It wasn’t quite MacArthur addressing the Philippines with a promise to return, but Sheila Copps “bid adieu” to Parliament Friday, bringing for now an end to a political career steeped in controversy and celebration.
The Hamilton East MP who was defeated in a bitter riding battle with fellow Liberal Tony Valeri announced she would not be running in the upcoming election in any capacity, putting to rest that she planned on being a thorn in the side of both Valeri and Paul Martin by running as an Independent.
Her teary eyed farewell speech brought back memories of battles fought over the years as the MP for Hamilton East, her days as an opposition Rat Pack member and her various cabinet positions with Jean Chretien. She said she “turns the page at peace – at peace that we’ve built a stronger Canada”. An interesting turn of phrase for while she may be turning the page at peace, she’s certainly going out with all guns blazing.
Her loss to Valeri gave her cause to question where Paul Martin was taking the Liberal party that she grew up in. She questioned the legality of her defeat, suggested some malfeasance in the back rooms and kept the nasty infighting on the front pages far longer than Martin most likely would have liked.
At one point she even flirted with the idea of crossing the floor and joining Jack Layton’s NDP collective, though it’s not really known if that prospect every would have flown. Many NDP followers expressed less than welcoming words at the prospect of a high flying ex-Liberal cabinet minister truly being able to understand the struggles of the average Joe.
As she leaves the halls of Parliament she delivered a sorrowful look at how her party has changed since the Martin forces took charge. Her final day a litany of warnings to the Prime Minister, that his intervention in local riding nominating races is sewing the seeds of failure on Election Day.
She went on to blast the Prime Minister on his handling of the party affairs thus far in his tenure, in a thinly veiled attack she suggested that she wasn’t retiring, rather she was “done in”. She also seemed to hint that not only she, but other high profile Liberal retirees may not be too far from the Hill, should the current Prime Minister not survive the upcoming election. Not the tone of someone who might be willing to help her old party continue on as the national governing party.
Her comments certainly show the state of division in the Liberal party today as Martin prepares to launch his election campaign. His candidates will not be able to count on a large group of normally battle ready Liberal operatives, many of whom are planning on sitting this campaign out in support of their fallen comrades. Or so the muted tones of most of the recently departed would suggest.
As for Sheila, “never, say never” was her final? curtain call. Should Martin not deliver his vote, we’ll no doubt be hearing from the former MP from Hamilton East quickly and loudly right after. She’s made it perfectly clear now that she’s not a Paul Martin devotee. She sits out the current debate until after the anticipated election. Vilification or vindication, the eventual state of her legacy is up for grabs. Whichever way things go for Martin, we suspect she’s only out of the spotlight temporarily. For Sheila going away quietly is just not going to be an option, it never has been and apparently never will be.