Under the Maple Leaf: Still a race of one

By MARK BLANCHARD   |   Jan. 17, 2003 at 10:11 AM
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TORONTO, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Another one bites the dust.

The race to replace Prime Minister Jean Chretien just began. Or, you could argue, it just ended.

Sorry for the ambiguity, but here's the deal:

A Liberal Cabinet minister almost everyone in Ottawa was expecting to run for the party's leadership has now decided not to.

Yes, Industry Minister Allan Rock says it's a race he can't win.

"Paul Martin is the most popular politician in the country," he bluntly told reporters. "He's a tough candidate to beat. That's the reality."

Give Rock some credit, though. Clearly a smart politico, he read the cards correctly and knew when to fold them.

Rock isn't the first would-be candidate to give up before even beginning.

Former Industry Minister Brian Tobin says he quit federal politics a year ago, after coming to the same hopeless conclusion.

Martin is Canada's former finance minister and was essentially fired by Chretien last year because he was too ambitious.

Now, he's the perceived front-runner to replace Chretien.

It's no secret Martin has been organizing his leadership bid for several years. No doubt his supporters have amassed millions for a campaign war chest.

The "campaign" really hasn't begun, though.

It seems Martin is still the only officially declared candidate -- another sign high-profile Liberals are leery of running against him.

Sure, the leadership convention is 10 months away. But you'd think there'd be some competition.

Oh well, never mind.

Martin thinks the race isn't over yet.

"I believe that debate of ideas is still going to take place," he quipped.

A debate of one, anyone?

Over in the Conservative Party, there's actually a race to take over the reins from retiring leader Joe Clark.

Two new candidates announced their intentions. Among them -- the 37-year-old member of Parliament many pundits believe has a good chance of winning.

Peter MacKay has made a name for himself after sitting in the House of Commons for six years.

But politics is in his blood. His father Elmer was a Cabinet minister under former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Calgary lawyer Jim Prentice has also entered the race, joining 74-year former federal Cabinet minister Heward Grafftey.

Grafftey, though, hasn't come up with the $45,000 candidate fee or the requisite nomination papers with the 250 signatures of party members.

The party's leadership race comes amid renewed debate over the need to unite Canada's right-wing political parties -- the Conservatives and the official opposition Canadian Alliance.

"I can tell you right now, I am not the merger candidate," MacKay vowed.

The Conservatives choose their new leader June 1.

Liberals in the province of British Columbia may be looking for a new leader soon.

Premier Gordon Campbell's under fire, after being arrested for drunken diving while on a Hawaiian holiday. Police pulled him over and administered a breath test that showed he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.149, almost twice the legal limit.

Campbell spent a night in jail and paid his own bail. Before he rushed home, his police mug shots -- complete with goofy smirk and prisoner number -- were splashed across Canadian newspapers.

News of the high alcohol reading casts doubt on the premier's claim he drank three martinis and then two or three glasses of wine over dinner, then water before he drove his rented car to a Maui resort.

While Campbell's Cabinet supports him, a new poll finds half of provincial residents want him to resign.

Campbell says he won't, but that could change.

His own health minister admits: "The premier has set a lousy example."

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