On to Ottawa

John Geddes July 17 2000

On to Ottawa

John Geddes July 17 2000

On to Ottawa


After defeating Preston Manning to lead the Canadian Alliance, Stockwell Day begins the task of restoring party unity

John Geddes

If there is one thing many Canadians now know about Stockwell Day, it is that he relishes a tough workout. The most memorable images of him in the Canadian Alliance leadership race were not at the podium debating, but on the street jogging and in the gym pounding the treadmill. When it came to the campaign itself, though, Day hardly seemed to break a sweat. At the finish line, what made his victory remarkable was not just that he had beaten Preston Manning,

but that he had outpaced his better-known rival with apparent ease. If Day ever doubted that he would triumph in his first outing on the national stage, the veteran Alberta cabinet minister never let the worry creep into his voice or cross his face. “This is a new century, this is a new party,” he told ecstatic supporters at the Toronto airport-strip hotel where the outcome was announced on Saturday night, adding, perhaps in a play on his own name: “Ifs a new day in Canada.” For all that bravado, Day was careful to make his July 8 tribute to Manning something more than a perfunctory victor’s nod to the vanquished. “Preston,” he said, “we can honestly say that if it was not for you, we would not be here tonight.” The point was, in fact, indisputable. It is hard to imagine the new Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance existing at all were it not for Manning’s doggedness and daring. Day, 49, won over the new party in less than four months, captivating crowds with his flair for up-close con-

tact, while capitalizing on a made-for-television look to reach a wider audience. Manning, 58, had followed a far longer path, painstakingly nurturing a whole new conservative movement for more than a decade, compensating for awkwardness with sincerity, while making do with a voice and appearance ill-suited to the mass media. In the end, Day reaped what Manning sowed.

But, then, nobody ever said politics is fair. The game has rarely looked less forgiving than it did for the weary, red-eyed founder of the Reform party, as he struggled to close the gap during the final stage of this contest, after Day established a commanding lead in a June 24 first ballot. The postures of the two candidates told the story: Manning slightly stooped, Day strapping. How closely the two can now work together may begin to become clear this week when Day meets with

Canadian Alliance MPs—what had been Manning’s caucus—in Ottawa. Caucus chairwoman Val Meredith, a Day supporter, said she is confident bad feelings will dissipate. “I’m one of nine kids, and there have been many times when we’ve had feuds among the siblings, but at the end of the day we’re a family and we stick together, particularly when someone from the outside threatens us,” she said.

Still, the clashes between the Manning and Day camps turned bitter in the campaign’s final days, and the tension was not merely about tactics. The two sides had made fundamentally conflicting, cold-blooded calculations about how the Alliance could win where Reform fell short. Day’s backers held that a fresh face was essential. Mannings team countered that their man’s hard-won credibility was irreplaceable.

Alliance members decided overwhelmingly that for the party to look truly fresh it needed a new leader. They handed Day 63 per cent of more than 114,000 votes cast. The losing side’s top strategists grumbled that the rank and file had

grossly underestimated Manning’s value to the party. Among the key proponents of this analysis is pollster André Turcotte, the Manning loyalist whose number-crunching backed up the gut instincts of those who pushed for the creation of the Alliance. Turcotte told Maclean’s that his most recent opinion tracking, conducted in March and April, found that just 21 per cent of voting-age Canadians were “comfortable” with the idea of an Alliance government, but 45 per cent were comfortable with the notion of Manning as prime minister. (He had no comparable rating for Day.) “The Alliance idea,” Turcotte summed up, “was to dispel the negative, build on the fact that people were becoming increasingly comfortable with Manning, and move forward.”

Turcotte predicts any forward motion will now be stalled under Day. He sees the new leader facing at least as much resistance outside Alberta and British Columbia— especially in Ontario—as Manning laboured so long in vain to overcome. The parallels are undeniably striking. Like Manning before him, Day arrives on the federal scene an evangelical Christian from Alberta with strong social-conservative convictions, notably opposition to abortion. To be sure, Day campaigned on other policy aims, like cutting taxes, decentralizing the federation and toughening up the way the prison system handles violent criminals. But he also courted the well-organized support of pro-life groups. “The problem,” said Rick Anderson, Manning’s top strategist and a driving force behind the bid to broaden Reform by turning it into the Alliance, “is one of balance—whether the party is being swamped by people with a particular agenda, and not necessarily any long-term commitment to building a balanced coalition.”

Day fought off increasingly blunt charges towards the end of the race that he was winning on the strength of fervent, but narrowly based support. He pointed to signs of wider appeal, symbolized by an endorsement last week from the lone Ontario Tory MP, Jim Jones, who declared he wanted to run next time as both the Alliance and Conservative candidate. (Jones was swiftly kicked out of the Conservative caucus by the party’s beleaguered leader, Joe Clark.) Along with charges that he is a special-interest candidate of the Christian right, Day faced critics who cast him as a loose cannon, dredging up colourful quotes from his 14 years in the Alberta legislature. (Perhaps the most popular citation: Day’s suggestion that serial child-killer Clifford Olson be transferred to the general prison population.) “Some of my critics hold up three or four comments—after 14 years,” he told Macleans. “The Prime Minister has three or four of those about every 10 days.”

He pleaded instead for attention to his major policy speeches from the campaign, not faded newspaper clippings. In fact, there was no shortage of fodder for his opponents in Day’s more carefully considered pronouncements. One was his pitch for support in Quebec, delivered in a major speech

Manning endorsed Day and delivered a message to the Prime Minister: ‘Mr. Chrétien, your time is up’

in Quebec City, in which Day described himself as the “provincial-autonomy candidate.” He called for a Canadian federation more like the European Union. He promised the end of an “arrogant central government that is constantly interfering in provincial jurisdictions.” He would overturn the Liberal government’s policy of enforcing national standards by threatening to cut off funding to provinces that violate principles of universality. Instead, Day proposed a shift to “standards voluntarily and mutually agreed to by the provinces.” A Day-led federal government would be satisfied with the role of “observer or facilitator” when the provinces met to shape Canadian social policy.

The sole Liberal cabinet heavyweight from Alberta, Justice Minister Anne McLellan, says Day will have trouble convincing voters to send an antiOttawa man to 24 Sussex Drive. Even in his home province, she said, there is often a hankering for a loud federal voice in areas like health care. Many AÍ-

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bertans wanted Ottawa to take a tougher stance against Premier Ralph Klein’s recent law giving private companies room to carve out bigger healthcare niches. “I don’t get the impression people have been paying much attention to the substance of the Alliance campaign,” McLellan told Macleans. “When they do, they’re going to say, ‘Hey, what do you mean by provincial autonomy? Where do you want to take this country?’ ”

Policy, though, was far from the minds of Alliance members who cheered Day’s resounding win. In their bilingual, athletic new leader, they believe they have a winner. Manning received a huge ovation when he urged Day to “knock on the door of 24 Sussex Drive and say, ‘Mr. Chretien, your time is up.’ ” Day alluded to the Prime Minister’s prediction that the next election will be fought over the ideological divide that separates the Alliance and the Liberals. “He wants it to be a discussion and a debate about values,” Day said. “I’m in.” And Canadians are in for a new style of politics on the right. Eli

Stock phrases

Few Canadian politicians have provided as rich a trove of combative quotes as Stockwell Day. A brief compendium:

On federal tax breaks for outside-the-home child-care expenses, but not stay-athome parents:

“Right now, we have a federal Liberal government that tries to socially engineer families and individuals into their own image. Its not a very pretty image.”

On why serial childmurderer Clifford Olson should serve his life sentence in the general prison population:

“The moral prisoners will deal with him in a way we don’t have the nerve to do.”

On the policy approach that follows from his anti-abortion stance:

“Use taxpayer dollars only for [abortions in] cases which are medically lifethreatening.”

On why some people are gay:

“Homosexuality is a choice, in my view.”

On making peace with Quebec nationalists:

“They don’t want to separate from Canada, they want to separate from Ottawa. There’s a difference.”