March 17, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 87  

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Stronach the tonic for Canada

Ad Nauseam
Anton Vidgen

News Editor

When Belinda Stronach entered the race to be leader of the newly merged Conservative Party of Canada almost two months ago, she was immediately ripped apart by the media and party stalwarts on her political inexperience, scripted and wooden media responses, and perhaps most crucially, her inability to speak French.

Though the media and public initially fawned over her telegenic presence, there was a general understanding that her initial high rating in the opinion polls would soon be bogged down by her many political faults — despite assembling a star campaign team.

Moreover, opponent Stephen Harper seemed to have a lock on the leadership race thanks to name recognition, party power-brokers and fervent voter allegiance in the West carried over from the former Canadian Alliance, the dominant faction of the new party. Though voters should always support any challenge to entrenched authority (including the weak attempt of the third candidate, Tony Clement), many at the time felt Stronach’s well-financed campaign would do little to change the tide so clearly in Harper’s favour.

But it soon became apparent to Conservative voters that Stronach had more substance and political savvy than most earlier believed. Emphasis on job creation and employee empowerment has resonated with Canadians disaffected by the slumping economy; mortgage and tuition tax deductibility was appreciated by homeowners and students, and her vigorous support of same-sex marriage — that respected the will of individual religious institutions — gained her the support of a majority of Canadians and religious moderates.

But what of her continued inability to speak French, so valued by vote-rich Quebec? Even with the frenetic pace of campaign life, she has honed her French pronunciation skills and is able to sound off with apparent comfort. Functionality and fluency are a few high-priced lessons away, and not a major concern.

Criss-crossing the nation and listening to the concerns of alienated voters in the West, Quebec and the Maritimes has exhibited Stronach’s genuine desire to ameliorate long-standing divisions incurred over years of Liberal party neglect. The protocol of political appeasement, so favoured by former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his successor, Paul Martin, is bereft of vision and creativity.

All these are reasons why Stronach is deserving of the Conservative helm — much more so than either Harper, who enjoys appeasing holdovers of the Canadian Alliance, or Clement, who enjoys appeasing nerdy high school Conservatives.

Though you may vehemently disagree with their stances visionary conservatives Bill Davis, Brian Mulroney and Mike Harris all support Stronach’s candidacy. And if a poll released this past Sunday is accurate, so do a majority of Canadians.

The Acrobat Research poll gives Stronach 46 percent of Canadian votes compared to Martin’s 37 percent, more than either Harper or Clement head-to-head with the current prime minister. Electability be damned.

This Saturday’s leadership vote will be prophetic and reflective. The Conservatives can win the next federal election and cast off negative perceptions, but a Harper or Clement win will only perpetuate the party’s past woes. The undeniable first-ballot choice must be Belinda Stronach.



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