Monday, May 23, 2005

The Final Word on Belinda

Although it's tempting to post about Belinda Stronach to ad nauseum, thus ensuring a continual stream of google hits to this blog, there's only so much that can be said about the girl (sorry Anne..."person"). Now, if Belinda actually does something newsworthy in her new portfolio (ed: HAHAHA!), I'll gladly comment on it, but as for the defection itself, this will likely be the last time I dwell on it for a while. So here are some random thoughts about the Material Girl's defection:

On Belinda's Lack of Notice...
I know a lot of people disagree with me on this point, but Belinda should have given Harper and MacKay more notice. If we believe the official story then, yes, things happened fairly quickly but this has to have been in the back of her mind for a long time. I'm sorry, but I can't believe she wasn't at least considering defecting before she got talked into the whole thing by David Peterson.

Belinda ran for the leadership of the party over a year ago, was in the shadow Cabinet, and was a very prominent Conservative. I don't doubt that Harper had been treating her badly but she still should have showed loyalty to the party. This was the most important week in the history of the new Conservative Party which she helped create. Giving the party's leader a few hours notice was unfair in my opinion. When David Kilgour (who I really do not like) left the Liberals, he let it be known well in advance. Pat O'Brien did the same thing when he considered leaving. Why? Because it gives the party leader a chance to talk to you and listen to your concerns. That's not to say she should have pulled a Martin and publicly said she was considering leaving but at the very least Harper should have been given a chance to talk her out of it and plead his case privately.

It also blows my mind that she wouldn't so much as tell Peter MacKay that she was considering this...clearly she was never fully committed to that relationship either. If Belinda wanted to leave, that's fair enough. But you don't just arrive at these decisions overnight and given the amount of time and capital she's put into the CPC, I think it was low of her not to give Harper and MacKay a chance to talk her out of this or, failing that, a chance to adjust their strategy accordingly.

On Sexism...
Yes, a few MPPs and MLAs crossed the line. But I don't think Belinda got criticized as harshly as she did because she's female. When Jack Horner left the Tories for the Grits, Diefenbaker mused that "the IQ of both parties increased". When Lucien Bouchard left the Conservatives to co-found the ad hoc temporary rainbow coalition with the current Minister of Transport, he received a lot of criticism as well. The fact is, loyalty is a valuable thing in politics and traitors will always be treated poorly, regardless of their gender.

On Belinda's Cabinet Spot...
It was likely a mistake for Martin to give Belinda a Cabinet spot and for her to accept it, since it makes her appear opportunistic. Scott Brison played the game much smarter by taking a PS spot right away and then going into Cabinet after last year's election. As for whether or not she deserves a Cabinet position, that's harder to judge. The fact that she's in the Conservative shadow Cabinet makes it difficult for Conservatives to scream that she's not qualified for a Cabinet position. She was ranked the second most powerful woman in business a few years ago so despite her obvious political shortcomings, I don't think it's unreasonable to put her on the Liberal front benches. It just may not have been the smartest political move.

On Belinda's Former Boss...
This is going to hurt Harper a lot. Everyone keeps saying the Conservatives are united behind him but there have to be a lot of nagging concerns about Harper's leadership after this. Part of being a leader is keeping your caucus happy and united and Harper failed at that.

On Belinda's Former Boyfriend...
Peter MacKay is handling this absolutely perfectly. He's gathering sympathy and has come across a lot less vindictive or mean spirited than Harper. And, despite that, he's managed to get a few good one liners in ("dogs are loyal", "she dumped 200,000 people besides me"). I'm more convinced than I was before that Peter MacKay will be the next leader of the CPC. Bernard Lord is the only person I could see beating him at this point.

On Belinda's Future...
As a Minister of the Crown, Belinda will be under a lot more scrutiny. She'll have to answer questions in QP and she'll be judged on what she accomplishes in Human Resources. It will be very interesting to see how she performs. As for the part of her future everyone cares about...

On Belinda's Leadership Aspirations...
She can't speak French. She can't give a speech. She can't answer questions off the cuff. She has no real political experience to talk about. This may have all been forgivable in a party that needed to look like they were in touch with young, urban, moderate Canadians. But in the Liberal Party, this simply won't wash. In some sense, it might be good for Belinda to run because of the 9 or 10 rumoured Liberal leadership candidates not a single one is female. And if history is any indication, money and a "cut throat kill your enemies" attitude are two keys to any successful leadership run. But until Belinda develops even passable political fundamentals, there is no way you can discuss her as a legitimate contender.


  • "I'm more convinced than I was before that Peter MacKay will be the next leader of the CPC."

    I hope you're right ;)

    By Blogger Andrew, at 8:28 p.m.  

  • People are sympathetic to Mckay?

    I must be watching the wrong political shows... all I heard about on CPAC was how a lot of women callers and colunists were telling Mckay to "get over it"

    By Blogger Scott Tribe, at 8:33 p.m.  

  • Let's face it: in any corporation, employees that lack team spirit won't last very long. After all, being able to work in a team, and being loyal to your team, is one of the main job requirements in this day and age.

    Belinda Stronach has demonstrated, beyond reasonable doubt, that she is no team player. If she can screw her former team mates in this way, she'll do it again - but this time to Martin and the rest of the Liberal caucus.

    She has walked and stepped over people like no other all her life. Why would she stop now? She won't, and it will be to the detriment of the Liberal party and Paul Martin.

    In short, that "person" (and even that word is too good for her) cannot be trusted.

    By Anonymous Calgary Observer, at 10:50 p.m.  

  • On the MacKay front, I think it's been fairly pitiful. He's a 39 year old man who was dating a woman for half a year - get over it.

    By Blogger Jason Cherniak, at 10:54 p.m.  

  • On the question of notice, CG, I disagree. First, the issue was coming to a head: the non-confidence vote was looming, meaning that Stronach had to bring down the government or not.

    Also, I think once you decide on this kind of thing and you are on a new 'team', the idea is to bring maximum benefit to the new team. And since politics is a zero-sum game, that means inflicting maximum harm on your enemy.

    (That is not to say that I'm sure that the Liberals have done well here. Frankly, I doubt whether she is ready for question period yet, and one really has to question her stamina given how quickly she gave up on the conservatives.)

    By Blogger buckets, at 12:21 a.m.  

  • By all counts the couple was taking a "cooling off period". Translation, the relationship was finished. Mckay was playing to the media for political gain. Despite all the clamouring about her being oppurtunistic, there is no doubt that she did not fit in with Conservative party and she is more less a perfect fit for the Martinities. David Emerson, Paul Martin and her are all former CEOs.

    By Anonymous Koby, at 1:03 a.m.  

  • Peter MacKay is a backstabbing weasel who got what he deserved.
    He betrayed David Orchard, so when Belinda turned on him, he got his just rewards.
    Belinda made the right move, and yes the criticism of her was sexist - gender related comments were made about her that men in politics never have to face.
    Belinda should not have accepted a cabinet post - that part of her move to the Liberals was a mistake.
    The majority of people I am encountering believe Belinda made the right move.
    Harper is doomed, but he is stubborn and will remain Conservative leader.
    The events of the past few weeks have also doomed Martin, but he will stay on until just after the next federal election, likely.

    By Blogger John Murney, at 1:07 a.m.  

  • While I well understand why people wish to remind us of MacKay's own betrayal of Orchard (and of a large number of PCs), I do think that MacKay's response to Belinda's move, staged or not, will help him in the long term. He conveyed more humanity in that single interview than Harper has in any ten.

    Harper's caucus-management skills, moreover, must be called into question. Having a caucus member other than the current leader interested in party leadership is hardly a new phenomenon. In fact, it's a sign of a party's 'bench strength.' Why couldn't Harper manage this basic task of any party leader?

    As for considering Bernard Lord as a possible replacement for Harper: how many people actually familiar with Bernard Lord's performance in NB really entertain this possibility?

    I'd like to know.

    By Blogger Stephen, at 1:22 a.m.  

  • Stronach sat Harper down with MacKay to merge the PCs and the Alliance. It's a bit rich to say that now, once offered a cabinet seat, she's worried about the party's direction.

    By Blogger matt, at 1:24 a.m.  

  • Just a question to consider:

    Belinda had at least three personally-paid staffers that were tasked with winning her the leadership of the party. It wasn't a secret to anyone.

    Was Harper reacting to that and other public statements of "half-assed" support really that unfair?

    I mean, can a Leader really allow such open leadership campaigning? At some point, he had to slow her down.

    Now based on the rumours about that infamous "Thursday" meeting, I would suggest that Harper's comments might have been over the line somewhat, but certainly weren't unjustifiable either.


    By Blogger The Hack, at 11:18 a.m.  

  • what appears to be sexist is the language that is used in reference to Belinda that is not used to describe her male counterparts, who are criticized in a manner that is usually refered to as within the realm of legitimate.

    for eg, that everyone talks about her ambition (headlines here said "blond ambition") as if it is a new and sour addition to the political sphere! why not simply criticize her decisions? instead her appearances are inherently linked to every criticism and description and combined with the suddenly negative conitation surrounding the word "ambition" - well, we get the picture - attractive women shouldn't draw attention to themselves in politics and gawd forbid they play hard ball with the big boys to get ahead (which is what everyone there is doing)

    don't get me wrong, i haven't any particular fancy for Belinda's politics or what i see of her personae... but i was deeply offended (as a woman) by the nature of the rebuttals in parliament and in the press... they can be vendictive and play their games without the sexism thank you.

    By Blogger Ricia, at 11:21 a.m.  

  • CG - in general I agree with what you have said (so let me say so in more words):

    Notice - I think this was a really low blow; first she asked McKay to deliver the news (when you pack it up with any organization, you owe your direct superior / supervisor at least the courtesy of direct notice) then she called Harper immediately before going into her press conference with PMPM. Fair comment that as she makes the switch her first priority should be to the Grits, so depriving Harper of the time to prepare a response is a great tactic. Unfortunately, it shows off what people like least about Martin (and now Belinda) - they are tacticians at the expense of decency. Giving a slight amount of notice - like calling or meeting the night before - would have showed a lot more character, even if it would have been the lesser short-run political sound-bite strategy.

    Sexism Get over it. Belinda got exactly the reaction she deserved. Was she a whore? - yes; she sold out her principles - to the extent she had any (or at least that she understood) - for personal gain. Unlike other recent defections to the grits like Scott Brison and Keith Martin, there was no plausible trigger for Belinda - Martin had the leadership loss, Brison had the merger to justify or explain the sudden realization that they are not compatible with the party they are in. Belinda voted four times in an attempt to indicate non-confidence and ultimately bring down the government, and then "gradually realized" that she didn't want that to happen? Gimme a break. I don't think she has taken any more stick for it than she deserved (and perhaps less) - the instinctive cry of "sexist" was ringing before critics had even drawn their breath. Ruby Dhalla made the sweeping claim (on Duffy's 'countdown' IIRC) that questioning Belinda's intelligence was 'sexist' - unfortunately, Rona Ambrose's response (that this is only so if you believe that only women can be stupid) was lost in the chatter.

    Yelling "sexist" or "racist" at Tories is just what some people do for fun - it doesn't have to be based on anything, and it rarely means anything (qv, Joe Volpe). If this had been Peter McKay jumping ship (with BS staying behind) no doubt we would have had at least one comment that he was a 'backstabbing bastard' or 'miserable SOB' or worse (I am not sure how far you want me to go with this, CG...). I would have been surprised to hear from the usual whiners that this was a 'sexist' comment - it is simply the most accurate description available under the circumstances.

    Is she a dipstick? Yes - just listen to her speak and try to answer any question that doesn't fit the soundbite she has been coached to deliver. What's the problem with calling a spade a spade? I agree, it is tough for the Tories to slag her too badly, since she was on their front bench; it is hard to say "well she is dumber than a bag of hammers - she was only the critic because she made the party look less extreme."

    Belinda's Cabinet spot I disagree that this made her look opportunistic. What it did as to expose the fact that she is opportunistic. I do not give much creedence to Belinda's storied business career - a position as the chief executive zygote after apprenticeship as the lucky gamete is not all that impressive. Would Frank Stronach, a man of legendary ego, put his own daughter in titular charge of his company, just for the chance to say "not only am I a business genius, but so is my little girl?" In a freakin' heartbeat. Would he ensure that someone other that Belinda made all the decisions. Hey - Frank's got a big ego; that doesn't mean he's stupid.

    Belinda's Leadership Future She's toast. Even in a pretty lackluster Grit caucus, she shows up as a dim bulb. Sure, she has enormous amounts of money - but there are no moribund district associations to take over in Liberal Land; getting to the big chair will require a long, determined, messy campaign. She comes in with the disadvantage of being a truncoat, without the justification of a sharp ideological break with the Tories, a pretty transparent jump for her own selfish benefit (not that this is a disqualification for Liberals), and the resentment of the rank and file and caucus memebrs who didn't land in the third-largest portfolio in the government on their first morning as members of the Liberal party. Belinda has not shown the required dedication to anything before, and has no network of loyalists in the Liberal caucus or party to make it any easier or shorter. I just can't see her getting anywhere, and I expect that she will leave politics when she doesn't get the next big opportunity handed to her simply for being her gifted, brilliant self.

    By Blogger deaner, at 3:02 p.m.  

  • She did not sell out her principles. She was in the wrong party if you look at where she stands on the issues. If principles were all that was in play, then one could claim that what she did was a principled move.

    There was no trigger? How about being dressed down and told you will not amount to anything by the party leader.

    Harper's comments were not sexist. She does not strike me as a complex thinker either. That said, some of the other comments certainly were a bit off and more importantly were precieved as being off by a good number of people. Certain words have cultural baggage and carry more force when used by certain people and or directed at certain people. A bunch of middle age, social conservative men calling a a woman a "whore" is not going to go over well.

    By Anonymous koby, at 5:39 p.m.  

  • Koby: Assuming that Belinda has principles is a bit of a stretch - but let's just give it a whirl. Was she speaking based on her true principals when she slagged the budget from the Tory side of the house, not to mention the NDP budget that she voted on Thursday? Shall I go back through Hansard and pick up a dozen or so quotes from the Member from Newmarket-Aurora? Or was she speaking from her principles when she adopted cabinet solidarity and told us that it was a finely-crafted budget that addressed the needs of Canadians, yadda, yadda, yadda. Which one is Belinda, and which is her evil twin?

    Dressed down? How about public squabbling with the leader at what one might realize is a pretty delicate moment for the party? In any event, the source for the "dressing down" claim is none other than Belinda - not that she would have a hidden agenda to justify her obvious grab for a corner office, or anything.

    Nice to know that there are special rules for what you can say about backstabbing women. Are there rules about calling people racists and members of the Klan? I guess that one was just in good fun, right? If I were to criticise Belinda because I think she has poor fashion sense, that would no doubt be 'sexist' but if Anne McLellan welcomes her to caucus because "she has great shoes" that's merely a friendly greeting.

    The 'sexist' charge is just like the 'racist' charge by Joe Volpe (or almost any other "ist" accusation): it is meant to shut down commentary you don't like, without identifying why you don't like it or responding to the substance presented. It suggests that the interlocutor has no right to speak, or even to an opinion, simply because they disagree with the person charging them with their "ist" transgression. Sorry - but it doesn't hold water. The fact that the Grits resort to it by reflex is telling.



    By Blogger deaner, at 6:02 p.m.  

  • "If principles were all that was in play..."

    In other words there was other things involved.

    "Nice to know that there are special rules for what you can say about backstabbing women."

    50 cent calling one of his gang "nigger" is going to go over quite differently than Trent Lott calling the same person "nigger". This is not terribly controversial, but if you want to continue to argue that the sky is green knock yourself out.

    Charges of sexism had a lot more foundation than what that Volpe said. In fact Volpe's comments had no foundation ditto Mark Inky's similar claim. Charges of sexism, by the way, came from a number of different quarters and not just from Liberal supporters.

    There is nothing wrong with scoffing at Stronach's stated reasons for crosssing the floor etc etc. It was politically stupid in the extreme to invoke any number of negative female sterotypes in doing so and quite frankly it was offensive. Imagine a MP of Jewish decent crossed the floor and someone said of him that he sterotypical self serving greedy Jew. He might very well be self serving and greedy, but that is not what is at issue.

    By Anonymous koby, at 7:52 p.m.  

  • Deaner:

    The commentary from a journalist on CPAC the other night was that its certainly fair game to call someone who crosses the floor a "traitor" "full of ambition" "backstabber" etc..

    But for the commentary to descend to
    the levels of "whoring" herself, "prostituting" herself and being called an "attractive dipstick", a comment that drew fire even from the normally conservative Bill Schneider on CNN - that sunk to disgraceful levels.

    You can laugh it off Deaner.. but I cant tell you how many phone-in shows on the radio and tv + letters to the editor I've seen in a few dailies I've seen where people - women in particular.. not all who are Liberals or Stronach fans - are outraged at the comments Stronach got directed at her.

    Trust me.. this seriously damages the Conservatives in the East.. in Ontario in particular, and in urban areas in general.... the commentary probably did worse damage to them then the actual defection did.

    By Blogger Scott Tribe, at 8:48 p.m.  

  • Grit: I still disagree about giving Harper more noticed, but not because I think the way she handled it was the right thing to do, but because we can't really know since we weren't there, in her shoes, so to speak.

    As to the rest of it, I think you'rE right on.

    And to those who advise McKay to "get over it", they have probably been the dumpERs, not the dumpEEs. :-)

    By Blogger WeeDram, at 8:53 p.m.  

  • @ Ricia:

    In all fairness, Jack Layton was also compared to a prostitute after agreeing to work with Martin on the budget. In fact, some paper around here even asked the question: Who is the john and who's the whore in this deal?

    So, yes, these terms are and have been used for men as well.

    By Anonymous Calgary Observer, at 9:04 p.m.  

  • Calgary Observer:

    The reaction to the comments directed at Belinda here in the east and in urban Ontario in particular are very negative towards the Tories.

    So.. I'm going to have to disagree with you about trying to downplay that terminology..
    And to Calgrit.. your analysis on sexism is not shared by many here in Ontario,if I go by what I've been hearing/seeing/reading as I mentioned to Deaner earlier.
    Those comments were harshly condemned by regular viewers/listeners - particularly women... another demographic the Tories have done poorly at and wont be converting many any time soon after this.

    Throw in Mr Fletcher's inappropriate remarks about the Japanese last week.. and its been a disasterous foot-in-mouth session for the Conservative Party of late.

    By Blogger Scott Tribe, at 10:08 p.m.  

  • Fletcher's remark does not strike me as terribly damaging. He used the word "Japs" and "bastards" in the context of discussing his grandfarther's imprisonment in a POW camp. The term "Jap" is offside. Calling those prison guards "bastards" does not go far enough. He should have added "sadistic". He also apologized.

    Stronach thing went off horribly in Vancouver too. This hurt the Torries. No doubt about it.

    By Anonymous koby, at 10:33 p.m.  

  • maybe some folks still think its just politically incorrect (a fad) to use sexist (or racist or bigotted) language... but the truth is that it supports an attitude and a social context that I think most of us DO NOT agree with in principal (i hope) - so why use that language?

    i think its fair to criticize Belinda and any other politician from any other party - but the language too often being used distracts completely from any intellegent discourse and instead portrays lack of tact and dignity in a social context.

    i am far from a conservative (or liberal party) supporter but for the sake of an immensely difficult struggle before women in parliament - i'd defend Belinda just on the basis of the sexist rebuttals and journalism she recieves.

    that's the level of damage, that language achieves.

    By Blogger Ricia, at 11:29 p.m.  

  • I want to say three things about Belinda.

    First, words like whore and prostitute just shouldn't be used. Ever.

    Second, the worst quote from the federal party said was "people prostitute themselves for different costs or different prices." True enough, not really acceptable, but not worthy of the backlash (had that been said of Brison not a peep would have been heard). After all, her act deserves malicious criticism. The rest of the crap was from various provincial politicians: why were reporters asking Abbott et. al. for their reaction in the first place? Trolling for juicy quotes, not getting any from the actual party in question.

    Third, Stronach's gender played to her advantage when she first appeared on the scene. As the Herald pointed out today, her gender, attractiveness and glamour allowed her to avoid the heravier criticism a male candidate trying to buy a leadership would have faced.

    By Blogger matt, at 1:14 a.m.  

  • i'm curious why you think mackay can become leader of the cpc. don't you think the stronach debacle suggests that the party is western dominated and not ready to accept ontario moderates?

    By Blogger robert mcbean, at 4:20 p.m.  

  • Anyone who thinks its ok for Stronach to be referred to (or as) a prostitute or whore is basically sexist.

    Its not "ok" and this talk that she "got what she deserved" is typical of the thinking of sexist people (who oddly enough, tend not to be women).

    As Mr. Strombolopolous accurately remarked on the hour, that crap belongs in the previous century.

    The most laughable argument in defence of sexism on this commentary was the accusations of sexism or racism were being used to silence people, and that no "evidence" was being used in such cases.

    In the cases discussed here and many at issue in the past, there have been blatant quotes and/or recordings of the comments in question (see evidence requirement).

    Secondly, it is entirely possible to make legitimate criticisms without being a bigot. Nowhere in the tradition of parliamentary discourse is one required to use profane language or innuendo to make one's point.

    I have to agree with scott tribe and koby: it may not be a big deal for guys like deaner or many others, but I'm not even a woman and I was hugely offended.

    That part played horribly for the conservative party, and its not just ontario the conservatives have to worry about, as though that were the only place in Canada were sexism was deemed unnaceptable.

    Vancouver is also key.

    Its that that "other" west I guess, because many people assume its just as blue as alberta when it comes to social issues. A fact: its totally not. There were many call in commentators and media interviewees who were hugely upset by the comments.

    Like the others say, on the question of "what is sexism..and what is just ok" it comes down to whether or not one agrees that the sky is green or not.


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