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Friend or foe? Both

Politics makes for strange bedfellows. In the case of Belinda Stronach, this is true both literally and figuratively. In her relationship with Deputy Conservative Leader Peter MacKay, she chose power over love, proving that Henry Kissinger was right about the ultimate aphrodisiac.

A switch in party allegiance on this scale means a complete change of script. One day you're in opposition tearing a strip off a government minister, and the next you're standing shoulder to shoulder on the battlements with the same person, defending a record you once attacked mercilessly. It does little to improve waning public trust in our elected officials.

Whether the defection stems from principle or opportunism or some combination of the two, whether it is an act of patriotism or an acting out of blind ambition, there is always left behind a string of public comments and a voting record that the politician and his or her new colleagues must now pretend never happened.

In her brief political career, Ms. Stronach has taken a back seat to no one in her criticism of the Martin government. And although she has publicly voiced her concerns about voting down the budget, she was prepared just days ago to bring down a government she considered corrupt and fiscally irresponsible.

"If I ran my company the way Paul Martin ran the finances of this country, I would have been fired," the former CEO of the Magna International auto-parts empire told a business audience after launching her bid early last year for the leadership of the new Conservative Party. She told party members that they all shared a common goal: "to get rid of the tired old Liberal government." Referring to the sponsorship scandal, she declared that Mr. Martin was either "part of this shameful mess or he is incompetent." The Prime Minister, she said, "would like us to believe he was a stowaway on the good ship Chrétien, when in fact he was first mate." And she promised, if elected leader, to hold Mr. Martin "accountable for his past and the past of his colleagues."

Last October, an extremely partisan Ms. Stronach told a Conservative fundraising event in Nova Scotia that "the fumes of the past 11 years of Liberal stagnation have had a hypnotizing effect. But it is time to administer the smelling salts."

What was tired, old and corrupt to Ms. Stronach in opposition is obviously cast in an entirely different light now that she's in the cabinet of her former political foes. It's not uncommon for politicians to be extremely flexible when it comes to their positions on policy, but such complete reversals do nothing to ease the growing public cynicism about the games they play.

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