Under the Maple Leaf: Leaders overboard

By MARK BLANCHARD  |  Aug. 9, 2002 at 10:03 AM
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TORONTO, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- It sure isn't easy being at the top.

Just ask the string of Canadian politicians who've decided to call it quits since the last federal election in 2000.

The third leader this year is about to ride off into the sunset with a bruised ego, broken dreams and battered campaign slogans.

It all started with Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day. He stepped down after not even a year at the helm of the right-wing party, bombarded with criticism for his gaffes on and off the campaign trail.

But Day still wanted the job and ran in the leadership contest to, ah, replace himself. Anyway, it turns out he lost and a guy named Stephen Harper's been in charge since March. (He's now having his own problems, but more on that later.)

Next up, Alexa McDonough. The leader of the left-wing New Democratic Party announced in June she's retiring after two decades in politics.

Not a bad idea, the pundits noted, because McDonough was embroiled in a bitter debate with union leaders over the party's future. Oh, and don't forget the lagging numbers in the polls. It seems socialist politics doesn't grab voter interest like it used to.

All of which brings us to the latest casualty of Canadian politics -- a man once known simply as "Joe Who?"

The latest leader to throw in the towel, you see, is the Progressive Conservatives' Joe Clark. But it isn't the first time. He's experienced a bit of a career set back or two, after he lasted just eight months as prime minister in 1979-80.

This time around, Clark wisely assessed the situation. Sure, some party members were clamoring for him to step down. But the polls, he told reporters, sealed his fate.

"The good news is that I am widely trusted and popular," Clark quipped. "The bad news is that we cannot translate those qualities into votes for the party."

Spoken like someone who's been there, done that.

Clark and McDonough are still on the job, by the way. They're just waiting for their respective parties to organize leadership conventions sometime next year.

Speaking of leadership woes, an update now on Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien's unofficial campaign to save his job.

Chretien is locked in a war with his former finance minister Paul Martin, for support -- and money.

Chretien remains steadfast and vows to remain on the job. (He won a five-year mandate in 2000, but could call an election earlier.)

The trouble is, there's a mandatory leadership review at a party convention next February.

And while Chretien huddled with his cabinet to take care of government business this week, Martin met a couple hundred corporate types at a Toronto area golf course.

We're not sure he played with them as he was hustled from group to group along the links, but he sure left with some decent prize money.

Each foursome paid $10,000 for a round of golf, dinner and a photo with the former minister -- a keepsake they're sure to treasure more if he eventually becomes PM.

And finally, a leader missing in action.

The Canadian Alliance's Stephen Harper made headlines this week -- for not being in the public eye.

It seems Harper's shied away from the summer barbeque circuit, though he was elected to the post just six months ago.

Whether he'll pop up at any events remains anyone's guess with a couple weeks of August left.

Observers say Harper's disappearing act could be dangerous for the struggling party.

It comes after news the contributions from Alliance supporters dropped almost 80 percent last year.

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