What Kim Campbell had to accomplish at last week’s Tory convention was to demonstrate to Conservative delegates that despite her determination to be herself, she could also be a good party leader. That meant coming to terms with the Old Boys’ club which has historically run the Conservative party—and continues to do so, even if it’s as obsolete as strip poker. She had to convince the Tory doubters that if they were serious about winning the next election, they had better join the 20th century (just in time) and subscribe to an inclusive human agenda.
What ultimately swayed the 800 delegates at large—the party professionals—towards Campbell was that they figured, given a choice at the next election of voting for a Liberal from Quebec (Jean Chrétien) or a Tory from Quebec (Jean Charest), most Canadians would probably cast their ballots for Chrétien. In that scenario, the Liberal leader might have been perceived as the agent of change, the country having just spent a troubled decade under another Tory from Quebec. At the same time, somewhere at the back of their tiny-Tory brains, Conservatives realized that having a woman as leader was a definite plus and that family values meant being honest, open and spiritual—not necessarily having 2.2 kids.
Conservatives realized that having a woman as leader was a definite plus, and that family values meant more than having 2.2 kids
At the Saturday night speech forum, the Campbell demonstrators were milling about like bulls in the pens at Pamplona before the animals are driven through the streets behind twisting mobs of agile boys. Campbell’s people came on strong to the rock rhythms of A New Sensation, but Kim’s speech was the surprise of the night.
All through her campaign, she had made it clear that she was ready to accept victory only if it came on her terms. This wasn’t arrogance, but her innate wisdom in recognizing that if she could not be herself, she would
not be a good prime minister, an office that requires bunches of self-respect and being in touch with one’s feelings as much as one’s thoughts. She had set limits on compromise, so that if she lost, at least she would not have betrayed her principles. She would emerge from the political wars as a whole person, wiser perhaps, but still happy to drop verbal bombs on command.
But there were no bombs on Saturday night. Her speech was a straightforward nononsense appeal for votes from Canadians as much as from Tory delegates, outlining her vision of a new and improved country, its leader representing “either of Canada’s founding genders.” It was not great rhetoric, but it was appropriate for the occasion, designed to quiet any remaining uncertainties about her political appeal.
Charest’s speech, on the other hand, seemed contrived and void of substance. He tackled his main liability—the inexperience of youth, but instead of appearing too young, he seemed merely to be untested, which was worse. Too smooth by half, he sounded like some cocktail-bar pianist, substituting technique for soul. His campaign had been an exercise in circumspection, bound by the high
catechisms of Tory orthodoxy: family values, country, God and Quebec’s place in Confederation. He looked like a professional politician and sounded like a professional politician, but he didn’t sweat like one. Lacking the nerve to work himself up into the frothing passion of a Mulroney in full rhetorical flight, he went for volume, stressing his convictions by raising his voice.
Charest also hurt himself badly by waffling, only four days before the vote, on whether he would serve in a Campbell cabinet. Is this the guy who was supposed to be possessed by the unflappable stability that Campbell lacked? He recanted that pronouncement in his speech, but it was too late.
One reason for his defeat was the transparent orchestration of endorsements by various Mulroney ministers that followed a scripted code, never failing to mention her status as a divorced, childless woman, implying that she thus lacked stability, inner calmness and family values. Charest supporter Bill McKnight’s comparison of Campbell followers to Jim Jones’s cult may well rank as the stupidest statement ever made by a member of any Canadian cabinet, which takes in a whole lot of territory. Campbell supporters took the attack in the right spirit by buying up all the Kool-Aid they could find in downtown Ottawa and toasting the mercifully retiring energy minister.
Among the also-rans, Garth Turner gave the best speech of the evening, after stepping up to the dais with the cheeky manner of a pope presuming worship in the heart of Protestant Ireland. His voice had the grating quality of a street urchin’s yelp, as he pleaded for a well-deserved place in the Tory sun. It’s a pity that he was so easily dismissed.
Alberta’s Jim Edwards seemed to have some karmic connection with Bob Stanfield and Michael Wilson, the insomniac’s best friends, being just as exquisitely boring without any compensating sense of heft. Edwards spoke reasonably and well, asking the delegates to fall in love with his voice, which is deep and melodious, turning to gruff when he wanted to sound sincere. But his voice (which had served him so well in his original career as a radio announcer) was all he really had to offer—that and his 307 delegates, some of whom pushed Campbell over the top.
Patrick Boyer chose not to hone his Saturday night speech with wit or even emphasis, so that he came off sounding like the bored maître d’ in a third-rate French restaurant. The best thing about him was how well his dark blue suit fit. But it was not really enough to qualify for the Tory leadership, even in this age of political “suits.” He looked as uncertain of his purpose as a church usher at a shotgun wedding, ending up with a firm grip on the footnotes of this convention.
You could occasionally spot the party oldtimers left over from the Diefenbaker and Stanfield days, their florid faces and worried looks signalling the final passing of their power. But by Sunday night, the seeds of a new Progressive Conservative party had been planted.
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