Wednesday, 18 May 2005
Belinda Billions bolts
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER - 'Belinda Billions,' as Maclean's recently dubbed her in a recent cover story, has fled the Conservatives to join the Liberal cabinet of Paul Martin. While some may consider this a betrayal, it's perhaps expected considering how at odds she was with Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party leadership in recent times. First, she broke ranks with the party-the party whose leadership she once sought-on the same sex marriage issue. Then when Harper was calling for Martin to resign, she cautioned prudence.
Leadership hopefuls defecting for the other side is not uncommon. Scott Brison is a recent example, who after unsuccessfully seeking the old Progressive Conservative party's leadership bolted for a plum Liberal cabinet seat. Gordon Wilson did it in British Columbia when he folded his self-created party for an NDP post; and Jack Horner did the same eschewing the Tories for the Liberals; ditto Paul Hellyer eons ago.
Moreover, let's not forget, Stronach's father, Frank sought a Commons seat once upon a time for the Liberals. What's confusing though is why she would leave the Conservatives, a party she ran for. And if we're to believe Harper and Peter MacKay when they were folding their Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties together for the Conservative entity, Stronach had an important role in helping foster the union. You'll recall that when the Harper and MacKay marriage seemed about to fail, it was Stronach's intervention that helped make things right.
Two Saturday's ago, the Globe and Mail asked a very pertinent question. Was this antsy, front-bench opposition critic a "political rookie or a savvy operator?" Thanks to her personal resources, her parliamentary staff befitted that of a cabinet minister's, hiring special advisors or speechwriters and the sort; actually poaching some backroom handlers from the Mulroney era. It's widely reported that she held expensive receptions for supporters at the recent Conservative Party policy convention at her own expense, as well as endeared herself to then-fellow Conservative MP's last Christmas by sending each personalised arrangements of flowers. In addition, her unsuccessful Conservative Party leadership bid in 2003 was compared to Brian Mulroney's run in 1976, where expense was no object. Ambition was written all over her handsome Prada outfits.
Who really is Belinda Stronach? To me, if she wasn't able to buy the Conservative Party's leadership, it's clear she could be bought off with a Liberal Party cabinet post. Harper's right. This isn't an abdication of her own principles, rather unadulterated ambition. She wants to be prime minister so badly, for some unapparent reason; she's willing to straddle political lines to get ahead.
One wonders why she's stuck around pouring resources and the sort into the Conservative's only to bolt from it less than two years later. Is she some flake, unable to figure out where she belongs? Alternatively, are her actions yesterday indicative that with a bit of cash, you can try, feel and taste before actually committing to principles? I think the latter.
Stronach's move merely fuels cynicism amongst the populace. It might be construed as a bit greedy on her part, but face it, human beings have always been known to eschew idealism to better themselves. We just like to decry, point and bellyache, knowing we'd probably do the same.
Are Stephen Harper and the Conservatives hurt by this? Only briefly. Harper's breathing a sigh of relief knowing there's no plausible challenger to his leadership in the offing. Perhaps Peter MacKay must be a bit dumbfounded. But if Canadians are swept up by the frenzy thinking Stronach's defection is indicative of something gone awry within the Conservatives, they'd be mistaken. This capture by Martin is merely smoke and mirrors to conceal the rot in his government. At the end of the day, attracting Belinda Stronach to the cabinet table still doesn't do away with the fact that Harper's harping for this government to resign, have merit. That this Liberal government is up to its eyes in it, and they're using Stronach to make the pile a bit more appealing.
And of course, sympathies go out to some of those Liberal backbenchers who hoped that a cabinet assignment might just help them in their forthcoming re-election efforts. Whenever a leader plucks someone from the other side or from private life and gives them some prominent position, it must be disenchanting for those dedicated members who slog it out with their allegiance intact and unwavering. Liberals MP's should feel taken for granted. I'm sure Peter MacKay must feel just a bit, but for other reasons of course.
I hate to speculate about their relationship, whatever it has been these past months, but if we're to believe the reports that he's "devastated" over yesterday's turn of events, then perhaps he did get screwed.
Another interesting question of course is if this paves the way for Belinda Stronach for leader once again? And where? Perhaps seeking the Conservative leadership after Harper leaves may be disingenuous, but if she chooses to seek the Liberal banner, well, Bay Street might just line up in full force for that ticket. Certainly they wouldn't if Sheila Copps were to, or John Manley.
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