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The Shakespearean drama unfolding on Canada's right wing

By Jackson Murphy
web posted July 16, 2001

I thought that the biggest news in Canada this year would have been the dot.com meltdown led by Canada's bellwether stock Nortel Networks. Little did I know that the official opposition in the federal government would break apart before our eyes like a Shakespearean tragedy.

Last year, in what was the play's first act, the Canadian Alliance party was founded in hopes of uniting the right wing voters of the nation and unseating the ruling Liberal party. The experiment captured an uninspiring 25 per cent of the national vote and 66 of 301 seats in the parliament, something that was barely distinguishable from the western based party, Reform, that was the party that gave birth to the Alliance.

Unlike most systems that bring out the knives when the leader doesn't deliver a victory, and in typical Canadian non-confrontational fashion, Day stayed on as leader anyway.

Today the Alliance has 53 members in caucus and 13 members now known as the "Rebel Alliance" who have been alienated from the rest of the party for demanding that leader Stockwell Day resign.

How did it get to this?

In the second act: A flashback, Mr. Day revealed an admirable quality of sticking and keeping his foot in his mouth. He has been dogged by embarrassing lawsuits from his inability to refrain from personal attacks on lawyers and judges.

He denied a report that he approved the hiring of a private eye to essentially spy on the government. Two days later his first press secretary resigns and only a few weeks after that his chief of staff goes too.

By late April three of the parties senior elected officials resign their party jobs while two others call for Day to resign. In the weeks following the number of dissidents would grow to 13 and the Alliance would drop in the polls from 25 percent on election night to about 10 percent while the government would rise to 50 percent.

Day: So much potential
Day: So much potential

Two weeks ago it seemed Day's gig was up. In negotiations with the executive of the party and the dissidents the leadership tried to hammer out a deal that would see Day go on a leave of absence until the party's convention in April of 2002. This leave of absence seems to be solely for the ego of Day who has no real education or profession to fall back on: basically akin to the peace with honor American policy of getting out of Vietnam.

Both sides accused the other of operating in bad faith and the deal was removed from the table, which seemed contrary to all political logic. The logic being that once a leader even suggests that he is willing to step down he is done-stick a fork in him.

But wait; there is the third act. After taking the leave of absence deal away Day seemed to hunker down into a bunker and thrive off the persistent calls for him to step down. He denounced the dissidents, as operating contrary to the party's grassroots will.

Now, he has offered to allow a mediator to bring the two sides together -- a mediator in the middle of a blood sport, Shakespeare you're a genius. This week there is another caucus meeting where it is speculated that another 15-20 Members of Parliament will join the growing "Rebel Alliance". This would finish Mr. Day and perhaps the party itself making room for the ending act marriage with the other conservative party in the nation-finally uniting the right.

Some have suggested that this unfolding drama is all Richard II, but it is much more complex than that. In a way it is one part tragedy and one part comedy. Stockwell Day is half Julius Caesar and half Don John the bastard.

The Julius Caesar half is the one of tragedy. At one point Day is the face of the new right in Canada -- capable of slaying the ruling Liberals and uniting the right to do it. He is the young fresh-faced golden boy that everyone thinks is going to finally unite the right wing after almost a decade of fracture. Then he is the enemy to be stabbed in the back by Cassius and Brutus.

The other half, the comedy half, is reminiscent of Much Ado About Nothing with Day playing the conniving Don John. The play is quintessential Bard combining the elements of trickery and of course the end of the play wedding with comedy and farce all the way along-the wedding at the end is exactly what the Alliance needs to do with the other right wing party, The Progressive Conservatives.

Barely one year after wining the first leadership of the Alliance Mr. Day has presided over one thing: A Shakespearean tragedy-comedy. American politics may have sex and interns, but in Canada we really know how to blow things up real good.

Jackson Murphy is a young independent commentator from Vancouver, Canada writing on domestic and international political issues. He also writes weekly at suite101.com. You can reach him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

Other related articles: (open in a new window)

  • Unite the right? by Steven Martinovich (June 1999)
    The unite the right movement in Canada should be forgotten...and quickly, says Steve Martinovich




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