Canada

The Alliance's Time of Reckoning

Stockwell Day ’s strong showing in the first round of the leadership vote leaves Preston Manning’s future on the line

Brian Bergman July 1 2000
Canada

The Alliance's Time of Reckoning

Stockwell Day ’s strong showing in the first round of the leadership vote leaves Preston Manning’s future on the line

Brian Bergman July 1 2000

The Alliance's Time of Reckoning

Canada

Stockwell Day ’s strong showing in the first round of the leadership vote leaves Preston Manning’s future on the line

Brian Bergman

By Brian Bergman in Calgary

As valedictorian for the 1960 graduating class at Horse Hill High School near Edmonton, Preston Manning compared his classmates’ experience to the launching of a satellite. Graduates could only reach their potential, he said, by resisting the forces that attempt to pull them down. In the intervening 40 years, Manning has continued to preach—and practise—the virtues of perseverance. Since 1987, when he founded the Reform party (which this spring morphed into the Canadian Alliance), he has faced a series of political crossroads and crises—only to emerge stronger than ever. But on Saturday night, after putting his leadership of the fledgling party on the line, Manning watched as challenger Stockwell Day enjoyed an upset victory in the first round of the Canadian Alliance leadership vote. Still, Manning vowed to persist in what promises to be an uphill battle in the final ballot on July 8. “I’m asking all my supporters to dig just a little deeper,” Manning said.

“We need each and every one of you.”

Following a 13-week leadership race that was | marred in its final stages by allegations of fraudulent | membership drives and voting irregularities, it was the strong showing by Day that had political analysts buzzing. A telegenic 14-year veteran of the Alberta legislature, who speaks passable French, Day has been especially frank about his opposition to abortion and gay rights. The fiscal policies he espotised during the campaign would also represent a marked departure from the status quo, including deep tax cuts and an end to cultural and regional subsidies. Whoever wins on July 8, Day’s success to date ensures that his views will help shape the message the Canadian Alliance

takes into the next federal election, says University of Calgary political scientist David Taras. “The Canadian Alliance was supposed to be Reform on Valium,” jokes Taras. “But it’s become more like Reform on speed.”

This week, all eyes will be on Ontario political strategist Tom Fong, the third-place finisher, and his supporters (two other candidates, British Columbia Alliance MP Keith Martin and Ontario nuclear plant worker John Stachow, placed well back). Their votes could be crucial in deciding the next

Alliance leader since no new memberships can be sold between ballots. At the outset of the leadership campaign, it was assumed that most of Longs support would shift to Day on a second ballot, primarily because many Ontarians consider Manning unelectable. “Manning carries a lot of baggage in Ontario,” a senior Long adviser told Macleans at the time. “For the new party to win here, it needs a new leader.”

But during the leadership race, Long and Day sometimes appeared at loggerheads. The trouble began when a pro-life group supporting Day publicly attacked Long for having gays on his campaign

team. Day said he spoke to the group’s officials and “made it very clear that our campaign does not countenance hurtful or disrespectful comments”— a response Long said was too equivocal. Later in the campaign, Long warned that, with Day at the helm, the Alliance would make opposition to abortion a key election issue—and hand the Liberals a landslide victory.

Despite the barbs, Rod Love, a Calgary political consultant and a senior Day campaign strategist, expressed confidence that Day can make inroads among former Long supporters. Love told Macleans that he talked last week to Paul Rhodes,

Alliance members must decide who can reach out to moderate voters

his counterpart on the Long campaign, to stress that Day had no intention of running a federal election campaign on issues like abortion. Added Love: “A lot of what the Long camp was saying about Stockwell was not so much meanspirited as it was incorrect.” Love, who has run several successful campaigns on behalf of Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and who counts Long and Rhodes as friends, said he would be surprised if Long endorsed either Day or Manning prior to July 8. “From what I know ofTom,” he says, “I think his attitude would be, ‘You are all intelligent, sophisticated voters—do what you think is best.’ ”

In any event, many analysts believe a significant number of Long supporters may simply disappear between ballots. Says Faron Ellis, a Lethbridge Community College political scientist and a former Reform activist: “There’s plenty of incentives to vote for your candidate. But the motivation to vote for a second choice isn’t always there, especially on a sunny weekend in July.” The strong showing by Day, though, may mean that political interest will remain high. “Stockwell Day has successfully positioned himself as the man who represents change,” Ellis notes. “Many Reformers went along with the United Alternative because they thought it was the best way to change the leader. It also says the Alliance is much more ideologically conservative than I thought.”

A potential wild card in the second ballot is how many Alliance members who were unable to vote the first time around do so on July 8—and how they cast their votes. During the course of the race, Alliance membership swelled from about 75,000 to just over 200,000; the Long camp alone claimed to have recruited over 50,000 new members. But the final days of the leadership race were awash in controversy over a variety of voting irregularities. It began when Long confirmed that his campaign had sold hundreds of bogus memberships in Quebec’s Gaspé region. “I’m embarrassed and angry with the recruitment tactics used by my team in Gaspé,” Long told reporters. “The last thing I wanted to do was anything that might harm the party.” Long’s mea culpa did not go far enough lor at least one leadership hopeful. Martin initially urged that the June 24 vote be delayed for three weeks. That, he said, would give

the party time to investigate the revelations of phoney memberships and ensure that legitimate recruits were able to vote. In 140 federal ridings—those in remote areas or regions where the party has not traditionally organized— members could vote by phone rather than going into a central polling booth. By week’s end, however, the party was scrambling to accommodate thousands of members who had not received in the mail the required validation numbers to phone in their votes.

Martin withdrew his demand after party officials insisted that the leadership vote, while not perfect, would reflect the will of the members. Still, charges of chicanery continued to mount. Among them: two Calgary Alliance MPs reported suspicious membership increases in their ridings— including cases where names were listed more than once or the alleged members did not live at the alleged addresses.

In the days leading up to the July 8 final ballot, Manning and Day can be expected to hammer home what they see as their respective strengths—and, more slyly perhaps, the other fellows weaknesses. The battle lines were clearly drawn during the candidates’ speeches to Alliance members on Friday night. Day portrayed himself as a fresh face on the federal scene who could take the party to “the next step”—a shot at governing. He went so far as to suggest that in a Day-led Alliance, Manning might serve as a “senior statesman.” In a surprisingly emotional address, Manning countered that he was the only one who could appeal to both fiscal and social conservatives. “To get to government we need to win,” he said, “and to win we need to be united.”

While those may be worthy considerations, observers like the University of Calgary’s Taras wonder if a more fundamental question shouldn't be weighing on the minds of Alliance supporters. With either Day or Manning at the helm, says Taras, “this is not a centrist party, but one very much on the right wing. Can it reach out to moderate, downtown Canada?” On that, the jury is still out. E3