Prime Minister Jean Chretien launched his campaign for a third term in office today, promising Canadians tax cuts, new investments in research and a fresh determination to prevent Quebec from seceding.
The broad and activist agenda was laid out in a nationally televised speech written by the government but delivered by the new governor general, who is Queen Elizabeth II's representative and thus Canada's head of state. She is Adrienne Clarkson, an Asian immigrant and well-known television broadcaster who Chretien hopes will add some dash and sophistication to a government that often seems to lack both.
In the days leading up to the address, known as the Speech from the Throne, aides confirmed that the 65-year-old prime minister will confound critics and would-be successors and seek a third term in elections that could be called next fall. While most Canadians say they would prefer Chretien to retire, his popularity remains high and his opposition so weak and divided that polls show he would not only win another mandate, but probably expand his slim majority in the House of Commons with about 54 percent of the vote.
"He's got a lot of unfinished business to tend to," said Edward Goldenberg, his top policy adviser. "And right now, he's at the top of his game."
Chretien's new plan, sprinkled with dozens of modest new spending initiatives, represents a turn to the left after years of spending cuts and budget balancing. It calls for a new Canadian Institutes of Health Research and greater government subsidies for industries such as biotechnology and computer science that have export potential. There will be tax breaks and expanded services for low-income families with children, and a new exchange program that will give 100,000 students each year the chance to spend time in others parts of this sprawling country. A start will be made toward cleaning up toxic waste sites and protecting endangered species. There will be more money for highways and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Still, the plan lacked the bold strokes or grand vision many Liberal Party backbenchers had hoped for, or even any acknowledgment of any of the challenges facing the country: a national health system fraying at the edges, failed Indian programs, lagging productivity and a slow but steady brain drain.
In seeking a third term, Chretien aspires to join the company of predecessors such as John A. Macdonald and Pierre Trudeau. But his model may well be an American politician, Ronald Reagan. Like Reagan, Chretien is a determined delegator who usually has lunch at home with his wife, schedules only a few appointments each day and saves plenty of weekend time for recreation. And like "the Gipper," "the little guy from Shawinigan" usually reads from prepared texts, responds to questions with a shrug and an anecdote, and never misses a chance to tout Canada as the greatest country in the world in which to live.
And Canadians seem to love it.
"Over the previous 30 years, one prime minister after another has told Canadians that they weren't good enough, or that there was some crisis--the energy crisis, Quebec, the budget deficit--that would require them once again to change their ways or pull up their socks," explained Jeffrey Simpson, the respected Ottawa columnist for the Globe & Mail. "Now the country wants a period of normalcy and satisfaction and that is what Chretien is all about."
CAPTION: Prime Minister Jean Chretien hopes Governor General Adrienne Clarkson will add some pizazz to his government.