Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his Liberal government dominate the
national political scene like an impregnable fortress after a parliamentary
session that left much of the opposition battered and bruised.
We can't recall a government that's been on cruise control
as long as this one.
The prime minister himself would be hard-pressed to conceive a
more favourable set of circumstances than he has now. The
opposition parties, especially the crumbling Canadian Alliance, can't lay a
glove on the government and are even more ineffective than
they were prior to the November election. Chretien has had
an easy time -- too easy, in fact -- as
prime minister. There is complacency in a government that is
taking plenty of time to tackle problems such as the
future of health care and the need for an agenda
to renew our cities. Yet it approved healthy pay increases
to MPs in the blink of an eye. Backbench Liberals
could insist on a better performance but seldom flex their
Chretien could bolster his legacy by showing inspired leadership as
his career winds down, but we're not counting on it.
In fact, his most significant final act might be to
deny the leadership to longtime foe and heir apparent Paul
Martin. As time marches on, and a flock of cabinet
ministers start to organize and signal their plans to run,
it increasingly looks as if Martin will not enjoy a