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I didn't do it

Canadians seeking conservatives

I watched both debates, on CPAC, and found Belinda shallow and scripted. And Harper very full of himself, he asumes he'll carry the west and be crowned. Tony did a good job, but might be too honest to lead a party, and possibly a country. A sad commentary on our times. And then there are the Liberals, full of scandals, bloated from years at the trough, and a leader I trust less than Chretien. I was so fed up I joined the NDP!
At any rate, I found an interesting article in my local paper, which leads me to believe Belinda might not have all the business savvy she claims - comments??

Belinda Stronach's curious candidacy

Andrew Cohen
The Ottawa Citizen

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

A short article appeared recently deep inside one of the country's leading newspapers. It was easy to miss because it was in the business section rather than the news section, and it was written by a news agency rather than a staff writer.

The three-deck headline tells the story: "Magna might not replace Belinda Stronach, company official says/Business as usual/Magna's been run like a partnership for a number of years."

The official was Vincent Galifi, Magna International's chief financial officer. He said the company would consider operating without a chief executive because major decisions had long been made by a group of senior executives which included himself, two executive vice-presidents and Ms. Stronach. "From a day to day perspective, we're just going to continue to operate the way we have," he said.

Mr. Galifi's assessment puts Ms. Stronach's leadership campaign in a new light. That's because if you believe him you have to wonder how much Ms. Stronach really had to do with running the company, which is her lone credential for seeking high office.

But if Magna can get by without Ms. Stronach now, what did she do when she was there? If it was run by committee, how important was she? Is it true, as some whisper, that she was pushed into politics to push her out of the company?

It wouldn't matter if she didn't aspire to become prime minister (as if opposition leader were a nuisance), as she reminded everyone at the debate on Sunday. It also wouldn't matter if she had done something of substance and distinction in her 37 years.

The trouble is that she hasn't. She never finished university. She cannot speak French. She has never written a book or created a business or championed a cause. She has two failed marriages.

Is a little achievement too much to ask of someone who wants to lead one of the largest and wealthiest countries in the world? It isn't that she hasn't won the race of life; it is that she hasn't entered it.

Others who run for high office in Canada think they should get a degree and learn another language. They start businesses, build communities, run charities, teach, compete, study, speak, lobby. In other words, they feel an obligation to prove themselves before offering themselves, earning the respect and trust of their fellow citizens, which is what democracy is.

Ms. Stronach offers her three years as chief executive officer of one the largest autoparts makers in the world, a position which has everything to do with her name and nothing to do with her resume.

On Sunday, Ms. Stronach struggled to make a meal of this morsel; she insisted that she'd run the company (although she gave different figures on the number of employees), created jobs and sat on corporate boards.

Her companion argument, of course, is that she isn't "a professional politician" with all the "political baggage." This is said without remorse, as if fighting elections and learning government and having a record are passe.

Both Stephen Harper and Tony Clement noted her inexperience; they spoke French when they could to show that she doesn't, and they said that they'd been elected to show that she hasn't.

They didn't mention that Magna is a family business. They didn't mention that it is the source of her wealth, her influence and her legitimacy, because her candidacy, and the sense of entitlement it reflects, is about money, not originality.

If Ms. Stronach had as much humility as vanity, she could make light of her wealth with the kind of self-deprecating humour that helped John Kennedy disarm his critics. Ms. Stronach, for her part, rises like a jumped-up sophomore and repreats her lines, by rote, in a sing-song voice. "I want to grow the economy!" she chirps, as if that were the answer to everything including her grammar.

In the wings, her high-priced circle of coaches and courtiers, many of them amiable, look on proudly. They tell us how quickly she learns. They produce lists of endorsements from estimable former politicians such as William Davis, who should know better, and many others driven by self-interest or cynicism.

Like good, well-bred Upper Canadians, they never talk about money. They won't say that the oxygen of this blonde ambition is the money from Magna -- and they won't say how much, where it goes, what it buys and whom it benefits. It is the question the media have ignored.

Yet it is the untold story of this curious campaign which has made possible the curious candidacy of Belinda Stronach.

Andrew Cohen is an associate professor of journalism and international affairs at Carleton University.

E-mail: [email protected]
© The Ottawa Citizen 2004

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