National Post

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Hedy Fry says PM should retire

Chrétien begins cross-Canada tour

Anne Dawson, Chief Political Correspondent
National Post

PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY, Ont. - Jean Chrétien began making the case for his continued leadership last night at a tightly controlled Liberal party event that contrasted starkly with the rallies of rival Paul Martin.

The Prime Minister said he will not make a decision about running in the next election until the second half of his term -- he's 20 months into a five-year mandate -- and that Liberal supporters trust him to make the right choice.

Yesterday, Hedy Fry, a B.C. Liberal MP and former cabinet minister, said it is time for Mr. Chrétien to retire. The government is devoid of fresh ideas and has allowed power to be concentrated in the hands of a few, she said.

"I like him and I think he did a great job. I think he has left a great legacy for Canada. And I would particularly hate to see him lose that legacy and be remembered only as somebody who divided the party."

Speaking privately this week, other Liberal MPs said the Prime Minister's only hope of winning the February leadership review is to announce this fall he intends to retire within a year.

The MPs said if Mr. Chrétien makes his retirement date known, they believe they can convince party faithful to endorse his leadership in February.

Mr. Chrétien delivered an upbeat speech about the importance of farming to about 125 local Liberals, including members of the farming community, at the farm owned by Lyle Vanclief, the Minister of Agriculture.

It was Mr. Chrétien's first foray on to the campaign trail since Paul Martin, the former finance minister, conducted his cross-Canada tour in late June and early July. Mr. Martin drew crowds of 500 in London, 1,500 in Calgary and more than 1,000 in Vancouver.

Mr. Chrétien chose to attend the annual summer meeting of his rural caucus. Of the 125 who attended the barbecue portion of the event, held under a tent because of heavy rain, only about 16 MPs and Senators were present. Among them was John Manley, the Minister of Finance, who is not a member of the rural caucus but wanted to show support for the Prime Minister.

Murray Calder, chairman of the rural caucus, said only 20 to 25 members typically attend the summer meeting because most are doing constituency work at this time of year.

Mr. Chrétien, who has been on holiday the past two weeks at his Shawinigan cottage, is embarking on what is expected to be a busy cross-Canada tour to demonstrate he intends to continue governing the country despite the leadership battle.

"I'm not campaigning for my job. I'm doing my job. I'm the Prime Minister and I'm with the caucus and doing my job as Prime Minister, thinking about the problems of the farmers and so on. It is my job. I'm working on a program. We have a lot of things to do in the fall," he said.

Mr. Chrétien said waiting until the latter half of his mandate to decide whether he will run again proved successful in both the 1997 and 2000 elections.

He said the two most important tools a Prime Minister has at his disposal are the timing of when to call an election and when to step down.

"It was the same thing after the first election and it was the same thing after the second election and it is the best recipe. Why? It's because two instruments for the leader that [are] very important. The Prime Minister can call an election when he feels it's the time to have an election and it is the same thing about leadership. The two are extremely important for the strategy of the party," Mr. Chrétien told reporters during the barbecue.

"It's not a capricious thing on my part. I will make the right decision and they all know that. They trust my judgment."

Mr. Chrétien dismissed new reports of yet more MPs calling for him to announce his retirement. Tom Wappel of Toronto and Ms. Fry are the most recent two to call on Mr. Chrétien to step down.

"The overwhelming majority of people [in my riding] say it's time for Mr. Chrétien to retire. There is nothing particular against him except a feeling that he has done what he set out to do and there's no real reason to hang on to another term," Mr. Wappel told the Hill Times.

Ms. Fry said she is responding to a wave of public opinion in her downtown Vancouver riding that has been building since Mr. Martin was removed from Cabinet in the spring after refusing to dismantle his leadership organization.

"Over the period of time since this all started we've had hundreds of calls to my riding. I have had one asking me to support Mr. Chrétien," she said.

Ms. Fry, fiercely criticized last year for wrongly stating that racists were burning crosses in Prince George, B.C., was removed from her post in January as secretary of state for multiculturalism and status of women.

Mr. Chrétien said everyone is entitled to his or her view, but he makes the final decision.

"They can say whatever they want. The problem is I am the leader of the party and I led my party to three consecutive elections. I proved quite effectively that I can do my job," he said.

Mr. Chrétien dismissed a National Post poll that revealed only 14% of Canadians want him to continue leading the Liberal party. He noted 44% would re-elect a Liberal party led by him.

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