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The West should brace for attack in the next federal election Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 23 February 2004

Amid the swirling political dust and wreckage of the past two weeks, all that can be seen clearly is this. To hold power, the Liberals need time to formulate an attack on the West. Whether they can do this under a leader as inept as Paul Martin is hard to say, but I wouldn't rule it out.

For a long time now, Martin has reminded me of John Turner. All through the 1970s and early 1980s, as Pierre Trudeau grew more tiresome and more hated, Liberals kept telling us about this miracle man Turner they had in reserve. He would revitalize and refashion the party. He was a policy genius, a brilliant Toronto corporate lawyer, the last finance minister to balance a budget, and a new man for new times.

Turner just had to go on breathing while the magic of media suggestion and public frustration did the rest. But then the unimaginable happened. Turner became leader and turned out to be an overrated dud--indecisive, ill advised, nervous, unaware, rudderless. He was the exact opposite of everything we'd been told for ten years. With public expectations dashed, the Liberals were annihilated in an election 10 weeks later.

Paul Martin looks like a John Turner replay.

Take for instance the current sponsorship scandal. Martin had three months to figure out how bad it was and whom to blame.

As soon as the auditor-general released her report, Martin should have fired at least six senior people--politicians, bureaucrats, corporate chiefs, advertising agencies--it hardly matters who. Voters would then think he's serious about cleansing his notoriously corrupt party. Anything short of a small slaughter leaves people thinking Martin is either clueless or compromised, afraid of what his internal enemies might reveal about him.

Martin seems to think that as long as he sounds tough and resolute, that's good enough. It isn't. The only question now is whether some Liberal cabal, headed perhaps by the likes of Maurice Strong, can get him gagged and under control before he wrecks everything.

All of this bodes well for the reunited Conservatives, who in one month have come within striking distance in the polls.

However, they had better not count too many unhatched chickens just yet.

If, as now seems likely, Steve Harper wins the Conservative leadership, he would carry one huge disadvantage into an election, namely that he is from the West. As we saw with Stockwell Day and Preston Manning (both of whom in hindsight are political geniuses compared to Paul Martin), the eastern electorate can be whipped into mindless loathing of conservative western leaders.

I think the Liberals may delay the election till next fall while they concoct some sort of anti-western, anti-oil industry, pro-Kyoto, carbon-tax program. The pitch will be to save mother earth while siphoning even more money out of greedy Alberta. This tried-and-tested election strategy was best articulated long ago by senator Keith Davey as, "Screw the West, we'll take the rest."

Martin may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but Liberals are undisputed masters of divide-and-rule strategies and tactics.

The western provinces, especially Alberta, had better brace for an attack. The Liberal mood is getting ugly.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.

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