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Strike 13 for embattled Alliance leader
A year after Stockwell Day takes helm, good ship CA takes on water
Tim Harper
OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
STOCKWELL DAY
RELATED LINKS
Speak Out on the Alliance defections
Alliance MP Inky Mark quits caucus
MP Grey defects (July 4)
Text of letter to rebel Alliance MPs (July 3)
Timeline: Stockwell Day's leadership
National affairs writer Chantal Hebert
Columnist Dalton Camp
The Canadian Alliance's official site
Grassroots for the Canadian Alliance
Grassroots for Day
OTTAWA - The numbers tell the story of a year in the life of Stockwell Day.

A year ago this Sunday, 72,349 Canadian Alliance delegates voted for him as the man to lead the party to the promised land - Ontario.

Party membership stood at 205,000, headed to a high of 270,000.

The party was at 20 per cent in the polls, on its way to 30 per cent.

Today, the numbers paint a different scenario.

Party membership is down 48 per cent, to an estimated 143,000. Most polls put the party at about 10 per cent in national support, a 60 per cent drop from last election day.

Barely a year ago, another number was being thrown out by Day's supporters at a Toronto airport strip hotel: No. 24. On July 8, 2000, the day he won the Alliance leadership, supporters hoisted placards bearing 24, as in 24 Sussex Drive, the prime minister's residence.

Those who have been stripping the party out from beneath Day in a prolonged war of attrition are unanimous on one point - not only can Day not lead the party to Sussex Drive, the party cannot endure him any longer in Stornoway.

As Deborah Grey said in becoming the 12th to bolt Day's caucus Tuesday: ``Stock, there is no shame in admitting you are not a leader.''

A shocking political freefall can also be told in Day's physical demeanour.

A year ago, the media was full of images of Day jogging and rollerblading, and eventually turning up for his infamous press conference on Sea Doo while he was wearing a wet suit.

Today, he looks harried, his shoulders stooped, his once-refreshing brashness apparently beaten out of him.

Ottawa has not seen a political flameout of this magnitude since Kim Campbell won the Conservative leadership and became prime minister in 1993, only to be left with two seats four months later.

EKOS President Frank Graves says some of his early polling may have foreseen Day's fall from grace.

Data compiled in the early days of his leadership showed the more Canadians saw of him, the less they liked him.


`They (Canadian Alliance) could have chosen Mahatma Gandhi leader and they wouldn't have won.'
- PollsterFrank Graves
On the lack of voter support for Alliance policies

But, Graves said, some of Day's detractors are being unfair to him by forgetting that he now leads a party languishing at about the same level of support it had before last year's leadership race.

The Alliance leadership race, Graves says, created an artificial buzz.

Day also suffers from a public perception that he lacks commitment to party principles and will shuck flat tax, private medicine or other platforms for political expediency, Graves said.

But a larger problem faced by Day and his party, Graves said, is that their model of Canada is favoured by no more than 25 per cent of the country.

``They could have chosen Mahatma Gandhi leader and they wouldn't have won,'' he said.

When Day first burst on to the national scene, many pundits felt it was his social conservatism - his pro-life positions, a perceived intolerance to anything other than traditional nuclear families and his religious beliefs - that would prove his undoing.

However, as his MPs quit, they voice this constant refrain: The man cannot run a leader's office.

They complain that he doesn't consult, doesn't listen and arbitrarily changes decisions.

He has gone through five communications directors since being elected.

His detractors point to his handling of the settlement of a defamation lawsuit in Alberta, the infamous flip-flop over the hiring of a spy to dig dirt on Jean Chr*tien's government, unilateral foreign affairs speeches and referendum schemes.

``It is one thing after another . . . with no sign that anything has been learned,'' said B.C. MP Chuck Strahl said in explaining his decision to lead the rebels from the Alliance caucus.

When Grey was asked where the Alliance might be in the polls if Day hangs on until next April, she replied: ``I don't know.

``I'm not very good with negative numbers.''



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