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Alliance unity bid ends in rancour
Suspension of Day opponent widens party split
The Toronto Star - OTTAWA BUREAU
CALGARY - An attempt to forge a united front of the Canadian Alliance's governing council exploded yesterday with the suspension of longtime party strategist Rick Anderson.
The move triggered an emotional walkout by three other councillors and a declaration of outright war on leader Stockwell Day.
May. 26, 2001. 02:44:20 PM
`I believe that Mr. Day is without a doubt the worst abomination you could possibly see in politics today.' - Cliff Fryers, former aide to Preston Manning
REUTERS PHOTOSUSPENDED: Alliance strategist Rick Anderson meets reporters after suspension.Muzzling dissent means more debate
``I believe that Mr. Day is without a doubt the worst abomination you could possibly see in politics today,'' said Cliff Fryers, an architect of the Canadian Alliance and a former chief of staff to Preston Manning who until now has held his fire.
As he left the meeting with Anderson, Fryers called Day's supporters ``forces of darkness'' who do not respect principles of democratic dissent and want to ``muzzle debate.'' He went on to say that under Day ``nothing but degeneration'' of the party's support has happened, and the party is ``in far worse shape than we were at the time the reins of power were handed over.''
Day told reporters late in the day the meeting had been ``productive'' but emotional and heavy-hearted. Anderson is a talented political strategist, Day said, and he hoped he would come back into the fold.
``I think the fundamental issue is what kind of party we're building,'' said Fryers. ``I think the fact that we've reached this point speaks to his ability as a leader to . . . hold a coalition together of this type.''
Fryers said the move to muzzle dissent will ``unleash a formal debate'' on Day's leadership, and he vowed to fight for the ``principles of democratic conservatism'' in the 11 months leading up to an April leadership review.
Despite efforts throughout the day by party executives to paper over differences, it was clear the same dissent over Day's leadership that split the parliamentary wing of the party and led to eight MPs' suspensions has also split its executive body.
A distraught Ontario councillor, Nancy Branscombe, who ran as an Alliance candidate in the last election, stormed out of the meeting after the 40 or so councillors voted by a slim majority to suspend Anderson, one of Day's harshest critics.
``What the f--- is going on here,'' she yelled at Day and his allies before fleeing the closed-door meeting.
Outside, she told reporters she was ``sickened and frustrated'' by what she called the hypocrisy of Day's supporters using Anderson as a lightning rod.
``If it's him, then it's me next, and then it's others. . . That is not the party I joined and it is not the way I want the party to be governed. . .
``It's a one-sided gag order. If you support the leader, it's okay to say so. If you do not support the leader, it's not.''
Alberta councillor Thompson MacDonald also walked out.
Anderson emerged saying he will not agree to any gag order, is now free to speak his mind as a grassroots member, and once again called on Day to step aside for the good of the party.
``There is apparently a rule in the party now that says thou shalt not say the emperor has no clothes or thou shalt be cast out,'' he said sarcastically, predicting war on the ground of Alliance riding associations.
Asked if he would quit the party, Anderson said for now he'll continue fighting for the party's principles and for the larger goal of uniting conservative-minded parties and voters in Canada.
``As long as I think there's a chance we're going to get our act together I'd be happy to do so,'' he said, while warning that kicking people out of caucus, council or the party will not help the Alliance.
But Day dismissed the looming war at the riding-by-riding level, saying he will only focus on fighting Liberals.
``When you are in leadership, your job is on the line every day,'' he said. ``I will be fighting to hold the Liberals to account for how they're not addressing some of the challenges that face this nation.''
Day also offered a glimpse of what some have described as a missionary sense of destiny that's driving him during these tumultuous days.
``When you're in politics for a cause, when you're in because you believe you can effect change in a positive way, then you have to along the way . . . some of the downside of political life, and part of that means taking criticism.
``Our grassroots members will know that I'm committed to the principles that are developed by the national council.''
Georges Bears, founding organizer of Grassroots for Day, said he didn't think ``anyone truly relishes war, but if we have to go to war, better that than Ottawa lobbyists taking over our party, or having someone like (Tories) Joe Clark or Peter McKay leading us.''
And Day supporter Bob Dechert, the national councillor who proposed the motion to suspend Anderson, described Day as a ``decent and honourable man'' who has a lot of good ideas and would make a fine prime minister but just hasn't been given a ``fair opportunity to lead this party.''
The dramatic turn of events happened after several hours of closed-door meetings. In the morning, councillors described ``heartfelt, frank'' talks aimed at ``reconciliation.''
After lunch, the council quickly voted down motions to hold a referendum on Day's leadership, as well as an early leadership review - both deemed to be outside party rules. A motion to review the memberships of eight dissident MPs in the Alliance's parliamentary wing was also dismissed.
But then came nearly three hours of emotional discussion over whether to punish Anderson. Party co-president Ken Kalopsis admitted he was ``very unhappy'' with the suspension and walkouts, particularly of his wife, Branscombe. ``We need to be building bridges right now.''
He said Canadians should view the tumult within the party as a healthy sign that members can speak freely on policy, and the party is truly ``a grassroots organization.''
Longtime party stalwart and MP Deb Grey, who quit Day's frontbenches in protest of his leadership, said yesterday she would attend next week's caucus meeting and wanted to ``fight Liberals'' until the House of Commons recesses in four weeks for the summer.
Asked directly whether she'd stay in caucus, she replied, ``We'll see what happens.''
In a recent meeting of the Canadian Alliance Executive Council, long-time Alliance strategist, Rick Anderson, was suspended from the Party for his outspoken rebellion against Stockwell Day. Despite his suspension, Rick Anderson does not plan to quit the party.
Three supporters of Rick Anderson walked : Councilors Cliff Fryers, Nancy Branscombe, and Thompson MacDonald, each of them upset with the decision made by the Executive Council to suspend Anderson. Anderson voiced his opinion that there is a gag order against speaking out against Day, but Day insists that his focus is on making sure that the Liberals are doing what’s best for the nation. Party co-president, Ken Kalopsis, feels that the party really needs to start ‘building bridges’, not breaking them. He said it should be considered a good thing that members feel they can voice their opinions about the policies of their party. Other party members are waiting to see what will happen before deciding whether they will continue attending caucus meetings.
I find it rather ironic that the more the Alliance party seems to try to pull themselves together, the more they fall apart. What is even more ironic is that the party’s strategist, Rick Anderson, was suspended. I would have thought that he would have been the last person to ever consider doing such a thing, for he is merely putting his party and future in ‘deeper waters’. My firm belief is that all Party members should support their Party leader.