TORONTO — THE opposition Liberal Party is in the market for a new leader, following the resignation last week of John Turner. Former Cabinet member Jean Chretien seems likely to take over from the embattled Liberal leader, who saw his party drop from its status as the ``natural party of government'' into the Official Opposition since taking over from Pierre Trudeau in 1984.
``I came in when the party was on the way down. I'm leaving when the party is on the way up,'' said Mr. Turner when announcing his resignation.
Canadian public opinion polls, however, suggest that the Liberals could beat the Conservatives only with a new leader. And the one who does best in those polls is Mr. Chretien. The Liberals have a tradition of switching from English to French-speaking leaders. That too could favor Chretien.
The two men have long been political rivals. Chretien was a Trudeau loyalist. Turner left politics in the mid 1970s because of a disagreement over then Prime Minister Trudeau's economic polices on wage and price controls.
His political comeback after inheriting Trudeau's mantle was short-lived: He was prime minister for only 79 days. Turner lost two subsequent elections to the Progressive Conservative leader, Brian Mulroney; the most recent, after waging a bitter battle against the government's free-trade pact with the United States.
The leadership convention to replace Turner could well be held in October of this year, since there is a party meeting set for Calgary on Oct. 20. That would be an advantage for Chretien, the runner-up in the 1984 leadership race.
``If the convention is held before November, Chretien is a shoo-in,'' says William Lee, Turner's former campaign manager.
Other candidates include Paul Martin, a Montreal businessman who entered politics in last fall's election. He has enough money, but may lack the time to catch Chretien. Lloyd Axworthy, a member of Parliament and former Cabinet minister from Winnipeg, may well run, as will a string of regional favorite sons and daughters, including Shelia Copps, an MP from Hamilton, Ontario.