The Magazine

Oh Happy Day

Canada's newest party leader charms long-suffering conservatives

Jul 24, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 42 • By DAVID FRUM
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Day's new party still trails the Liberals in the polls: 44 percent to 25 percent with 12 percent still grimly attached to the Clark Conservatives. But Day has momentum and excitement on his side. The 66-year-old prime minister Jean Chretien has already had to quell one mutiny by caucus members frightened by his ever more blatant disengagement and testiness (asked recently about Canada's high taxes, he urged those who didn't like paying them to emigrate to the United States). The Canadian economy meanwhile is faring poorly. The recession ended in 1995, but the average Canadian still earns less after taxes than he did in 1989 -- and back in 1989 his dollars were worth almost 90 U.S. cents. Today they buy only 67 cents.

Those are not, in short, good re-election conditions. Without much of an economic story to tell, and with their traditional base in Quebec still voting for the nationalist Bloc Quebecois, expect the Liberals to try to beat Day with unjustified charges of extremism, anti-Semitism, you-name-it-ism. Joe Clark will surely chime in with an "And that goes double from me!" Will it hurt? Well, for the 12 or 18 months until the next election, it sure won't be fun to be Stockwell Day. But he's going to keep smiling. And those old enough to remember the politics of the 1980s do notice that when the camera lights turn on, the way his skin glints looks a lot like Teflon.

Contributing editor David Frum is a columnist for Canada's National Post.