2004 Liberal Party of Canada infighting

From Academic Kids

The period between Paul Martin's assumption of the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada on November 14, 2003, and the 2004 Canadian election being called on May 23, 2004, saw a large amount of infighting within the party.

Traditionally the Liberals have been the most unified of Canada's major parties. The Progressive Conservatives would implode regularly, having done so under John Diefenbaker, Joe Clark, and Kim Campbell. More recently, the Canadian Alliance had suffered highly public internal strife under Stockwell Day (see Democratic Representative Caucus. The Liberal Party, however, had traditionally seen heated but soon forgotten leadership contests that did not harm party unity. A notable exception was the period after John Turner was elected leader.

Martin worked hard to become the clear successor to Chrétien, ensuring that most of the institutions of the Liberal Party were controlled by his allies. The split opened wider, however, in the summer of 2003 when Chrétien tried to curtail Martin's open campaigning for the leadership. What ensued is of some debate. Martin claims that he was fired from cabinet by Chrétien, which is what was widely reported in the media, while Chrétien claims that Martin had resigned. In either case, Martin's influence in the party eventually forced Chrétien to announce his retirement and in December Martin was installed as leader.

While the issue of the party leadership was settled, at the lower levels unprecedented intraparty warfare began. Most of Chrétien's loyal cabinet ministers were relegated to the backbenches. Ministers such as John Manley, Allan Rock, Don Boudria, and Sheila Copps who had spent a decade running one of the most popular and successful governments in Canadian history were reduced to minor roles, and many of them decided to leave politics for the private sector.

Some Chrétien loyalists remained as backbenchers. In some cases, they were defeated in the riding nomination process, with widespread allegations of tampering by Martin supporters. Unlike in previous elections, incumbent Liberals were not automatically granted their local nomination.

Nomination battles

In Canadian federal politics, would-be electoral candidates will generally seek the nomination of their chosen party within the local constituency. The nominee is chosen by members of the party within the constituency, and consequently the candidates attempt to sign up as many new members as possible to support them prior to the nomination meeting. In previous elections, incumbent MPs were protected from nomination challenges; this rule was not applied in 2004.

The highest profile battle was in the riding of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek between former Deputy Prime Minister and leadership candidate Sheila Copps and Martin loyalist and newly minted Minister of Transport Tony Valeri. Copps was one of the most noted representatives of the party's left wing and had been a leading Liberal for decades, but lost the nomination battle, which she blamed on dirty tricks.

Other battles happened across the country:


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