March 23, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 90  

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Harper to lead Conservatives against Martin’s Liberals

By Dan Perry
Gazette Staff

The Conservative Party of Canada held its leadership convention this past weekend, and according to several sources, former Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper’s victory over rivals Tony Clement and Belinda Stronach was par for the course.

“There were no real surprises,” said Martin Westmacott, a Western professor of political science. “I think it was pretty clear that Harper was the leading candidate. I was a bit surprised that Tony Clement didn’t get a few more votes in Ontario, [and] at Harper’s strength in Ontario.”

“The last week after that sort of bogus poll came out from Compass, people decided that if they didn’t want Harper, they’d have to vote for Stronach — and that drained a lot of support that Tony had,” explained Gord Haugh, director of communication for Clement’s campaign, regarding Clement’s vote count.

Though the race did garner its fair share of media coverage, King’s College political science professor Jacquetta Newman called the race boring.

“It seems to me that this race was colourless. You’ve got a backroom boy, a backroom boy who was a provincial health minister, and a business woman who has no political experience,” she said. “So, it was two guys with no charisma and one who has charisma just because she’s different from the other two; two guys in grey suits and one in pink Chanel suits.”

Newman said that rule changes for leadership campaigns effectively sucked the life from the events. “Now that the rules have changed to bring out ‘more serious democracy’, it’s a one-day affair. So you’ve got three candidates who aren’t very exciting, and a one-day event that’s not exciting.

“And then [the party is] going to use this as a springboard?” Newman asked. “You’ve got to wonder about a party who can’t find three more interesting candidates to run.”

Dave Forestell, a Western law student and national youth chair for Stronach’s campaign, said the campaign was not a total loss. “I think Belinda had a very strong finish — we went from zero to 35 per cent. She’s going to be a strong [member of Parliament] and one day she will be our prime minister,” he said, adding the party must now support their new leader.

Westmacott said Harper’s victory was good for the party. “I think it puts them in a much stronger position than anyone envisaged, especially in view of the sponsorship scandal.”

“All of our volunteers know it’s only the first step in a process and they’re gearing up — there’s a federal election coming,” said Carolyn Stewart-Olson, Harper’s campaign press secretary.



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