Under the Maple Leaf: Leaders wanted

By MARK BLANCHARD  |  Dec. 27, 2002 at 8:59 PM
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TORONTO, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Wanted: a party leader. Must be able to fend off rivals, reporters and racy scandals -- often at the same time.

Must like shaking hands, spending other peoples' money and caucus solidarity.


Sound like your dream job?

Well, Canada's probably the best place to be in 2003 for a crack at leading a major political party.

Three of four national political parties will choose new leaders next year -- the Progressive Conservatives, the New Democrats and the governing Liberals.

First, you'll want to consider which party matches your personal beliefs.

The Conservatives -- or Tories as they're affectionately called -- are right wing, but not as right wing as the upstart Canadian Alliance, currently the official opposition in the House of Commons.

The New Democrats -- aka the NDP -- can be found on the other side of the political spectrum. They're left-wingers who hold true to their socialist roots.

Neither party is doing terribly well in the polls these days, however.

Conservative leader Joe Clark is a former prime minister whose government lasted just nine months in office after losing a crucial 1980 budget vote.

He came back, though, to help the party recover from a devastating election in 1997 that left the Tories with just two seats. Now, Clark realizes it's time for him to pass the torch, but he does so leaving the party more revitalized.

If you abhor privately funded medical care, fear for the environment and think big business isn't paying its fair share, the New Democrats are for you. But be prepared for a tough battle.

Leader Alexa McDonough is leaving amid turmoil as the NDP struggles with an identity crisis and tries to define itself before it could disappear altogether.

Now, if you think of yourself as a centrist, a liberal-conservative or a fiscally conservative liberal, then the Liberal Party of Canada is for you.

Ditto if you're just hungry for power.

Yes, the party that's been running the country since 1993 is still the most popular with Canadians.

In a recent poll, about 41 percent of those asked believe the Liberals are able to provide the best overall government. The Canadian Alliance followed far behind with 15 percent support.

The Progressive Conservatives have 13 percent support and the New Democrats 10 percent.

If you're chosen the next Liberal leader, you'll automatically be the country's next prime minister because the party's still in power.

But be warned -- the competition is stiff.

Former Finance Minister Paul Martin is, by all accounts, light years ahead of any other would-be leadership contender.

Come to think of it, no one else has officially declared his or her intention to run.

So maybe now is a good time for you to hold that news conference and announce your bid.

Keep in mind, though, Martin has not only raised several million for his campaign war chest, his supporters have secured control of Liberal associations in ridings (voting districts) across the country.

If you do decide to run for Liberal leader, you'll face a challenge unlike those who want the same job with the Conservatives or New Democrats.

You'll have to differentiate yourself from Prime Minister Jean Chretien, but do so without disrespecting him -- or the office he holds.

Martin has already had to chastise his supporters on occasion for being a little too supportive in trying to oust a sitting prime minister.

Remember, what comes around tends to go around in politics. One day, you may notice those coup-like symptoms cropping up after you've been leader for a while.

Finally, there's one more thing to consider before you make your final decision and pick the party you want to lead.

What's your schedule next year?

The New Democrats will pick their leader first in 2003. They'll do so at a convention on Jan. 25.

If that's short notice to print the posters, order the T-shirts and book your hotel room, the Progressive Conservatives pick their new leader June 1.

Then again, if you'd prefer to spend the summer on the hustings, drumming up support at backyard barbeques, then the Liberals are pretty much the only option.

They've scheduled their leadership convention for Nov. 12-15.

The three parties have at least made it easier for you to make your plans. All have picked the city of Toronto to host their conventions.

In case you're wondering, the airport code is YYZ.

Best wishes for success in 2003, no matter what your political affiliation.

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