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Fed up with Day, eight MPs desert Alliance
Say leader's consistently `bad judgment' left no choice
OTTAWA - Eight Canadian Alliance MPs ignored threats and pleas from colleagues and called for leader Stockwell Day's resignation yesterday, saying they would boycott the party caucus until Day steps aside.
One by one, the dissident MPs - all long-time party activists - stepped up to the microphones to say Day's leadership is damaging the party they fought to build and they could no longer abide by a gag order that prevents them from criticizing him.
May. 16, 2001. 12:05 PM
Chuck Strahl, Val Meredith, Jay Hill, Jim Pankiw, Grant McNally and Jim Gouk joined forces with two other colleagues, Art Hanger and Gary Lunn, who were suspended from caucus last month for urging Day to step down.
``The Alliance is not yet succeeding. In fact, it is sliding backward,'' Strahl told a news conference.
``We believe that the party must come first and that the problems Mr. Day has had . . . are serious enough that he should put the party first.
``It is with deep regret that today we call upon Mr. Day to resign as leader of the Canadian Alliance,'' Strahl said, adding the MPs plan to remain active Alliance members.
Strahl blamed the leadership's consistent exercise of ``bad judgement, dishonest communications, and lack of fidelity to our party's policies'' for the party's backslide in the polls during and since the fall federal election.
In response, Day held his own news conference and defiantly declared he has no intention of quitting.
``I am the leader of this party. I am going to lead,'' he said.
He condemned his critics for betraying the grassroots members and the party's democratic principles and for breaking an election promise to serve constituents as Alliance MPs under his leadership.
Day urged the MPs to reconsider, and to ask their electors ``whether they should be sidelined and marginalized. I think I know what the answer would be.''
But he also sounded a conciliatory note, saying, ``Could I work with them again? Absolutely.''
The dissident MPs will meet this morning, and plan to continue to espouse Alliance policies and bring their concerns about Day to ``partisan events,'' in the hopes their exile from caucus will be temporary.
They say they want to rejoin when Day resigns or is removed as leader so they can get on with the job of building a united conservative alliance against the Liberals.
In an interview, Pankiw (Saskatoon-Humboldt) said there are many more dissenters who will remain in caucus for now, but as many as a dozen more of them could follow.
After last fall's election, the Alliance held 66 seats to continue as the official Opposition. The Liberals, meanwhile, hold 172 seats, the Bloc Quebecois, 38, the New Democrats, 13, and the Progressive Conservatives, 12.
The dissident Alliance MPs were warned yesterday by Day loyalists that there may be no going back.
House leader John Reynolds said those speaking out against Day are ``being misled'' and destroying the caucus and the party.
Day's new caucus advisers sent a letter to all Alliance MPs warning that the consequences of the actions would be swift and severe.
The letter warned MPs will ``be deemed to have suspended themselves.'' They are to be barred from caucus meetings and from Commons committee assignments, removed from Alliance caucus e-mail, fax, and mailing lists, and be prohibited from caucus parliamentary travel.
More importantly, Reynolds said the Alliance caucus will consider today whether the dissidents ought to be designated as ``unaffiliated MPs no longer part of the Canadian Alliance at all.''
Party membership, Reynolds acknowledged, is only something the party's executive body - its national council - can decide.
But Reynolds said Day's critics have forfeited the right to call themselves members of the Alliance by not honouring a pledge they signed to be loyal to the party and its leader.
The Alliance dissenters all said they were taking the drastic step of forming a united front against Day in an effort to provide a catalyst for change and to rescue the party's original goal of forming a united conservative party against the Liberals.
Alliance MPs were divided yesterday on how much damage the very public split will do to Mr. Day.
But many were emphatic that the critics are not traitors to the party.
``They are as loyal to the Canadian Alliance as anyone you can ever find and they want what's best, and they believe their action is what's best for the party,'' said Monte Solberg, who said Strahl and the others are ``completely honourable and decent.''
Veteran MP Deborah Grey refused to state what her plans are, but she will hear from a town hall meeting in her Edmonton riding May 24, after which she is expected to declare her intentions.
If the well-respected Grey joins the dissenters, it is believed many others will follow.
Val Meredith (South Surrey-White Rock-Langley) conceded there will be hard feelings in the caucus, but said divisions already exist.
Alberta MP Bob Mills, one of those who could join the breakaway group by week's end, defended his colleagues yesterday. ``They're some of the strongest people in our party. ''
On May 15th, eight Canadian Alliance MPs called for Stockwell Day’s resignation. Chuck Strahl, Val Meredith, Jay Hill, Jim Pankiw, Grant McNally , Jim Gouk, Art Hanger and Gary Lunn, urged Day to resign, believing that he is damaging the Party.
Stockwell Day, however, responded by saying, " I am the leader of this party. I am going to lead."
Day's new caucus advisers sent a letter to all Alliance MPs, warning them that the outcome for offensive actions against the Party leader would be "swift and severe" and that they would be suspending themselves from the Party with their actions.
However, House leader, John Reynolds said that those who were speaking out against Day were "being misled" and merely destroying the party’s future. Reynolds also noted that the party's executive body - its national council - can decide whether these MPs ought to be "designated as unaffiliated MPs no longer part of the Canadian Alliance at all."
The defiant MPs talked about forming a united front against Day. As well, they want to ‘rescue’ the party's original goal of forming a united Conservative Party against the Liberals. Some party members do not see them as traitors.
Despite the disputes, if the MPs were to leave the party, the Alliance would be at a great loss, as they are considered to be some of the strongest members in the party.
In my opinion, if Day were to step down as leader of the Canadian Alliance, the party would suffer considerable damage. The public would lose respect for the party, believing that if the party members cannot support their leader and remain united, then they would probably not be a very strong party to lead the country one-day. Since each MP makes a pledge to be loyal to its leader and party, I believe that the eight rebellious MPs should think about honouring this pledge and put the best interests of their party first.