Leaders go after Chrétien's departure comment

Globe and Mail Update with Canadian Press
Friday, November 17 – Online Edition, Posted at 11:15 AM EST

Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien's past and future were the subject of some speculation as the federal election campaign rumbled toward the conclusion of its fourth week Friday.

His opponents suggested he may be running on the platform: "Vote for me and I'll quit."

Mr. Chrétien, who has been promising to serve a full term if he wins another majority government, hinted a win Nov. 27 may be his last.

On Thursday during a television interview in Edmonton, Mr. Chrétien said stepping down if re-elected is a possibility.

"In the third year, or something like that, I will decide if I still want to do it or not," he said. "At this moment I intend to serve my mandate that I'm seeking from the people of Canada."

NDP Leader Alexa McDonough told a televised news conference Friday morning that she thought Mr. Chrétien's conflicting statments on whether he will stay on as prime minister for a full four years if re-elected, were just another distraction from the Liberal platform for voters to deal with.

"He made his decision to run in this election," she said. "People know he's been running a tired, timid, minimalist, do-nothing government. I suppose it's one more attempt to say, well, you may think that I'm pretty ineffective and kind of rusting, but there's better news ahead."

Ms. McDonough added no matter what Mr. Chrétien says, it's up to the voters to make a choice between the parties.

Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day also said Mr. Chrétien was perhaps using the possibility of quitting as a leg up. "As I read the papers today, he's saying he may quit," Mr. Day said Friday in an Edmonton TV interview. "Now I don't know if he's trying to get people excited to vote on that particular item."

A poll by Léger Marketing released Thursday showed the Liberal Party at 44 per cent nationally, the Alliance with 25 per cent, the Progressive Conservatives and the Bloc locked in at 10 per cent and the New Democrats at around 8 per cent.

But an Ipsos-Reid poll suggested 53 per cent of respondents don't believe Mr. Chrétien has what it takes to lead the country. Forty-three per cent disagreed. The question of how long Mr. Chrétien, 66, intends to hang is on is one of the campaign wild cards.

The issue of Liberal leadership has shadowed Finance Minister Paul Martin, Mr. Chrétien's heir apparent, as he's campaigned to large crowds across the country. But Mr. Martin refuses to speculate about the question of Mr. Chrétien's continued leadership of the party.

He continually refers to the Liberals as a team. "What we've done with the finances of the country never could have been done if it hadn't been for an awful lot of people," Mr. Martin said this week. "And none of that could have been done without the Prime Minister's support."

Ms. McDonough also focused on the surplus issue Friday morning, saying that it's a great opportunity for Canadians to have a say on how it is spent. She said the party is poised to do well in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, but adding she is confident "there are other seats we can win."

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