It is hardly surprising that Jean Chrétien would single Paul Martin out for special mention in his memoirs. For much of the time that Mr. Chrétien was in the Prime Minister's Office, his finance minister openly sought to replace him. Mr. Martin actively courted support from Liberal MPs and party members, who in turn launched a determined - and ultimately successful - campaign to get Mr. Chrétien to surrender his party's leadership. Understandably, this poisoned the relationship between the two men, a point made clear in Mr. Chrétien's new book, My Years as Prime Minister.
But in at least one respect, Mr. Chrétien's criticism of Mr. Martin is badly off base. He attempts to pin the blame for the sponsorship scandal's fallout on his successor. He suggests that Mr. Martin made too big a deal of Auditor-General Sheila Fraser's damning report on the federal sponsorship program, which prompted Mr. Justice John Gomery's inquiry. Mr. Chrétien is confident that, had he remained in office until after the release of that report - something he claims he offered to do, though it looked at the time as if he timed his exit so Mr. Martin would be left with the mess - he would have been able to ensure that it blew over. "Of course, I expected to have to take some hits in the press for a couple of weeks, but that hadn't frightened me in the past and it didn't frighten me now," he writes. "By the time Martin was to take over, the whole issue would have been history and he could have begun his mandate without that albatross around his neck."
Mr. Martin made many mistakes as prime minister, but his handling of the sponsorship scandal was not one of them. This was not, as Mr. Chrétien continues to claim, a matter of a few people abusing the system. It was a matter of a system being badly broken. A program set up by his government with the aim of promoting national unity became a means for assorted individuals, including those with Liberal ties, to defraud the federal government of millions of dollars. If Mr. Chrétien and his ministers did not know what was going on, they should have.
True, shrugging all this off might have been the more politically expedient course of action. But it is disappointing that, having had time to reflect since his forced retirement, Mr. Chrétien still thinks this is an issue that should have been made to disappear.
Chrétien's faulty attack
Mr. Martin made many mistakes as prime minister, but his handling of the sponsorship scandal was not one of them.