October 15, 2002
It may be too late for Chretien to act humble
OTTAWA - The highly unusual unravelling of Liberal caucus discipline in recent months is a delight for journalists, but is it an advance for parliamentary openness and democracy? Probably, although that may not last.
The mutiny is, arguably, less a significant shift in political values away from clubby compromise and blind obedience and toward frank public debate, than it is the product of two concurrent events: a prime minister who has announced he is leaving, and a caucus composed of seasoned veterans whose confidence and frustration have grown during nine years under Jean Chretien's heavy thumb.
It is almost amusing to watch the prime minister's newfound respect for his cabinet and caucus -- and a tacit admission that he is losing control. Pressed to say whether his government would ratify the Kyoto Protocol before Christmas, Mr. Chretien first claimed he couldn't say; it would depend on what caucus and cabinet said, and, of course, on the outcome of a vote in Parliament. But he admitted the "chances" of ratification are "pretty good."
Still others -- MPs Roger Gallaway and Dennis Mills and Senator Anne Cools -- are considered contrarians, gadflies, albeit with some valid criticisms of their own government. But they tend to command less media and cabinet respect than, say, principled objectors like environmentalists Karen Kraft Sloan, Charles Caccia and Clifford Lincoln, or Carolyn Bennett, who wishes, she said last week, "that everyone would just get back to work."