Canada’s opposition leader offers to quit

TORONTO, Reuters

After one year in power, Stockwell Day, the embattled leader of Canada’s right-wing Canadian Alliance Party, has offered to step aside temporarily to make way for an interim leader.

Sunday marks the first anniversary of Day’s accession to the leadership of the Western Canada-based Alliance. He defeated former Reform Party leader Preston Manning to take over the new party.

But plagued by a series of gaffes and a poor showing in last year’s election — the party picked up only a couple of parliamentary seats in Canada’s populous province of Ontario — Day has come under increasing party pressure to resign.

Alliance house leader John Reynolds said on Sunday that Day’s conditional offer to leave the helm of Canada’s main opposition party was made two days ago and prompted by a letter from the executive committee asking for his resignation.

Reynolds said the offer would allow the party to name an interim leader, preferably Day loyalist Grant Hill, until it could hold a leadership review at a convention next April.

He said it would also allow the party to continue unity talks with Joe Clarke and his Progressive Conservative Party.

“Mr. Day made a very gracious offer to the party and to all my colleagues, saying that he would take a leave of absence until April … and then let the party select an interim leader that can move forward on the very important things that need to be done. Joe Clark has said he can’t negotiate with Mr. Day because of leadership problems. This takes away that issue,” Reynolds told CTV news on Sunday.

Reynolds said he hoped by the end of the day to have a response from the 13 dissident members who quit the parliamentary caucus of the party over the past three months in a rising wave of protest against Day. The offer was conditional on the dissident members’ return to regular party membership.

Day’s resignation would cap several months in which his and the Alliance’s political fortunes quickly eroded.

The trouble began when veteran Prime Minister Jean Chretien called an unexpectedly early election last November to take advantage of Day’s inexperience and easily defeated his rival. Frustration with Day’s inconsistent performance during and after the campaign led the 13 lawmakers to broke away.

The Alliance, which gained 25.5 percent of the popular vote and 66 of the 301 seats in the House of Commons in November, is now backed by less than 10 percent of the population. One recent poll put its support at 6 percent.

“In all of Canadian political history, there has never been quite so bloody a train wreck as has been made of the Alliance. … (It) has been a calamitous failure,” commentator Andrew Coyne wrote in the right-wing National Post.

Alliance members of Parliament in both the anti- and pro-Day camps say they are stunned by how far the party has fallen — in part because of increasingly savage media coverage and vicious fighting between Day’s and the rebel camps.