- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2001

TORONTO — After weeks of resignation threats and months of infighting, the leader of Canada's strongest conservative party has called for a new leadership election — barely a year after he won the top job.
Plagued by plummeting polls and more than a dozen defections among its elected representatives in Parliament, Canadian Alliance Party leader Stockwell Day said a leadership contest was the only way to heal the turmoil that has left his party a "house divided."
"I [will] put the decision of leadership of the Canadian Alliance back into the hands of the members" of the party, he said earlier this week.
He declined to say whether he would run for re-election in the vote of the party's rank and file, which is to be held within 12 months.
Discontent within the party, formed to wrest power from the Liberal Party, which has controlled Parliament for nearly a decade, exploded recently when 13 lawmakers quit to become independents.
Chuck Strahl, the unofficial leader of the party's independent mavericks, welcomed Mr. Day's move as "a way to put the turmoil behind us."
But, he said, the question of officially rejoining the party's core ranks remained "murky."
"We haven't been invited back," he said. "Those are details that we have to hear."
Conservative party politicians rejected the notion.
University of Toronto political science professor Michael Bliss blamed Mr. Day for failing to build a coalition that could seriously challenge the Liberals.
Over the past year, Mr. Day came under criticism for losing an election to the Liberals and using public money to settle an old lawsuit, and he fumbled his efforts to project a winner's image, Mr. Bliss said. "His career in Canadian politics is over."
As in Britain, Canada's conservatives are in disarray.
Less than a decade ago, a coalition of separatists in Quebec, free-market conservatives and disaffected voters from Western Canada gave the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney control of Parliament.
But Mr. Mulroney's political demise following a string of policy failures ripped the conservatives into three splinter parties the Conservatives, the separatist Bloc Quebecois and the Alliance.
While the 66 Alliance lawmakers, including the dissidents, are still the official opposition bloc in Parliament, they remain far behind the ruling Liberal Party with its 172 seats.
Whether the Alliance can "put Humpty Dumpty together again" under a new leader, from within or without the party, remains "an open question," Mr. Bliss said.
Sadly, he said, the failure of the conservative movement to unite has left Canada "a one-party state."

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