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As well as the usual suspects, such as Ottawa lawyer and Herle-O'Leary pal Richard Mahoney, there were Scott Reid, then a young campus Liberal activist, and Tim Murphy, a former Queen's Park staffer and young lawyer, all of them led by Mike Robinson, a former Parliament Hill staffer and a pioneer of the government lobby business.

But the campaign never stood a chance. Mr. Chrétien had the party establishment, led by Coutts-Davey heirs John Rae and Eddie Goldenberg, firmly in his corner.

Even worse, Mr. Martin supported the Meech Lake Accord, the Mulroney-brokered bid to bring Quebec into the Constitution. As Trudeau loyalists, Mr. Chrétien and his allies opposed the document, then in its critical final weeks. Meech supporters shouted "vendu" (sellout) at Mr. Chrétien at a rally and wore black arm bands during the convention. To this day, his supporters accuse the Martin camp of organizing the smear. Martin supporters deny it.

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At the vote, Mr. Chrétien crushed his rivals, drawing 57 per cent to Mr. Martin's 25. Even in Saskatchewan, long-shot anti-abortion candidate Tom Wappel relegated Mr. Martin to an embarrassing third. Bob Peterson, a prominent Saskatchewan Liberal, still winces at the memory, but says Mr. Herle "learned that you have to always be organized, because something could come along and blindside you."

They are both intensely private people, Terrie in particular. They were then and remain each other's best friend. Somewhere in the course of being each other's best friend in 1990, it became more than just friends. -Richard Mahoney

In the midst of 1990, a tumultuous year, Mr. Herle and Ms. O'Leary graduated from being close friends and political allies to being a couple. Much like Chandler and Monica on TV's Friends, they tried to keep it secret, but before long their close friends suspected something was up. Finally, even Mr. Martin and his wife, Sheila, were asking discreetly if the two were an item.

Today, their relationship remains almost as unconventional. They are not outwardly affectionate, they don't hold hands in public and it wasn't until 1998 that they stopped maintaining separate residences. They now live at their Gatineau Hills cottage, where Mr. Herle is wired for any eventuality - high-speed Internet service and a superb sound system. A gadget lover (he was quick to acquire a BlackBerry and recently bought an iPod, the high-end digital-music device), he wheels around Ottawa in a big black four-wheel-drive Yukon (she drives a black BMW).

Both have a passion for collecting - material on John F. Kennedy for her and, of course, Elton John memorabilia for him. How serious an Elton fan is he? "There are some things about Elton John critics I don't understand," reads a message from "" posted to a music Web site. "Through most of the 70s they dismissed him as a mimic or as a soulless pop machine . . . Then he produced this gem, in which both his and Bernie's sadness dripped from every groove of the album, and the critics said it was wallowing in pathos." The gem in question is Blue Moves, one of Mr. Herle's favourite albums.

They share their home with Shadow, an 11-year-old border collie who is well-travelled and well-behaved. They sometimes spend Christmas with their respective families and have, at times, lived in different countries. But their shared political passions have never waned. Mr. Peterson recalls being with Ms. O'Leary in the lobby of a Washington hotel when Mr. Herle walked in, just arrived from Ottawa. "And the first thing she said was, `What's happening? What's going on?' " To this day, they won't discuss their relationship for public consumption (Ms. O'Leary declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story). But all who know them acknowledge that each is the most important thing to the other, with politics their bond.

Everybody was just screaming at each other. I can't tell you the number of times Martin just said, `That's it. We're finished. We're out of here. Let's leave.' A former Finance official

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By 1993, the Martin and Chrétien camps had begun to mend their fences, as the Liberals united around a single goal: returning to power in the coming general election. As part of that healing process, Mr. Martin, representing the party's right wing, and left-leaning Chaviva Hosek, later policy director in the Prime Minister's Office, were asked in late 1991 to put together a platform. And Terrie O'Leary, Mr. Martin's young assistant, threw herself into developing what became the Liberals' secret weapon: the Red Book.

For Mr. Herle, the 1993 election was a personal watershed. As well as ending his party's decade in the political wilderness, it cemented his reputation as a no-holds-barred political operative. Once again, he earned his notoriety fighting not Conservatives, but fellow Liberals. As the election approached, his old mentor in Saskatchewan, Mr. Goodale, was locked in a struggle with high-profile nemesis Tony Merchant for the nomination in Wascana, a riding that seemed ripe for the picking. Even today, "the battle of all battles" is remembered with awe.

When Mr. Merchant signed up hundreds of young supporters, promising beer and pizza after the nomination, Mr. Herle orchestrated a campaign to warn parents the Merchant camp planned to get their children soused. In the end, procedural delays prompted by the Goodale crew delayed the vote so long that many Merchant backers went home. The nomination went to Mr. Goodale (as did the riding and a cabinet post).

"That was all David," Mr. Peterson remembers. "He ran that campaign." Mr. Herle also had begun to establish himself as a public-opinion researcher, developing considerable expertise in defining what the average Canadian was thinking on a given issue. It would prove to be a valuable tool in the budget battles to come.

The Red Book, full of Liberal policy and campaign promises, was released well in advance of the election call, giving Canadians time to digest its contents. It was a bold manoeuvre, but whether because of the gamble, or the gaffes of Kim Campbell's Conservative campaign, or sheer voter backlash against the Mulroney legacy, the Liberals stormed back to power, and Mr. Chrétien chose his chief rival as his finance minister.

Politically, they would prove to be a formidable duo. Behind the scenes, the fence-mending continued, much of it conducted by Ms. O'Leary, who while working on the Red Book had become close to Mr. Goldenberg, enabling her to cope with the tension that sometimes bubbled up between his boss and hers. They formed a troika with Mr. Donolo, her friend from the Ontario Young Liberal days and now the PM's communications director.

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In dealing with Mr. Martin, however, she needed more than diplomacy. Although charming, he also could be demanding and at times abusive. "He's relentless on people he can't stand until he gets rid of them, and that doesn't usually take very long," a former Finance Department official says. "And interestingly, the people he can't stand aren't the ones who are nasty to him. . . . If you didn't stand up to him, you were toast."

Determined not to be toasted, Ms. O'Leary fired right back, even castigating him in front of others. "Paul," she would say, "that's absolutely stupid." Mr. Herle, meanwhile, found work one short step removed from government. He joined Earnscliffe Strategy Group, an Ottawa consulting firm whose partners include Michael Robinson, who had chaired the Martin leadership campaign. Soon, Earnscliffe would develop a well-earned reputation for being an unofficial adjunct to the Finance Department. But life was far from perfect.

Mr. Herle felt the Prime Minister and his people actually did little to welcome the Martin crowd (to this day, he has met Mr. Chrétien only once). "You didn't feel like it was your party particularly. The kind of reach-out, the aggressive reach-out that Mulroney did with the Clark people, never happened . . . Other than Paul, the only person that got into the cabinet that didn't support Mr. Chrétien in 1990 was Ralph Goodale, where they really didn't have a lot of choice in Saskatchewan."

Personal slights also rankled. "Nobody got invited to anything. I think Mike [Robinson]got to have dinner with the Prime Minister of Armenia or something . . ." Even the fence-mender felt the chill.

Political columnist Edward Greenspon reported in The Globe and Mail that, after the election, Mr. Chrétien "sent signed photographs with a personal note to all the aides who had travelled on his campaign plane. Somehow, he left out Terrie O'Leary, Mr. Martin's top adviser, who had been seconded to the leader's tour."

By early 1995, there were whispers around Ottawa about a potential conflict of interest between the Finance Department and Earnscliffe because: Not only were Mr. Herle and Mr. Robinson closely associated with Mr. Martin, Mr. Herle was his powerful executive assistant's boyfriend. There was an investigation but nothing came of it.

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Despite all this, the Martin contingent enjoyed heady times. In 1993, when Mr. Martin and Ms. O'Leary walked into the Finance Department, it seemed as though all the rules had been thrown out. She didn't care what her staff looked like, as long as they came to work with open minds and fresh ideas. He, insiders claim, was both demanding and had no respect for the traditional pecking order. Even his chief of staff was often on the receiving end, but he and she revelled in their debates.

In fact, Mr. Martin now says, there was a purpose to it all: The tantrums helped to break down the department's hierarchy in favour of a more free-wheeling environment he prefers. "One day, Terrie and I got into one huge row, and she went at me ferociously," he recalls. "I think what that did was it absolutely broke the back of any reluctance anybody would have. They saw that, `Hey look, if she can go after the minister that way, then anybody can go after anybody that way.' And from then on, everything went tremendously well."

Still, she often had to serve as an intermediary between him and his officials, bolstering egos, brokering deals, forging consensus. A true taskmaster, Mr. Martin began work on his next budget three weeks after delivering the last one. If he was on from 7 a.m. until midnight, and most weekends, so was Ms. O'Leary. And so was Mr. Herle.

The Earnscliffe contracts had been let for a reason. In the months leading up to the watershed 1995 budget that set out to eliminate the deficit, Mr. Martin wanted Mr. Herle and Elly Alboim, a journalist turned Earnscliffe associate, at virtually every key meeting to offer advice.

Mr. Martin and his deputy minister, David Dodge, now Governor of the Bank of Canada, would face each other, as though combatants. Ms. O'Leary would sit next to the minister, with Mr. Alboim and Mr. Herle down at the end because Mr. Alboim always smoked. (As the meetings grew more intense, she'd gravitate in their direction to bum cigarettes.)

But keeping her boss calm was hardly her only contribution to the Martin budgets. She encouraged him to talk to non-profit organizations or associations rather than simply rely on his bureaucrats. She also pushed on issues involving the disabled, a subject of personal interest both to her and to Mr. Martin. He has a disabled nephew and her brother has Down syndrome.

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Stephen O'Leary lives with his parents in Toronto but often visited Ottawa and came to work with his sister. When the minister was away, he would spend the long hours behind Mr. Martin's desk with his knapsack filled with Auto Trader magazines, CDs and boxes of Teddy Grahams and Gummi Bears. (Mr. Martin joked that he wasn't the only one who liked to eat at his desk.) Ms. O'Leary pushed for changes to assist the disabled. Her parents were growing older, and she worried about how they would cope with an adult son unable to live on his own.

The three successive budgets - in 1996, 1997 and 1998 - changed the disability tax credit. In 1998, some help was also given to sheltered workshops. Says the former Finance official, "She certainly did shape them a lot, but I wouldn't want to present it as being a single-issue person really pushing that above and beyond her interest in other things." Ms. O'Leary's other passion is education.

Again, she pushed hard on the Registered Education Savings Program, which was sweetened considerably in the 1998 budget with a grant of up to $400 to make saving for postsecondary education easier. (That year, Mr. Martin also lost a pitched battle over his bid to reduce, over time, benefits for wealthier seniors. Mr. Chrétien vetoed cutting something Canadians worked all their lives to collect, a move the Martin team now concedes was right.)

Mr. Herle, meanwhile, served as the keeper of the polling stats and focus-group research (Mr. Martin loves focus groups), wading in on what the "common man and woman of the country" thought about a given issue. "He doesn't represent himself as the big-headed elitist type at all," the finance official says. "I would say David and Terrie . . . were more on the social side of life than on the right side, but if anything they were flexible."

In their personal lives, they were acquiring the trappings of success. Introduced to the area by Mr. Alboim, they bought land on Lac St. Germaine in Quebec's Gatineau Hills from another cottager and friend of Mr. Alboim, CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge.

The original cottage burned to the ground in 1998, costing Ms. O'Leary many of her personal treasures (but not her JFK collection). They rebuilt in style, making a high point overlooking the lake the setting for a structure with floor-to-ceiling windows and a wrap-around deck. With Ms. O'Leary's eye for decorating and design, it is a bit of a showpiece. Another of the Earnscliffe partners, Bruce Anderson, bought a piece of land, and Richard Mahoney soon followed suit.

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"The three of us have the view that we can't see enough of each other," he says, recalling a visit he and his wife Kathy made during the 1990 leadership race. "Eventually Kathy went home, and David and Terrie and I stayed on until the phone rang . . . Kathy said, `I just want you to know, you guys work together all day, we all went out for dinner . . . What in the world are you possibly still talking about at 4 o'clock in the morning?' "

She doesn't like to think of herself as being the key mover when, in fact, she often is. So therefore she shuns the spotlight. -An O'Leary friend

After the 1997 election, with the budget deficit slain and Mr. Martin safely returned to office, Ms. O'Leary's interests began to broaden. Friends also suggest that the endless 16-hour days in close proximity to the volatile minister were burning her out. She had been part of political Ottawa, and all the intrigue and angst that entails, for all but six of the previous 17 years.

After two years as the party's national youth co-ordinator, she had left the capital to study economics at McGill University in Montreal. In 1987, degree in hand, she and Mr. Mahoney had returned to Toronto, he to practise law and she to work for brokers Merrill Lynch.

Two years later, however, both were back in Ottawa working on Mr. Martin's initial leadership campaign, and something that started out to be short-term had lasted nearly a decade. So, once the 1998 budget was complete, she was rewarded with a plum assignment as Canada's representative to the World Bank, a job that paid $168,000 (U.S.) a year, tax-free.

Peter Donolo threw the going-away party, and Mr. Chrétien even dropped in to say goodbye. She spent the next four years in Washington, for the most part alternating weekends between the cottage, Mr. Herle's Ottawa loft and her apartment in Georgetown. They also met in New York, on one such occasion visiting Elaine's and spotting legendary record producer Phil Spector at a table with David Letterman's Canadian sidekick, Paul Shaffer.

Mr. Herle was dying to meet them, but the political hard-baller is actually a bit shy in person. Ms. O'Leary egged him on and, when the celebs headed to the men's room, he followed. Things did not go well. "You're freaking my friend out," Mr. Shaffer told him. "Leave us alone!" The fan from Canada quickly shuffled back to his table.

While in Washington, Ms. O'Leary spread her wings. She immersed herself in World Bank business, representing not only Canada but the Caribbean and her beloved Ireland as well. In the process, she became, according to bank president and Wall Street millionaire James Wolfensohn, one of his "favourite women in the world." "I mean I think I was lucky to get her because I've known Paul Martin for more than 30 years and I think he was doing me a favour," he says. "But he was also, I think this is what I think is important, giving Terrie a chance to be on her own in an international context."

In Washington, she added significantly to her Rolodex, and travelling the world on bank business, visiting Iran, the Caribbean and Africa. Some say she kept Mr. Martin plugged in internationally as well. Many see her hand in his embrace of Irish rocker Bono's campaign to relieve Third World debt, and in his role in establishing the G-20, which brings together the finance ministers of developed and developing countries.

There is a lack of adult supervision in the PMO. - David Herle to a reporter

Mr. Herle was angry when he uttered those words in August, 1999. The relationship between the Prime Minister and his finance minister was deteriorating.

Mr. Chrétien had just appointed a new cabinet that tilted noticeably to the left, away from the fiscal restraint that had marked the first two terms of his government. As well as a surprise, the shuffle clearly signalled that, instead of stepping aside, the PM intended to seek a third mandate. Worst of all, Chrétien advisers were quietly telling reporters the move was designed to thwart the Martin minions' attempt to undermine the PM.

"I know that the way that the cabinet shuffle was spun was an important signal to us that the world was changing," Mr. Herle says. "We never felt that, up until that point, the PMO felt they were at war with us because we didn't have an issue with Jean Chrétien. We were trying to succeed him, not get rid of him, right? "So we never felt that we had an issue with the Prime Minister, until all of a sudden, we read in The Globe that we did."

Before, Ms. O'Leary and Mr. Donolo had defused such friction, but she had gone to Washington and he'd been appointed Canada's consul-general to Milan. "Peter and Terrie had known each other for a long, long time and were old, old friends," says Mr. Martin, who didn't see their departure as a blow to harmony then, but "I do now."

Chrétien confidant Eddie Goldenberg disagrees. "The split would have happened regardless of whether Terrie or Peter had remained. In hindsight, it was going to happen. The remarkable thing was that we kept it together as long as we did." The "adult supervision" crack (Mr. Herle grants that he can be "intemperate" at times) stung Mr. Chrétien's new communications director, Francie Ducros, believed by the Martin people to be especially partisan. But it wasn't until the following spring that the real trouble began.

In March, 2000, on the eve of the party's biennial policy convention in Ottawa, MPs loyal to Mr. Martin met Mr. Herle, Mr. Mahoney and Scott Reid at the Regal Constellation Hotel near Toronto's airport and were presented with polling data showing their man was the most popular politician in the country.

The meeting was supposed to be secret, but the press soon got wind of it, as did the Chrétien camp, which denounced it as an attempted "coup d'état." Mr. Herle insists that no one was plotting anything, but things went from bad to worse when several of the Martin MPs told reporters that their constituents wanted the PM to resign.

That led to a Keystone Kops moment during the policy conference, as reporters chased a discomfited Mr. Martin up and down an escalator at the Ottawa Congress Centre, accusing him of organizing a coup. Mr. Herle realized his boss looked like a conspirator or a fool. No one slept for much of the five-day convention. The incident severed the final frayed ties between the two factions.

"It was the last time," Mr. Herle says, "I spoke to Eddie Goldenberg." As the two huddled in a hallway near the convention floor, Mr. Goldenberg told Mr. Herle how angry he was about the secret meeting, and was quickly reminded of his own role in challenging John Turner during the 1986 leadership review. Reporters arrived to cut the encounter short, but the damage had been done.

Later, as Mr. Chrétien delivered the event's closing speech, Mr. Herle could be found at the back of the room telling the media how substandard it was. His efforts earned him personal criticism from the Prime Minister when the cabinet met the following week. The whole episode left a dark cloud over the Martin forces, but it had a silver lining. "We were tested by fire," Mr. Reid says. And, in the midst of the brouhaha, Paul Martin acknowledged finally, openly, that he really did want to be Prime Minister. The Rubicon had been crossed. Now it was simply a question of when he'd get his chance.

Paul Martin got quit.

Through all the squabbling, Terrie O'Leary was off in Washington, some say still campaigning for Mr. Martin or, others insist, careful to avoid such a temptation. In reality, by the summer of 2000, she, Mr. Herle and Mr. Mahoney were all urging Mr. Martin to quit. They wanted him, like John Turner and Jean Chrétien before him, to pursue the leadership free from the constraints of cabinet solidarity and able to make a name for himself.

"I thought two things," Mr. Herle recalls. "I thought he was increasingly being disrespected in the government and he shouldn't take that and, more importantly, I felt that, something that I feel even more strongly now, which is for the next leader of the party to be successful electorally, he'll have to be seen as an agent of change . . . That isn't a condemnation of the present government. It's just the nature of things."

But Martin supporters in the Liberal caucus didn't agree. They lobbied heavily to have him stay, especially the Ontario MPs, who felt the Chrétien team could not win re-election without him. They proved to be persuasive, and Mr. Martin stayed on. He helped the party win a resounding mandate from the electorate on Nov. 4, 2000, assuming like everyone else that shortly afterward Mr. Chrétien would arrange for a seemly departure. Everyone waited, and waited.

Finally, on May 30, 2002, Mr. Martin's executive assistant, Tim Murphy, was at his desk, poring over papers, when his boss walked quickly through the door, grim-faced. "We have to talk," he said. Within minutes, everyone in the Martin circle had learned of the extraordinary cabinet meeting, in which Mr. Chrétien, looking right at Mr. Martin, had declared that the tensions of the emerging leadership race were damaging the party, that fundraising must stop and that he demanded the loyalty and support of his cabinet.

Less than two years earlier, the PM had appeared to patch over the deep rift in the Liberal camp by suggesting the election would be his last. Now, he was hinting that he just might run again. Was Mr. Martin, the front-runner to succeed him, the lone target of his ultimatum? Was the PM determined to frustrate his ambitions no matter what? Not at all, Mr. Goldenberg insists. Mr. Chrétien was staring at his finance minister only because he was sitting directly across the table. And the freeze on fundraising, he contends, "simply froze Martin's lead in place," in effect handing Mr. Martin an advantage for the sake of peace.

The Martin team's interpretation was quite different. That night, an engagement party for one of the staff turned into an all-night strategy session, with Mr. Herle seeming to run one of his famous focus groups. "What do you think he should do?" he kept asking. Fight back, he was told. "The Prime Minister," one senior Martinite says, "has a view about Paul. The view is that . . . `Paul, if you push him, he'll fall down.' " No more, the advisers insisted. The Prime Minister must back down, or the finance minister must leave the cabinet.

This new toughness reflected Mr. Herle's ascent to primus inter pares within the group. Everyone describes the leadership team's power structure as horizontal, but by 2002 the bearded prairie boy who had arrived in Ottawa dressed in polyester from head to Hush Puppies had become the dominant force, along with the approach to political calculations he'd learned back home.

Mr. Martin is loath to admit this, but acknowledges that, "depending upon the circumstances, people rise to the fore." He also says that "David's ability to judge the moment is something he has as well as anybody I've ever seen." And this was the moment, Mr. Herle calculated, when Paul Martin had to up the ante.

Throughout the weekend, cellphones and BlackBerrys chirped as Mr. Goldenberg, junior finance minister Maurizio Bevilacqua and Power Corp.'s Paul Desmarais, a former boss to Mr. Martin and the father-in-law of Mr. Chrétien's daughter, tried to close the breach.

Mr. Goldenberg says he spoke to Mr. Martin half a dozen times in a bid to have him stay on. To no avail. On the Friday night, after telling the media he had spent the weekend reviewing his options, Mr. Martin retired to his farm in the Eastern Townships. He stayed in constant touch with Mr. Herle and Ms. O'Leary, back in Ottawa for the weekend, while regional organizers canvassed riding associations.

By Sunday, it was clear there was no hope. At 4 p.m., Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Martin finally spoke to each other. It was a short, curt exchange of views. The Prime Minister then handed the phone to Mr. Goldenberg, who asked Mr. Martin to sign a letter saying the split was amicable. Mr. Martin disagreed with the wording. As well as tense, the situation was incredibly emotional. Mr. Goldenberg had difficulty keeping his voice from breaking. "Paul said this was too painful, he couldn't deal with it," he recalls, adding that he urged Mr. Martin to have Mr. Murphy get back to him to work out a joint communiqué. "I'm still waiting for that call."

Soon after, as Mr. Martin was driving back to Ottawa, he heard CBC commentator Rex Murphy on the car radio saying he was out of the cabinet, replaced by John Manley. After he reached his apartment, Mr. Herle and Ms. O'Leary arrived, along with Mr. Murphy, Mr. Mahoney, Mr. Reid, Quebec strategist and former MP Dennis Dawson and communications aide Brian Guest, to decide what to say to the press.

Mr. Martin finally explained to reporters that "the working relationship between myself and the Prime Minister had deteriorated. It was threatening to impede our focus on the very important choices that confront us as a nation." But the joke around Ottawa was that "Paul Martin got quit."

If they don't run the government like the hugely important, to some extent apolitical operation that it is, they won't be there for very long. - Tony Merchant

It has been almost a year since that painful parting of the ways, and for most of it Mr. Martin has kept a fairly low profile as a Liberal backbencher.

A few months after his departure, an increasingly isolated PM recognized just how much of the party is now loyal to the former finance minister, and announced that, yes, he would indeed step down by February, 2004.

Behind the scenes, the Martin forces worked non-stop to prepare for the leadership battle, but waited for the war in Iraq to subside before their champion formally tossed his hat into the ring. But since doing so two weeks ago, Mr. Martin has been running hard in a race many say is his to lose.

Running along with him are the tough-minded farm kid from Saskatchewan, now officially in charge of the campaign, and his diminutive Irish partner.

Ms. O'Leary has been available for duty since last fall when the new Finance Minister, himself now a leadership contender, decided not to renew her World Bank appointment. (The media tried to kick up a fuss, but she is said to have been irritated only by the fact the decision came at the last minute.)

John Manley and Sheila Copps are trying to convince the public, their supporters and themselves that the race is real, that anything could happen. And anything could, but it would have to involve Paul Martin and an oncoming bus.

The Ottawa political class is already looking beyond the race. All the talk now is of who will be in the cabinet - and who will be in the Prime Minister's Office. What role will Terrie O'Leary and David Herle play? Both dispute the notion they're destined for power and influence.

"Nobody on the campaign is thinking about roles or positions in a future government," Mr. Herle insists. "Everybody is focused on the task at hand," winning the leadership in November. But their associates disagree. "I think very much that Paul will want them there," Mr. Mahoney says, adding that "it's hard for me to imagine him without having them there."

Mr. Martin expects to have them around. "They are two people of such enormous talent that I would really hope that they would play an ongoing role," he says. Many Martin watchers doubt Mr. Herle will leave Earnscliffe, preferring to beat the drum for his causes - Western alienation, the sagging middle class and small business community - outside the government itself. But his main task is to get Mr. Martin into the Prime Minister's Office, and of course keep him there in the general election that would soon follow.

Once Mr. Herle has finished his work, Ms. O'Leary will begin hers in earnest. It is widely believed that she will be unable to resist Mr. Martin's entreaties to serve as chief of staff, often considered the second-most powerful post in the government. Just as she helped to make Mr. Martin's stint in Finance such a success, the one-time political mutineer would be principally responsible for running the ship of state smoothly. Her proven powers of deal-making, diplomacy, conciliation and brokering would be more important to him than ever. But there is one truly difficult challenge facing the new Liberal establishment: healing the internal divisions it helped to create.

Back in Regina, Tony Merchant says the past 10 years of Liberal politics have been just as mean-spirited as when he and Mr. Herle crossed swords over Wascana. Once in power, he says, the Martin advisers must forsake their take-no-prisoners approach. "If they don't run the government like the hugely important, to some extent apolitical operation that it is, they won't be there for very long," he predicts. "They won't serve a Prime Minister Martin well, and he won't keep them. And they won't serve Canada well, and Canada won't keep them."

Indeed, the rift between the Martin advisers and caucus supporters persists. One Martin MP says, "There is a clear cleavage between caucus and them. You will find a lot of caucus colleagues don't want to deal with them." Echoing the complaint MPs often lodge against political staffers, he claims that "they have created this little island. . . . They are selfish and self-absorbed. If their aloofness is not rectified, it will create serious issues in the future."

Even their colleague Elly Alboim wonders, for quite a different reason, how long Mr. Herle and Ms. O'Leary would stay in government. "This place moves with glacial speed. The Davey generation handed over to the John Rae generation. These guys are the next generation. But they, too, are getting to the point where there is another generation, younger."

Somewhere out there a few young Liberals soon will be chafing at what they'll consider the aging and cloistered elite that surrounds Paul Martin, and will ask each other when the party will open up to them and which potential leader might champion their cause. Somewhere out there, someone is getting ready to take David Herle and Terrie O'Leary down.

John Ibbitson and Jane Taber are members of The Globe and Mail's parliamentary bureau.

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