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Alliance council seeks ties with Tories
Party plays down suspension, embarrassing poll
The Toronto Star
CALGARY (CP) - Unity with the federal Conservatives replaced talk of disunity within their own ranks as Canadian Alliance governors tried Saturday to get past an uproar over leader Stockwell Day.
The Alliance national council spent most of the day crafting a basic plan for accelerating discussions with the Tories about possible ties. One day earlier, the group had voted by a narrow margin to suspend long-time Alliance strategist Rick Anderson for his public criticism of Day.
The half-dozen or so empty chairs at the semi-annual council meeting suggested that a policy discussion wasn't enough to lure some members angry over the suspension back to the table.
MP Deborah Grey and Cliff Fryers, former chief of staff to founding leader Preston Manning, were among absentees.
Day hailed the decision to make more formal overtures to the Conservatives as a sign his party is getting back on track.
"I am encouraged that in the face of obvious distractions in our party, our national council has kept its focus on the big picture, advancing our common sense principles by reaching out and creating a larger coalition,'' he told a closing news conference.
Asked if he could envision a leadership race against Tory Leader Joe Clark, Day said: "I've got a big imagination, and I've also got a big heart for this country, so I'm willing to contemplate anything that will end the vote-splitting and pull these parties together.''
Councillors passed a motion to pursue high-level talks with their Conservative counterparts, with no prescription or conditions for where that might lead.
Alliance co-chairman Clayton Manness, however, admitted he didn't know the names of his Tory counterparts.
Another motion encouraged riding association presidents to conduct their own meetings with Tory members, but officials said there was no plan yet to collect data about results of those talks.
Clark spokesman Stephen Carter said the proposal is premature, given that his Tory party is just now polling its members on whether they even want to consider such negotiations.
Clark, whose riding office is a stone's throw from where the Alliance council met, talked more about a beefed up Tory party in the next election than about co-operation.
"Obviously it looks like we are strengthening, and that's the most direct way to mount a challenge to the Liberal government, that's the way most sensible people will go,'' Clark said.
Anderson said he fears that without new Alliance leadership, the pursuit of a single conservative option in Canada will be impossible.
He said Day is paying lip service to the idea.
Day raised the issue at a speech last month in Ontario, proposing the two parties run common candidates at election time. But he said he hadn't worked out how that would be accomplished, and his proposal was dismissed by some as superficial and outdated.
"Beyond that I don't think he's done anything at all, to my knowledge, to actually advance the issue, like for instance call a Conservative and have a discussion about it,'' Anderson said before heading to the golf links the day after he was ousted.
"I think he sees it as more of a threat than an opportunity . . .''
A grim Environics poll published Saturday also threw a twist into the discussion of conservative co-operation, and which party would be calling the shots.
The poll of 1,105 Albertans suggested Day's approval rating in the province had dipped to 19 per cent, and the party's rating was at a low of 34 per cent. The poll also suggests Tory Leader Joe Clark was holding on to a 67 per cent approval rating, with the Conservatives at 29 per cent in the province.
The May 16-24 survey is accurate within 2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Day, who was in Banff earlier Saturday speaking at a meeting of municipal leaders, made light of the poll.
"Any time the polls show you're doing well you say these are good and scientific polls, and any time they reflect otherwise you know that poll was not done very well,'' Day said.
"We've seen some recently that weren't done too well.''
Despite the Alliance council's expression of will to engage in talks with Tories, the party still faces the prospect of an acrimonious, drawn-out battle over leadership until next April's convention.
One group in particular, Grassroots for Day, has been aggressively calling members and attacking MPs and other party members who question Day's leadership.
"We built a big tent, a coalition of people of various interests - unfortunately, it seems it's started to fracture a little bit on those different factions,'' said party co-chairman Ken Kalopsis.
He said "single-interest groups'' are getting involved, a development he called "very unhelpful for keeping our coalition together, and I hope that will stop.''
But later he said he doesn't think the internal problems will hamper developing a closer relationship with the Tories.
"This crosses a lot of individual divisions that might be out there including possibly divergences on where the leadership of the party should be,'' Kalopsis told a news conference.
May. 26, 2001. 08:20 PM
The national council of the Alliance party has agreed to pursue the possibility of their party joining up with the Tories. Day believes that this is a step in the right direction as it shows that the party is coming together again. However, some members chose to stay away from the meeting, as they are non-supporters of Day as the party leader.
A poll conducted in Alberta is showing that Day and his party are losing support in the province while Joe Clark and his Conservatives are gaining support. Alliance party co-chairman Ken Kalopsis is hoping that the disputes inside the party over the leadership will not harm the possibilities of joining up with the Tories.
I think that it would be a good thing if the Alliance party joined up with the Conservatives. First of all, it would help save the reputation of the Alliance party. Secondly, it would allow Day to resign as leader of the Alliance Party with dignity as only one leader would be required. Most importantly, it would create a stronger opposition party within the government to help keep the Liberals on track, to make sure that they are working for the best interests of all of the people of Canada.