(An earlier version of this article was published in the Toronto Star of October 4, 2003 and in the Montreal Gazette of October 5, 2003)
On November 15, Paul Martin will be apparently be elected leader of the Federal Liberal Party after, let us hope, a lively series of debates with Sheila Copps, which might focus the Party on the issues and also give each delegate and observer something for the $1000 admission fee.
Thirty-five years ago in 1968 at the Liberal Convention in Ottawa, which eventually elected Pierre Elliott Trudeau on the fourth ballot, the retiring Party leader and Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson graciously confirmed his resignation, leaving Mr. Trudeau with a free hand. Mr Pearson's considerable achievements and legacy were left unsullied and intact. In its wisdom the Party gave Mr. Pearson a puppy as he stood on the platform and Mr. Pearson whimsically noted that he at least he would have comfort from the dog during his retirement. He was also wearing a bow tie for the first time in ten years. The Party hierarchy, also in its wisdom, had not considered his bow ties were statesman-like enough, when he became Party leader in 1958.
Mr. Chrétien need not wear a bow tie and they could give him another Inuit sculpture instead of a dog, but like Mr. Pearson he should resign on the spot. In particular, he should not do as Mr. Trudeau did, when he retired in 1984 leaving a long trail of questionable paybacks and nominations, thus embarrassing John Turner, the new Liberal leader, in the election which followed.
Mr Chrétien can, as Dylan Thomas said, "Go gentle into that good night", having recently made one of his greatest contributions to Canada, when he kept us out of the Iraq war. In his inimitable style, Chrétien said he thought America could eventually get out by the same process one uses to get a car out of a snow bank. You go ahead and then back and then ahead etc. and then suddenly you are able to back out.
Mr. Chrétien will be missed, but it is time to go and he need not back away.
(William Tetley, was a member of the Bourassa Cabinet, 1970-1976).