Oh, she’s not running all right, but her tortured explanation for not doing so dropped a nasty stink bomb on her new party, and further diminished what little credibility she had left with the national media.
She had a good chance to win, Stronach claimed, but her reason for not running is the party’s leadership selection process, which she says renders her incapable of speaking her mind on party renewal. She maintains that she would have been “trapped” in a system in which the grassroots are “ahead” of the party.
This is risible nonsense. In the two months that have passed since Paul Martin announced he would not be leading the Liberals into another election, this is the first inkling we have ever heard from Belinda that she had a problem with the Liberal party’s leadership process.
Briefly, the process consists of a vote at the riding level that chooses delegates and assigns first ballot votes on the basis of one member one vote. The delegates are then free at the convention to vote as they wish on second and subsequent ballots. Each of the 308 ridings will elect 14 delegates. There will also be approximately 850 ex-officio delegates.
The Conservative party’s leadership process is a modified one-member-one-vote process that is similar to the Liberals’, to the extent that it treats all ridings equally, regardless of the number of members in each riding. There is a preferential ballot, but no delegates.
As CBC reporter Julie Van Dusen noted on Newsworld today, Stronach applauded the Liberal leadership rules when they were released last month. As the National Post reported on March 20:
“I was particularly pleased to see the national party executive agree on rules that will ensure the leadership race is a more open, accessible and accountable process from start to finish, that will guarantee a level playing field for everyone who decides to run,” Ms. Stronach said in a statement.
Update: Stephen Taylor has some compelling background on Stonach's position on riding equality in leadership races, when she ran for Conservative leader, here.
Stronach's talking points today, less than three weeks later, are a transparent rationalization for the fact that her weak support among traditional Liberals means she could only win the leadership if she were free to essentially take over the party with new members. Yet Scott Brison, Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae do not seem deterred, though they are essentially starting from the same place.
In the Simpsons episode that features the musical version of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the closing song includes the line “a stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met.” I guess to Stronach, a “grassroots Liberal” is just somebody whose membership she hasn’t bought yet.
I suspect that the leadership rules that are genuinely troubling to Stronach are the financial ones, which would have all but eliminated Stronach’s financial edge. This is the first major leadership race that will operate under the new election financing law enacted in 2003.
The spending limit has been set by the Liberal party at $3.4 million, down from the last race’s limit of $4 million. Under federal law, campaign spending must include travel, polling and personal expenses, items that have been exempted in some previous races. Corporate and union donations are banned, and an individual is limited to donating $5,100 to all leadership candidates.
Candidates are limited to spending $5,000 on their own campaigns. Contrast this with the approximately $1 million Stronach spent on her own campaign for the Conservative leadership in 2004, a figure admitted by one of her spokesmen last fall.
As for her claim that she would not be free to speak her mind – again, ridiculous. Is there any better platform for the discussion of ideas than an opposition party leadership contest with no frontrunner?
When Stronach defected to the Liberals last May, Stephen Harper speculated that the real reason she was leaving was because her leadership ambitions were unlikely to be realized in the Conservative party. Tony Clement was more forthcoming, and his observations at the time have proven prescient:
Mr. Clement did not spare harsh words for his former leadership rival yesterday, saying Ms. Stronach is the political equivalent of soccer player David Beckham and his out-sized ego.This sorry episode lends credence to Harper and Clement’s views. Stronach could have withdrawn with dignity, offering truthful and credible reasons such as wanting to improve her French and get more Parliamentary experience under belt. But that would be too pedestrian for Belinda. There always has to be some grander – dare I say, Nietzschean – rationale. I can’t help saying this about the atheist Stronach: Thank God we are rid of her.
“At some point, Manchester United said ‘We don’t need the distraction. We’re a better team without him,’ “ Mr. Clement said on his way to Bracebridge, where he will be running as the Conservative candidate against Liberal agriculture minister Andy Mitchell.
Mr. Clement said he feels “vindicated” by Ms. Stronach’s departure to the Liberals.
“She has been running a parallel leadership campaign since the day after she lost the last one,” he said. “When she doesn’t get her way, this is the typical response from her.”
He added that Ms. Stronach was a “destabilizing influence in the party” long before she announced that she was crossing the aisle before tomorrow’s budget vote.
“I honestly believe that we are far better off in the long run,” he said. “I know there’s a grey cloud right now, but the silver lining will become more prominent the further we get away from today.”
“I wonder what shred of credibility she’ll have because it’s so obviously about naked ambition rather than public policy or principle,” he said. “Why would you trust a liar like that?”
Prime Minister Paul Martin exercised “the politics of desperation” by inviting Ms. Stronach into his cabinet, Mr. Clement said, but could come to regret the decision once the budget vote is over.
“He will rue the day, I’m telling you,” said Mr. Clement. “Bully for him, he won a 24-hour contest of wills, but I think in the long run he will rue the day. The ego and the constant demands, they just won’t stop. It’s always about Belinda.”
Footnote: This has been a bad week for National Post columnist Don Martin. On Tuesday, Ralph Klein announced he is stepping down before year end. With Klein’s departure, Martin's contacts in and access to the workings of the Alberta government are sure to diminish. Then Belinda Stronach announced she’s not running, which will not help sales of Martin’s upcoming book on her. He deserves to take a dram or five this weekend.