Under the Maple Leaf:Chretien going, later

By MARK BLANCHARD  |  Aug. 23, 2002 at 8:05 AM
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Call it the long goodbye.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced this week he's resigning from politics.

But there's a catch. He won't actually step down until February, 2004.

So now what?

Well, there are predictions the PM will turn into a lame-duck leader over the next 18 months.

Some pundits even wonder how Chretien's Liberals will be able to govern effectively if Cabinet ministers are busy drumming up support for their own leadership campaigns.

Then there's the man who would be prime minister -- if he gets his way.

Paul Martin, the country's former finance minister, will be 65 years old, retirement age in most other jobs, in a year and a half.

But, according to one theory, that's exactly why Chretien picked a departure date so far down the road.

So what's changed?

Not a lot, really.

Martin's unofficial campaign is one step closer to being openly declared, but don't expect that to happen soon.

No matter how deep his pockets are, 18 months is a long time in politics.

Other Liberal leadership hopefuls have been warned they'll have to resign their cabinet posts if they want make their bids official.

So don't expect any of them to be the first out the gate soon.

If anything, Canadian voters have become more cynical about their politicians and their political parties.

They swamped talk show hosts with angry calls just hours after Chretien announced his plans.

Most of them, recent polls found, wanted him to step down -- sooner rather than later.

Many would probably agree with Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper's insightful comment on the most noticeable change Chretien's announcement has triggered.

"The longest undeclared leadership race in Canadian history has become even longer," he quipped.

While Liberals watch the long goodbye drag on into the year after next, Canada's other political parties are taking advantage.

The right-wing Progressive Conservatives, meeting in Edmonton for a convention this week, are about to bid adieu to leader Joe Clark.

Like Chretien, Clark announced earlier this month he plans to step down, but will stick around for while.

On Thursday, though, Clark and Conservative organizers hinted they might speed up the timetable for a leadership convention and hold one early next year.

That would give a new, likely younger Tory leader more time to warm up to voters before the Liberals chose their new leader.

The socialist New Democratic Party is also overhauling its leadership, but Alexa McDonough's swan song will be short and sweet.

Party members will go to the polls at a convention next January.

"This leadership campaign is about building on that momentum and solid party building, not just electing a new leader," McDonough noted.

"Last year, NDP support in the country was showing up ... at 6, 7, 8 percent," she added. "The most recent public opinion polls show we have doubled that."

Six candidates are now vying for McDonough's job.

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