Stockwell Day: New kid at Centre Block
By JEFF GRAY
Globe and Mail Update
Standing on a stage in Toronto hotel this summer, bathed in television lights, former Alberta treasurer Stockwell Day accepted the reins of the party that Preston Manning built.
The Reform Party, a right-wing, Prairie populist movement that Mr. Manning created, nurtured, and rode all the way to Stornoway, had failed to expand beyond its western base under his leadership. Now, its supporters hope it will broaden its appeal across Canada as a reborned party, the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance.
And in July, the party made the transformation complete, voting for a new leader and a fresh start. Certainly, Mr. Day's personal style couldn't contrast more with Mr. Manning's piercing tone and dense speeches.
“My message to the Prime Minister and the federal Liberals is: Your holiday is just about over. We're coming. Get ready,” the new Alliance Leader told reporters on the shores of Okanagan Lake the day after winning a B.C. by-election in September, famously clad in a wet suit.
Mr. Day's journey to Leader of the Official Opposition has been anything but linear. Born in Barrie, Ont., on Aug. 16, 1950, he was raised in a variety of places - the Maritimes, Ottawa and Montreal.
His résumé is varied: He has worked on construction sites, picked up corpses for funeral homes, served as a deck hand on a fishing boat (while attending the University of Victoria), acted as an auctioneer, worked as a logger, outfitted oil-exploration teams, counselled street kids, and put in hours on the kill floor of a meat-packing plant.
In 1978, after he finished studies at Northwest Bible College in Edmonton, Mr. Day and his family moved to Bentley, Alta., a small town about 40 kilometres northwest of Red Deer, where he became a lay assistant pastor and administrator at Bentley Christian School.
He fought to get the Alberta government to recognize religious schools, and then decided to run for the legislature as a Conservative, winning a seat in 1985. He made it into cabinet in 1989, and served as chief whip, government house leader, minister of labour and minister of social services. In 1997, he became Premier Ralph Klein's minister of finance, introducing a revolutionary flat income tax.
While he has made much of his party's “agenda of respect,” Mr. Day has faced criticism from political opponents - as well as from some people within his party - for his conservative views on social issues.
He opposed extending Alberta's human-rights code to protect homosexuals from discrimination, and supported an anti-abortion group that wanted the province to stop funding abortions except when a woman's life was at risk.
Mr. Day has said that he would favour referendums on such controversial issues, including capital punishment, before making any changes to Canadian law, but that such changes are not high on his agenda.
And the Alliance platform, called A Time for Change, has little to say on most of these issues, saving most of its slick, colourful charts for policies on tax cuts and health care. But during the campaign the Liberals are expected to emphasize Mr. Day's social conservatism, which they believe is out of step with most Canadians.
The Alliance Leader's strengths - that he is a new face, adding a breath of fresh air in Ottawa, and has a reputation as straight talker who doesn't hide his views on controversial issues - can also be liabilities.
Mr. Day is scheduled to face a civil lawsuit for defamation in November, regarding a letter he wrote to the Red Deer Advocate about a lawyer who defended a convicted pedophile charged with possessing child pornography. The lawyer contends the letter links him with his client's views.
But so far, as Opposition Leader, Mr. Day has tried to raise the level of decorum in the House of Commons, forcing his caucus to sit silent in Question Period as Liberal shouts and guffaws send the Speaker to his feet. And he has pledged repeatedly that his campaign will not feature attacks on Mr. Chrétien's character.
Despite the new approach, and a Liberal government plagued by a messy jobs-grants scandal, his party started the campaign at as much as 30 percentage points behind in the polls.
“There will be choices between a government - a party that we believe is stuck in the past and a party and a group of people, new people across this country, new leadership, new ideas that want to move ahead into the 21st century,” Mr. Day told a crowd of business leaders at a hugely successful Alliance fundraiser in Toronto just days before the writ was dropped.
He went on to contrast the philosophy of the governing party and his own. “The Liberals believe that people exist for the state,” Mr. Day said. “We believe that the state exists for the people.”