Under the Maple Leaf: No Liberal holiday

By MARK BLANCHARD  |  Dec. 20, 2002 at 9:10 AM
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TORONTO, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- So much for a quiet Christmas.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien cozied up to the country's television news anchors for the usual round of year-end fireside chats this week but he ended up trying to douse sparks of discontent within his own Liberal ranks.

Yes, there's a growing cry for Chretien to step down as party leader before next November's leadership convention, but don't expect that to disappear over the holidays.

The Liberal Party is sure to be see anything but peace and happiness this Christmas. If anything, pundits predict the internal bickering may intensify.

But Chretien says, though, members of his caucus trying to push him out early are "wasting their time." He vows not to retire as prime minister before he's good and ready. And that, he figures, is February 2004.

Note the difference in dates. It leaves three months in which Chretien will be prime minister but not party leader.

"They are two different things," he said, blaming Liberal organizers for planning to hold a convention before he actually leaves office.

"That's their problem, not mine," he scoffed. "I gave them the date first."

A man who knows all too well what it's like to be deposed as leader predicts Chretien will not have a happy new year.

Former Prime Minister Joe Clark says he's seen the signs before -- distrust, suspicion and backroom rivalries.

"I don't think the Chretien government can function for another 12 months," he said in a year-end interview with one reporter. "I just don't think they're going to be able to function."

Clark is wrapping up his second stint as head of the Progressive Conservatives. But 20 years ago he fell victim to internal party strife.

Just nine months in power, his government was defeated in the House of Commons on a crucial budget vote and by 1980 it was out. And three years later so was Clark, not to return until 1998.

"My experience sitting around a cabinet is that there are always tense

competitions," Clark explained. "There are personality differences and there are all these other things that you reach over.

"It becomes an instinct because you're in this together," he added. "They (the Liberals) are not in this together."

David Ahenakew knew when to call it quits -- better late than never.

He resigned in disgrace this week as chairman of the senate of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, after he praised the Nazis for trying to get rid of Jews.

Ahenakew made the comment during a dinner speech and then repeated it in a newspaper interview.

"The Jews damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war," he said. "That's how Hitler came in. He was going to make damn sure that the Jews didn't take over Germany or Europe.

"That's why he fried 6 million of those guys, you know, Jews would have owned the God-damned world," he added. And look what they're doing. They're killing people in Arab countries."

Amid tears, Ahenakew apologized for his comments, his conduct and for offending Canada's Jewish community.

But that wasn't enough for many critics who want to see Ahenakew stripped of his membership in the Order of Canada, an honor bestowed on him in 1978 for advancing native rights and education.

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