The Liberals’ full-fledged assault on Stockwell Day’s character commenced on Sunday, Nov. 5, at a rally of 1,000 partisan women in Laval, Que. Day’s Canadian Alliance had crept to 33 per cent in the party’s overnight polls— within 10 per cent of the Liberals’ 43 per cent. So strategists concluded it was time to turn Day himself into the issue by highlighting his so-called hidden agenda on social policy. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien reminded the women that Day wanted to hold a referendum on their right to an abortion. “I don’t think the women would be very happy with that,” he said.
A day later, Chrétien pounced again, shortly before the release of Alliance documents indicating that a petition from a mere three per cent of voters could trigger a referendum on any issue. “Do you want to have a referendum on abortion?” he asked an Ottawa crowd.
The Prime Minister had touched a public nerve. By Nov. 10, after Day proclaimed his personal opposition to abortion and tried to explain his referendum policy, the Alliance sunk below 30 per cent in Liberal pollster Michael Marzolini’s nighdy tracking. “The Liberals made Stockwell Day the issue, and they obsessively stuck to it,” observes Liberal communications adviser Patrick Gossage. “This is war, not a tea party.”
The Liberals made a lot of mistakes. Their platform was insipid and their ads were bland. They never could explain why they called an early election. But they were relendess in warning Canadians about the putative dangers of an Alliance government. Late last week, they even maintained the party would take apart the public pension system. The Alliance was almost incapable of fighting back. Day tried to turn the spodight
back on Chrétien, going so far as to say the Prime Minister could be criminally implicated because of calls he made to secure a federal loan to a hotel in his riding. But Day always found himself disavowing his own MPs’ extreme positions on everything from health to immigration. The Liberal goal was to convince voters that Day did not share their values—and could not be trusted.
The end of a war does not always mean peace. The Alliance is smarting from the attacks on Day. Liberal campaign co-chairman David Smith says that Chrétien, in turn, was “very much hurt” by the Alliance charges of corruption. “It will probably make for a pretty undesirable atmosphere in the House of Commons for a while,” he predicts. The politicians should feel right at home.
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