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'Magna Spice' plays gender card Stronach jokes with media but says Canada is ready for a female PM

Stronach jokes with media but says Canada is ready for a female PM

Relaxed and confident that she has momentum, Belinda Stronach nevertheless played it safe yesterday as her campaign to lead the newly forged Conservative Party drew nearer to Saturday's vote.

Ms. Stronach, believed to lag behind former Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper in the race, took just one risk in a long day of delivering the same message to all comers as she campaigned through her vote-rich homeland of Ontario.

Midway through the day, she descended from her bus at the corner of Bloor and Yonge streets in Toronto, to have "a little fun" and meet up with Ben Kerr, a busker and renowned Toronto original to hear him croon a karaoke version of a song he wrote in her honour: She's Better than Viagra (Belinda Stronach Is).

Among the lyrics, written on a sheet her campaign team handed out later to reporters: "She's sexy, blonde and brainy/ Just who the Conservatives need/ To get young people out to vote/ To bring the Liberals to their knees."

And when Mr. Kerr presented the elegantly suited Ms. Stronach with a canary-yellow sweatshirt emblazoned with the title of his song, she cracked: "I'm going to pass this on to some of my Liberal friends."

Minutes after she got back on the bus, however, she abandoned the sweatshirt, giving it to one of the reporters.

It was a face-on acknowledgment of the fact that her gender has marked her run for the leadership.

At several other points during the day, she dealt with the same issue.

She joked with one crowd that she had been dubbed "Magna Spice," "Bionic Stronach" and "Paul Martin in a cocktail dress," then added that she looks better in a cocktail dress than Mr. Martin does.

Later, Ms. Stronach told a reporter that she believes Canada is ready for a woman prime minister and said that many more female candidates and culturally diverse candidates are poised to run for the new party.

"The face of the party is changing," she said.

She repeatedly pointed to a poll of Canadians conducted for her campaign late last week by Acrobat Research Ltd. that said she is more likely to win a federal election against Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin than is either of her opponents, Mr. Harper or third-place contender Tony Clement.

That poll indicates she has a slim margin over Mr. Harper, in contrast to another research poll from last week that suggests he had a strong lead.

Ms. Stronach, who was hailed as injecting "sizzle factor" into a boring process when she entered the race for Conservative leader in January, stuck to the message yesterday that she is the only candidate who can bring in votes from each part of the country.

She stressed the contention that electing Mr. Harper would amount only to giving the Liberals another long reign over Canada.

Under Mr. Harper's leadership, she said, the Canadian Alliance went through 11 by-elections and lost each one.

Fewer voters came out for those by-elections than had during the Alliance leadership of Stockwell Day.

"I believe that the Liberals are chomping at the bit for Stephen to win," she said yesterday in an interview, adding: "If we don't broaden the base, we've failed."

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