Source : Globe & Mail
Ottawa — Paul Martin became the unofficial prime minister designate last night when he racked up another day of massive victories in Liberal Party voting, passing the magic number of 2,902 delegates that guarantees he will win the party leadership.
Mr. Martin's resounding victory, with a margin exceeding 90 per cent of the vote, makes the November leadership convention a mere formality — and his place as the next Liberal leader and successor to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien a certainty.
It also sets the clock ticking for Mr. Martin's transition team, who can now openly start planning the details of its takeover of the Prime Minister's Office, even though Mr. Chrétien has said he will leave only in February.
Mr. Martin, who had piled up more than 2,600 convention delegates in the first two days of voting Friday and Saturday, clicked past 2,902 delegates soon after results numbers rolling in last night.
Incomplete results showed that Mr. Martin had taken 3,514, Sheila Copps had 294, and there were 15 independents.
Mr. Martin was also dominating the popular vote, winning about 93 per cent, compared with about 7 per cent for Ms. Copps.
Mr. Martin waited for the numbers at his farm near Knowlton, Que., calling supporters to thank them. His wife Sheila and two of his three sons, Paul W. and David, were with him.
At his national campaign office, staffers — including some who have been working for Mr. Martin to become prime minister since 1990 — watched for the long-awaited but certain victory.
They were crying and hugging as they crossed the magic number in the suburban Montreal riding of Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert.
In a call placed on speaker-phone at headquarters, Mr. Martin told his campaign managers that "every single person in that room, you've just got to give them all the biggest hug in the whole world.
"This is beyond belief."
He said he was overwhelmed by the results and then joked that for someone who wanted to be prime minister, he should be more articulate.
"We're obviously very encouraged by the results so far. It's really a testament to Paul Martin and his message — you know, change and renewal," Mr. Martin's executive assistant, Tim Murphy, said earlier.
Brian Tobin, a former Liberal cabinet minister and Newfoundland premier, said Liberals will now take their cues from Mr. Martin, and predicted that Mr. Chrétien will begin paving the way for the change of the guard.
"He now knows that, effectively, Paul Martin is the leader," Mr. Tobin said. "I expect that Jean Chrétien will begin to take decisions to make the transition an effective one and a smooth one."
Ms. Copps was left struggling to avoid the embarrassment of finishing with a single-digit result in a two-horse race, and to beat the finish she posted in the 1990 leadership race, when she was third in a five-person race with just over 10 per cent of the votes.
Her campaign manager, Joe Thornley, insisted Ms. Copps was not disappointed.
"It hasn't been a difficult weekend for us. She expected the result that we got and in fact we've come out a little better than we expected to be so far," he said yesterday morning.
"She feels that she has made a lot of points in this campaign. It is politics, sure it's about winning, but more so it's about the points that you make and the influence that you have on people, and she feels that she has influenced the race."
Mr. Tobin also suggested that Ms. Copps should consider pulling out of the race — but be given a prominent role at the convention.
More than 531,000 party members were eligible to vote over three days in elections for 4,733 delegates chosen from riding associations and Liberal youth, women's and aboriginal clubs. Delegates elected on a candidate's slate must vote for that candidate on the first ballot at the Nov. 15 leadership convention.
Mr. Martin needed to win 2,902 of the delegates to clinch victory at the convention. That would give him a majority no matter how the so-called automatic delegates — more than 1,000 MPs and Senators — vote.
Turnout over the weekend was low. In some Liberal student clubs, only one member showed up to vote, but elected four delegates. In dozens of races at Liberal women's and youth clubs, fewer than 10 people voted.
Mr. Martin's camp was able to elect 12 delegates on the strength of just one vote in the Eastern Ontario riding of Hastings-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington. Toronto MP Joe Volpe said he had thousands of people at his annual barbecue yesterday, but when he checked at the poll at 5 o'clock, only about 150 had voted in his Eglinton-Lawrence riding.
"Everybody thinks it's game over," Mr. Volpe said. "It's really tough to motivate people when everybody thinks it's been done for such a long time."
The rules for leadership races put a premium on organization, and Mr. Martin's long-running and well-financed campaign has spent years electing and wooing supporters in riding associations and Liberal clubs across the country.
Yesterday, Mr. Martin's organizers allowed media a quick peek at their Ottawa campaign headquarters where volunteers were phoning party members, reminding them to cast their ballots.
In the campaign war room, Mr. Martin's director of operations, David Brodie, was taking results from Manitoba MP Reg Alcock, a staunch Martin supporter. Despite the results that had Martin delegates winning 94 delegates to 10 for Ms. Copps, however, there was little visible excitement.
Their worry about the perception of trying to force Mr. Chrétien out early appeared to mute even talk of a celebration.
"Well, it's surprising and exciting and it is incredible that Paul Martin, and the job he has done, and the record he has and what he wants to do with Canada is generating as much enthusiasm within the party and clearly across the country as he has," Mr. Murphy, Mr. Martin's executive assistant, said in a deadpan tone.
"Once and if things work out well, we may pop a cork or two then," he said.
Mr. Murphy was careful to avoid any comment on how Mr. Martin will be handling the transition and the fact that Mr. Chrétien is to remain Prime Minister until next February. He repeatedly said that the campaign was not over until the vote at the leadership convention in Toronto on Nov. 15.
"[We] still have to go through a convention in November and that's where we, he, we hope, is formally elected the leader of the party," he said.
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