When Jean Chretien ascended to the office of Prime Minister after the 1993 federal election, Time Magazine hailed him as "yesterday's man".
It was, in every sense, a deeply cogent pronouncement. Chretien was a relic of a Canadian politics many considered to be long past, one that could only prevent the ascension of a new political regime by vilifying it. When Chretien was in office the target of relentless vilification was Preston Manning and the Reform Party. By the time Chretien was finally shuffled out the door by Paul Martin, it became clear that the politics envisioned by Manning and the Reform Party were very much the politics of Canada's future.
That future would never come with Manning at the helm. His predecessor, Stockwell Day, proved himself to be uniquely vulnerable to the character assassination tactics favoured by the Liberal Party. They were able to destroy Day's leadership prospects to a degree they previously could only fantasize about.
Then along came Stephen Harper. And while the fear-mongering could hold Harper off for a time -- for two years to be precise -- it couldn't destroy his Prime Ministerial hopes the way the Liberals had hoped.
Not that they didn't try. God, did they ever try. They forecasted the destruction of Canada as we knew it: the repeal of same-sex marriage, the end of abortion freedoms, even soldiers -- with guns -- in our cities. They called it Harper's hidden agenda. The only reason why no one else could find any evidence of Harper having such plans was because it was so, well, hidden.
On February 6, 2006, Harper became Prime Minister of Canada. And something remarkable happened: all the horrors the Liberals assured us were forthcoming never came. They never happened.
For a time, they assured us that they just hadn't happened yet because Harper only had a minority. The "hidden agenda" meme lived on in their imaginations, even though Canadians further rejected it in 2008, when they reelected Harper with a stronger minority government.
Fewer and fewer Canadians believed Harper had a hidden agenda. In 2011, they reelected his government again -- this time with a majority government.
Now, it seems, the shit has truly hit the fan. Now, Jean Chretien has come out of hiding to insist that Harper has a hidden agenda.
Of course, he didn't say as much to the Canadian public. He said it in a fundraising letter sent out to his Party's dwindling followers.
"Next may be a woman's right to choose, or gay marriage. Then might come capital punishment. And one by one, the values we cherish as Canadians will be gone," Chretien wrote. The Harper government has already walked away from the Kyoto Protocol Chretien's government signed then never implemented, and the long gun registry which they claim reduces gun violence, but actually does nothing. "Unless we are bold. Unless we seize the moment. Everything we built will start being chipped away."
It's all terribly yawn-inducing -- so dreadfully reeking of desperation that it's tempting to simply discount the Liberal Party altogether.
This is a party that has nothing new to offer. It had nothing new to offer when it offered Jean Chretien, and Canadians only accepted that because they thought he was better than Kim Campbell or Joe Clark, and less scary than Preston Manning or Stockwell Day.
By both counts, they were wrong. Chretien embarked on a directionless and self-indulgent romp through Canadian politics, demonstrating just how ill-suited he was to mold Canada's present, or plan for Canada's future.
Now, with the Liberal Party's desperate reach into the past in a desperate bid to ensure its future, they've shown that this quality isn't unique among Liberals to Chretien. Rather, it's pandemic among Liberals.
They're desperate to survive. Desperate to matter. Desperate for your attention.