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What if you started a new party and nobody came?

By Jackson Murphy
web posted January 26, 2004

As the election year primary season rolls through New Hampshire south of the border this week Canada is experiencing a leadership race of its own. The only real difference between the two is the level of interest.

The truth is that the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race is plagued by non-interest and down right indifference by the majority of the Canadian electorate. The new political party formed to unite the right once and for all has failed to capture the imagination of the people and the three candidates for leadership are still all virtually unknown.

The Globe and Mail reported on the results from the first realistic post-merger poll conducted by Ipsos-Reid/CTV/The Globe and Mail. In short, the political scene in Canada is still dominated by the ruling Liberal Party who remain strong with 48 per cent support. Meanwhile the upstart Conservative Party wallows in second at 19 per cent down two points from December's numbers and more troubling down from the combined 24 per cent support before the Alliance and Tory parties merged.

Coming in third, and equally troubling for the new party, is the New Democratic Party rising at 16 per cent. In the important battle ground of Ontario the numbers get even worse for the new party: "In Ontario, the Liberals are riding high at 57 per cent, with the Conservatives at 18 per cent and the NDP at 17 per cent."

The unknown Stephen Harper
The unknown Stephen Harper

It isn't surprising then, that the interest levels in the three candidates for the position to lead this new party are facing the same lack of interest. The Globe goes on to report, "Perhaps worse news for the new party is that a majority of respondents had no opinion about any of the leadership hopefuls: Fifty-five per cent said they had no opinion of Stephen Harper, although he has been leader of a national political party for almost two years."

The other two candidates are even less well known than Harper. Sixty-nine per cent of respondents don't have any opinion of former President and CEO of Magna International Belinda Stronach and 77 per cent have no opinion on Tony Clement, the former Ontario provincial cabinet minister.

This is not to say that there isn't any buzz in this race. Stronach has been speaking to large crowds across the country as curious onlookers wonder if a thirty seven year old blonde millionaire with no political experience can win the nomination and possibly go on to become the Prime Minister. Everyone wants to shake Belinda's hand but does anyone want her to live at 24 Sussex Drive?

Rich and pretty; but is Stronach leadership material?
Rich and pretty; but is Stronach leadership material?

At the same time Stronach is creating the only possible mainstream appeal the press is having almost as much fun at her expense as the late night comedians have had with Howard Dean following his "I have a Scream" speech.

"Belinda Stronach is a female version of Junior Bush," writes Heather Mallick in The Globe and Mail. "No, that's unfair. Even he borderline-graduated from university. Ms. Stronach dropped out. She runs a holding company handed to her by her father. Even Mr. Bush started one of his own, albeit financed by Daddy's friends. The list of powerful men associated with Ms. Stronach is a list of her father's pals. Where do her opinions come from?"

Mallick's essay sounds like she is simply cribbing notes from south of the border too. The New York Times opinion writer Maureen Dowd makes a cottage industry of talking down to President Bush. Stronach is to Mallick, as Bush and Cheney are to Dowd. It's an easy paint-by-numbers ready-made opinion piece designed to dismiss Stronach as a dumb, privileged strumpet, and worst of all, puppet of the still hateful conservatives. If this was a Dowd column you could throw in comparisons to cowboys and conspiracies of oil and Haliburton. But Magna, Paris Hilton, and blond jokes will do just fine in a pinch. Look for more build-your-own Dowd influenced commentary, as we get closer to the election.

Even Belinda's fellow candidate Stephen Harper thought it was worth playing the daddy's little rich girl card. But wait a second aren't the conservatives supposed to like money, power, and privilege. To be honest isn't that the whole point of being a conservative? If we wanted to vote for whiny populist money haters we'd vote NDP anyway. Hasn't Harper heard of Layton Mania yet?

Writing in The National Post, Claire Hoy defends Stronach and looks at how quick the media was to turn on her. "She certainly looks good and dresses well. And she too has no political experience. Unlike Mulroney, she is not fluently bilingual. But, like Mulroney, she is already getting a taste of the haughty dismissiveness so common among the political elite -- both in the media and in politics itself -- commonly bestowed upon anyone brazen enough to think they have something to offer to the system."

While the race has all the ingredients of a potential great page-turner it seems to still lack the requisite amount of sizzle. It seems that even with a new party and a beautiful rich girl in a very strange place the Canadian public is unimpressed. What must these fickle Canadian voters want?

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is a senior writer at Enter Stage Right, a columnist for Bureacrash.ca and a regular contributor to American Daily.com, Men's News Daily, and The Reality Check. He is also the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7.

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