Kids in the hall…not a good way to run public policy,” he stated.
MacDonald pointed out that the Prime Minister made his decisions based on public opinion rather than on public interest.
“If the government is bad, and in my view it is bad, why isn’t the opposition doing better?” he asked.
Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper is smart enough, MacDonald told the audience, but isn’t good at reading people. “He never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” he joked.
MacDonald insinuated that neither Martin nor Harper had the energy required to govern the nation. “[They] lack that little something Pierre E. Trudeau had when he walked into a room,” he explained.
“I think this is the weakest government since the Diefenbaker government of ’62,” he said. John Diefenbaker led the country for six months and 19 days before being defeated by the Liberals.
When asked who, in his opinion, would best fit the job of Prime Minister today, MacDonald unhesitatingly chose former Deputy Prime Minister John Manley. “He is the most able and qualified,” he answered.
MacDonald then shifted his focus to the issue of concentration of ownership of Canadian media, saying, “I don’t think it’s a healthy trend, but I don’t think it can be stopped.”
He explained that media in Canada was controlled by four giants, including the Asper family, which owns the Ottawa Citizen, the Vancouver sun and the Montreal Gazette among other newspapers.
“The Aspers have an agenda about the Middle-East,” he said. “As proprietors, that’s their right, but I don’t think it’s healthy.” MacDonald criticized Global T.V, also under the umbrella of the Aspers, and described it as “terrible”.
He also mentioned the Gomery Commission and said that since Jean Lafleur had testified, people have gotten mad all over again. “Jean Lafleur gives a new definition to sleaze,” he said.
As for the Charest government, MacDonald said there was no denying the disapproval rate among Quebec citizens. “His cabinet shuffle was a smart move,” he said.
He touched on January’s private Jewish school funding saga. “[It] created a fire-storm in the French media… and anti-Semitism, which you don’t have to scratch too hard to find in Quebec,” MacDonald said.
Approximately 200 people attended Monday’s conference, the majority of whom were women. “He has tremendous insight on what’s going on, and hits the nail on the head,” said Kathy Hills, speaker’s co-chair for the Women’s Canadian Club. “He’s easy on the eyes too,” she added with a laugh.
MacDonald is the former national affairs columnist and city columnist for the Montreal Gazette. He is also editor of Policy Options, the monthly magazine of the Institute for Research on Public Policy.