‘There’s daggers in men’s smiles’

The Toronto Globe and Mail

‘There’s daggers in men’s smiles’

By JOHN IBBITSON
Wednesday, March 10, 2004 – Page A21

Peter Donolo, who used to be Jean Chr├ętien’s director of
communications, was at a birthday party, when he came across Karl
Littler, Paul Martin’s chief organizer in Ontario.

“Karl, what are you doing here?” Mr. Donolo kibitzed, “aren’t you
supposed to be out there destroying the Liberal Party?”

Everyone laughed and Mr. Donolo, when contacted, says the two ended up
having “a very friendly, sociable chat.”

No doubt. But the incident tells a tale. The civil war between Paul
Martin and Jean Chr├ętien is corroding the foundations of the Liberal
Party, threatening its hopes for a majority government in the federal
election.

We all know about Sheila Copps’s allegations of chicanery by the
Martin-dominated party machine in Hamilton East-Stoney
Creek. (Yesterday, she complained to the RCMP.) But Hamilton
East-Stoney Creek is hardly unique. In recent days, campaign workers
in ridings across the country have phoned or e-mailed with
hair-raising complaints.

Here’s one of the best examples: The new riding of Brampton-Springdale
takes in most of the old riding of Brampton Centre, held by Liberal MP
Sarkis Assadourian. He is being challenged by, among others, Andrew
Kania, a Brampton lawyer who was Ontario co-chairman of John Manley’s
aborted leadership campaign.

Mr. Kania’s forces control the riding executive, and are reportedly
well ahead in signing up members. For more than a month, the executive
has been pleading with Mr. Littler, who is the Ontario campaign
chairman, to call a nomination meeting. Not only will Mr. Littler not
call the meeting, Mr. Assadourian reportedly pleaded with Mr. Martin
last week in caucus to offer him protection from challenges in his
riding. (Mr. Assadourian’s office did not respond to a request for an
interview.)

Mr. Kania is guarded with his language — he professes loyalty to the
party and the Prime Minister — but when asked whether he felt the
nomination meeting was being delayed to give Mr. Assadourian more time
to counter Mr. Kania’s challenge, he replied: “Yes, I do.” Regardless,
he says, “No matter when the meeting is called, I will win the
nomination.”

Mr. Littler insists there are no conspiracies; the Brampton-Springdale
nomination meeting promises to be contentious, and he is short of
staff to manage it.

Mr. Kania at least has had his application to run as a Liberal
candidate approved. In the riding of Vancouver Centre, Taleeb
Noormohamed can’t even get that far. Mr. Noormohamed is one of two
candidates challenging incumbent Hedy Fry. The other is Lynne Kennedy,
a former city councillor.

Mr. Noormohamed is young and, to be blunt about it, ethnically
correct, but he is also male and Ms. Fry and Ms. Kennedy are female,
and the party is anxious to bolster the number of women in the
House. So while Ms. Fry and Ms. Kennedy have had no difficulty in
getting their candidate applications approved, Mr. Noormohamed can’t
get the green light to save his life. He’s been interviewed (the
others haven’t), his education credentials have been questioned
(Princeton and Oxford, by the way), and the committee responsible for
vetting his application never seems to be able to meet.

“We’ve built up very strong support from a lot of people who have
never been involved in politics before, at a time when the Liberal
Party is facing challenges,” Mr. Noormohamed said in an interview. “My
concern is that if something is seen to be amiss, a lot of people are
going to get turned off, not just from politics, but from the Liberal
Party.”

Mark Marissen, B.C. campaign chairman, said that the party is hoping
to have an answer soon to Mr. Noormohamed’s application.

When Mr. Martin refused to protect incumbent MPs, in the interest of
democratizing the party, he doubtless felt his overwhelming control
over riding associations and the provincial wings of the federal party
would allow him to ensure political friends were promoted and enemies
frustrated. It hasn’t worked that way. Instead, the riding fights
have turned into yet another front in the epic contest between
Mr. Martin and Mr. Chr├ętien, left and right, legacy and agenda.

For Liberals, the tragedy could be that the ridings are left so
weakened and divided that they fall to the opposition. The
Conservatives, for example, have high hopes for Brampton-Springdale,
and Vancouver Centre isn’t immune to challenge.

We may need to disinter Shakespeare: Only he could do justice to a
conflict so epic. Jean Chr├ętien and Paul Martin claw at each other
without surcease, while the sands dissolve beneath them, swallowing
both, each still clutching the other’s throat.

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