A fractured Right

Published : Jun 09, 2001 00:00 IST

There are deep divisions within the Right-wing Canadian Alliance, with several leaders, including Alliance MPs, demanding the resignation of its leader, Stockwell Day.

EVERYTHING is going wrong for the right-wing Canadian Alliance party. Its leader Stockwell Day is fighting hard to quell dissidence within the party. Eight Members of Parliament have been suspended from the party for demanding Day's resignation. Some key advisers have either left or been asked to leave, as the party stumbles from one crisis to another.

Day is under siege and it remains to be seen whether his plea, to the dissident group and those who want him to go, to let him remain until judgment day - the party convention - will be granted. His supporters have rallied round him and want to buy him more time in the hope that the political waters swirling around him will calm down. Hope is all that Day has to cling to, as each passing day brings in fresh developments. Although the group clamouring for Day's ouster is small, it is significant.

To some extent Day's fate lies in the hands of the formidable Deborah Grey, a senior MP who resigned as caucus chairman and deputy parliamentary leader in April. Although her riding executive voted twice to get rid of Day, Grey called a town hall meeting to seek some answers. Grey bowed to the wishes at the meeting, which was packed with Day supporters, saying that she would stay in the party but would not reconsider going back to her parliamentary position. She declared: "This has been the most painful month in my entire life. I'm not going to get into any details but I saw things in the leader's office that I was simply not able to defend and I was not able to go along with."

As the first and oldest Alliance MP - her first election victory was in the Beaver River byelection in 1989, as a member of Reform Party - Grey's decision was vital. At least for the time being, her decision may have taken the edge out of the rebels' thrust to dump Day at the earliest. The 49-year-old motorbike-riding Edmonton North (Alberta) MP is playing a motherly role in the family feud, but her intentions are clear to all.

However, the lead role is played by Chuck Strahl, who fired the first shot across Day's bow by demanding his resignation. The Fraser Valley (British Columbia) MP quit his post as House Leader of the Official Opposition on April 24, the same day Grey, Day's Chief of Staff Ian Todd, and Deputy Whip Grant McNally resigned from their posts. "You know, I was elected as an Alliance MP and that's what people want me to be," Strahl said when asked if he would leave the party. But he was seeking alliances with fellow MPs in his bid to send Day packing, and within a short period found seven others who shared his views - Art Hanger, Gary Lunn, Val Meredith, Jay Hill, Jim Pankiw, Grant McNally and Jim Gouk - all from the western provinces. The group hopes to win four more to be able to gain official party status in Parliament and thus get the right to ask questions during Question Period and receive research grants.

However, even in the face of the gathering storm, Day has stood his ground. He has spoken out against his detractors and feels that there is a conspiracy to dislodge him. Day believes that Preston Manning, the founder of the Reform Party, who lost out to Day in the battle for leadership in the newly created Canadian Alliance, is behind the conspiracy. A few months ago, Manning had announced that he was quitting politics. When the crisis broke out, Manning, who was in the United States, pleaded ignorance of the rebellion. Although it is difficult to say whether Manning is behind the current crisis, Day seems to have invited the troubles on himself through numerous gaffes. Even blaming these gaffes on his advisers cannot lift Day out of the political morass in which he finds himself. As the party got bad media, senior leaders looked abysmally at a party suffering and decided enough was enough.

Recent events cast a longer shadow on Day. His media adviser, Erza Levant, was forced to quit for leaking a letter he wrote to Strahl. Day's strategist Rick Anderson was fired for speaking out against him. There was not much moaning over Levant, a journalist with the Right-leaning The National Post group of newspapers, but there seems to be an undercurrent developing over the dismissal of Anderson. Just after the Anderson affair, a poll conducted in Alberta, Day's home province and the birthplace of the Alliance forerunner, Reform Party, 71 per cent of the respondents said they were unhappy with Day's leadership. Anderson did not mince words when he told national television: "The message from the leadership of the party - from the leader of the party - is 'we're happy to do without all kinds of people who happen to disagree with him.' I happen to think that's the majority of the party. If he's really prepared to go forward without the majority of the party, you'll end up with a party where there's a high level of agreement, but it will be a very small and narrowly based party."

Battling for Day and rallying the loyal troops is John Reynolds, the MP who worked for the Manning camp and tried all he could to prevent Day from winning the leadership race. Reynolds, an MP from British Columbia, is making all efforts to stem the revolt and save Day from humiliation. Brought in from the political wilderness by Manning, Reynolds plays a role that is not above suspicion. His loyalty to Day seems to be fierce in the current circumstances, but it could just be a facade.

THE misfortunes of the Alliance point to the fragmented nature of the Right. The Canadian Alliance was born out of the need for a united Right to wrest control of the country's political fortunes, held by the Liberals. Manning's vision to bring both the Progressive Conservatives and his Reform Party together failed, and instead created a deeper chasm between the Tories and the Canadian Alliance. The Alliance's electoral failure further dented the prospects of a resurgence of neo-conservatism in Canadian politics. The Liberals watched in glee as the Tories and Alliance leaders often sparred against each other during the last election.

Commentator and former president of the Conservatives, Dalton Camp, remarked in his column: "It is hard to see how the Alliance can grow under the leadership of Stockwell Day. His approval ratings in the campaign went relentlessly down as Canadians got to know him. Unlike his predecessor Preston Manning, he will need more than a haircut, a new pair of glasses and a downeast tailor to change his image. I expect the polls will soon be tracking potential voters departing the Alliance to seek cover among the undecided."

The neo-conservative circus has begun once again in right earnest. Day's miseries have opened the avenue for yet another go to bring the Tory and the Alliance rumps together for a wholesome Right. Influential members from both parties engaged in informal talks and the Alliance council adopted on May 27 a resolution calling for closer ties with the Tories. The Conservative leader, Joe Clark, too has extended his arms to Alliance members. However, one of the MPs who are still unsure which way to cast their lot, Bob Mills (Alberta), has already struck a discordant note. He said that the membership "aren't interested in going back to the Tories. The only reason Joe Clark looks good is because we look so bad."

Clark was made to look good by former Tory leader and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who, at a party fundraiser, said that the Progressive Conservatives were the only party capable of forming a national government. At the same time, he cautioned the Tories not to revel in the misfortunes of Day and his party.

The Liberals are sitting cosy in Ottawa. Appearing in a television talkshow, Prime Minister Jean Chretien could not help saying repeatedly, tongue in cheek, that Day should stay as a leader. As long as the bickering in the ranks of the Alliance goes on and the Tories fail to mount a serious challenge, the Liberals can enjoy the roadshow in the camps of Canada's political right.

A new group, Grassroots for Day, has been set up to drum up support for the beleaguered leader before the party convention, which is likely to be held in April 2002. If the groups can keep Day from tumbling until April, it will have scored a major victory. But there is a another group also - Bring Back Preston. Both groups are engaged in a cyberwar, which only shows how deep the rift is and how strong their rancour for each other is. The bloodletting is unlikely to stop soon and the wounds inflicted on the Alliance will take long time to heal.

"The party is divided. The caucus is divided. Our supporters are divided now. The only way we can stop that division from growing is by dealing with the problem. And the problem is the leadership of the party," said Val Meredith, one of the eight MPs on the wrong side of Day. Day stands solemnly as the new edifice to the Right movement in Canada is crumbling.

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