Canada

DEEP AND DEEPER

Julian Beltrame April 23 2001
Canada

DEEP AND DEEPER

Julian Beltrame April 23 2001

DEEP AND DEEPER

Stockwell Day just can’t seem to stop digging once he gets himself in a hole. In January, the embarrassment of having to settle a defamation suit, at a cost of $792,064 to Alberta taxpayers, was made worse by his inability to gracefully apologize. The pattern repeated itself last week when the Alliance leader blew another chance to show off his crisis-management skills. Confronted with a newspaper story saying he had approved hiring an undercover operative to “get the goods” on the Liberal government, Day admitted he had met “that particular individual.” Next day, he said the meeting never happened—and in blame-the-messenger mode said the newspaper had confused him. “He’s becoming a regular on Air Farce and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, which is not a good thing,” says Tory House leader Peter MacKay.

Then, instead of quitting while he was behind, Day reached for an even larger shovel. Trying to deflect attention from his flip-flop, he went on the offensive, accusing Justice Joel Silcoff of the Quebec Superior Court of an “obvious conflict.” Silcoff had issued an order allowing the seizure of documents that might be related to the Shawinigate scandal involving Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. As a former partner of the law firm that represents the Grand-Mère Golf Club at the centre of the controversy, Day said, the judge should have recused himself. The Canadian Bar Association promptly condemned Day for his “ill-considered attacks.” Former chief justice An-

S tonio Lamer advised “yelping” Al§ liance MPs to “take a crash P course in constitutional law.”

It was one boo-boo too many for some in the Alliance. “I don’t know if it’s Day or his advisers,” says Barry Cooper, a University of Calgary political science professor and Alliance supporter, “but they come across as total incompetents.” Others just want to get back on track. Some Alliance members fear Day is damaged goods and would prefer to dump him, but they acknowledge there’s no clear mechanism for doing so.

More appealing for others among the dump-Day crowd is the hope that recent overtures towards co-operation with the Conservatives will lead to a full merger. That, in turn, would trigger a leadership convention. “There’s no way Day could win that one,” said one Alliance insider. But with each Day misstep, the pressure eases on Tory Leader Joe Clark to get any cozier. “The more Day and the Alliance slip and slide,” notes MacKay, “the more Tories are asking themselves if they want to be associated with that.” Last week, in fact, the seven-member Alliance executive in the Quebec riding of Charlevoix defected to the Tories. It was “a bad week,” admits Alliance strategist Tim Powers. But, then he adds, “this too will pass and we’ll get back to being an effective Opposition.” Unless, of course, Day keeps on digging.

Julian Beltrame in Ottawa