Press-Republican

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April 19, 2013

Bringing Liberal civil war to an end

Abraham Lincoln he is not. And he did not exactly say “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

However, when Justin Trudeau assumed the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada on Sunday, he vowed to put an end to the civil warfare that has divided the once almighty party for nearly 30 years — since his father, Pierre, left the job.

The 41-year-old Trudeau won the post with a whopping 80 percent of the more than 100,000 party supporters who voted online. This marks the largest vote ever to elect a political leader in Canada.

Trudeau inherits a party that little resembles the one his dad won back in 1968, when he was 49. (For the record, Pierre Trudeau won the Liberal crown with only 51 percent of the vote). When the elder Trudeau took power, the Liberals had ruled Canada since 1896, with a few interruptions.

When Pierre retired in 1984, the seeds were sown for what would turn out to be decades of party feuding and in-fighting. This has led to the party’s descent into what is now the lowest point ever, with a mere 34 seats in the House of Commons and relegated to third-party status behind the leftist New Democratic Party and the ruling Conservatives of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

With Trudeau gone, the party split into two camps, with one backing the one-time heir apparent of the Liberals, John Turner, and the other Jean Chretien, Trudeau’s loyal go-to minister, once described as looking like the guy who drove the getaway car.

Turner beat Chretien and went on to serve briefly as prime minister before the Liberals were turfed from office.

Nine years later, Chretien, having beaten star recruit Paul Martin for the leadership, brought the Liberals back to power and won three consecutive majority governments. All the while, supporters of Martin, mostly Turner backers, were impatient for Chretien to relinquish the party leadership.

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