Stephen Harper Promises To Privatize Canadian Healthcare:
May 17th 2005.
Despite widespread defence of the Canadian Healthcare System and past polling that makes it clear that the vast majority of Canadians prefer to have their healthcare paid for by the government, Stephen Harper made a bold promise on May 8th, 2005: He promised that if he was elected Prime Minister of Canada, one of the first things on his agenda would be to privatize the Canadian Healthcare System.
Harper believes his party, the newly united Conservative Party made up of remnants of the old PC and Canadian Alliance Party is destined to win a possible upcoming election. And he is being rather smug about it.
While Paul Martin and the Liberal Party are still reeling from a dubious Quebec advertising scandal, Stephen Harper has pressed the issue, feeling that the majority of Canadians don't want a "corrupt Liberal leader" as Prime Minister of Canada.
And so, in the effort to spur on the hopes of an early election, Harper and the Conservatives have started unveiling their election promises and eagerly waiting like wolves for the collapse of the Liberal Party.
But it doesn't seem to be happening.
Instead a high-ranking Conservative Party member, Belinda Stronach, has defected to the Liberal Party, saying she disagrees with Stephen Harper on the issue of healthcare & the budget and that she would rather join the Liberals than "help Harper destroy the best healthcare system in the world". The current Liberal Budget designates a moderate increase to healthcare spending, whereas Harper favours a decrease in spending.
And as for the Canadian Healthcare System itself?
It is the best.
From around the world, other countries admire the Canadian Healthcare System. Former President Bill Clinton once said that if Americans wouldn't lynch him for raising taxes or cutting military spending, he would gladly institutionalize a Canadian-style healthcare system for the United States as well.
And frankly as a Canadian, I don't mind paying slightly higher taxes just to have the best healthcare system in the world. Rather, I'm proud to pay those taxes because I know some day I am going to be sick with SOMETHING and I want the best healthcare possible when that day comes.
Selling off the Canadian Healthcare system is like killing the golden goose: It keeps laying golden eggs, so why kill it just to see whats inside? The whole idea is stupid to me.
Now admittedly, Harper's idea does make a little bit of sense. The Canadian Healthcare System does take a pretty penny in terms of taxes. But its also a pretty penny that most Canadians are quite happy to pay.
Meanwhile Paul Martin will likely only be prime minister for another 3 years. 7 years if he is lucky. Its possible Belinda Stronach could become the new Liberal leader in the next 3 years.
And at the same time, why is there such animosity between Belinda Stronach and Stephen Harper? What did he mean by "you're too ambitious"? Was he referring to the fact that she is female and that he feels that she has no place in federal politics?
It could be political suicide for Stephen Harper's career if its revealed that the reason why his closest buddies are all men is because he is sexist.
Whether or not it is true, something is definitely wrong if he and his party buddies was treating her so harshly that she decided to leave.
The last time there was a huge dispute like this, it was in the Canadian Alliance Party and party members rebelled against Stockwell Day and left to form their own party. More people may decide to join Belinda and the Liberals. Including former PC party leader Peter MacKay, who is Belinda Stronach's ex-boyfriend.
Stronach defects, Liberal defeat less likely: Tory leader renews commitment to topple government Thursday.
The defeat of Paul Martin's Liberal government became less likely today with the stunning defection of a high-profile Tory MP to the Liberal cabinet.
Martin sat beside a smiling Belinda Stronach at a surprise news conference and introduced the rookie parliamentarian as his new human resources minister.
Stronach's departure is a blow to the Tories on several levels; starting with a confidence vote set for Thursday in the House of Commons.
Two Independent MPs haven?t said how they will vote and the Liberals now could survive with support from just one of them.
Cynical laughter broke out at a news conference when Martin said the move wasn't about guaranteeing him victory in Thursday's votes on the budget.
"The significance of her decision is not that it necessarily alters the outcome," Martin said, prompting the snickers.
"We still do not know whether the budget will pass or not."
If the Liberals were hoping to weaken their rivals almost on the eve of the crucial vote, they couldn?t have scripted a more dramatic defection.
In one fell swoop the new Conservative party lost one of its founding members, its trade critic, its strongest left-leaning voice, a leadership aspirant, and a young, female Ontario MP with romantic ties to the party?s deputy leader Peter MacKay.
The Conservatives said the Liberals are on a desperate vote-buying spree and deserve to be toppled.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper sounded less than enthusiastic, however, about his chances of winning the vote.
"Obviously, Belinda's actions today make the defeat of the government on Thursday much less likely," Harper said.
"But it doesn?t in any way change the principled position that our caucus has taken on this issue."
Tory MPs and aides launched a full-scale assault on Stronach?s reputation once her decision became public.
The party scheduled a rare evening caucus meeting tonight amid accusations of hypocrisy and opportunism, and questions about her work ethic and intellectual depth.
They noted that Stronach sat in on Tory strategy sessions even last weekend while she was negotiating with the Liberals and still said nothing about her defection plans.
They handed out papers showing she only attended 11 of 28 meetings of the Commons trade committee.
They distributed a litany of anti-government quotes from Stronach, including her reference last year to a "tired old Liberal government."
The Conservatives trotted out their brightest young MPs to face the cameras and demonstrate they would survive Stronach's loss.
"I think she's a poster child for hypocrisy," said B.C. MP James Moore.
Alberta MP Rona Ambrose, who was immediately appointed to Stronach's trade-critic portfolio, called the move a "betrayal."
Stronach has made it known for weeks that she was unhappy with Harper?s decision to seek an election.
She said the Tories should have delayed an election until the party had grown in Quebec. The separatist Bloc Quebecois is currently poised to sweep the province.
"I find myself at a crossroads forced on me by the decision of the leader of the Conservative party to try to force the defeat of this government," she said.
"I've been uncomfortable for some time with the direction the leader of the Conservative party has been taking."
Stronach voiced those concerns last week when she met former Ontario Liberal premier David Peterson at a public event in Toronto.
Peterson promptly called Tim Murphy, a former Ontario Liberal MPP and now the No. 1 official in the Prime Minister's Office.
By last night, Stronach and Martin had worked out a deal over dinner at 24 Sussex Drive.
After dinner she called MacKay, to whom she had been romantically linked, and told him what had happened.
MacKay was gobsmacked, said one of his confidants. He phoned and broke the news to Harper this morning.
Harper said Tories members feel "devastated" and "betrayed," but insisted he's "relieved that we've at least gone through this before an election."
"There's no grand principle involved in this decision, just ambition," he said.
"I told my wife only a few days ago that I thought it had become obvious to Belinda that her leadership ambitions would not be reached in this party regardless of whether or not we won the next election."
Two weeks ago, Stronach warned that defeating the federal budget might be a bad move that could backfire on the Conservatives.
She said critical portions of the budget ? particularly the billions promised for municipal infrastructure ? were important to individuals in her riding north of Toronto and other constituencies in the area.
One of her aides hinted then that she might not oppose the Liberals in a confidence vote.
Stronach, who entered political life after leaving her post as CEO of the multibillion-dollar auto parts company her father founded, always carried more paid staff and a higher profile than her rank as an opposition rookie MP would indicate.
Former prime minister Brian Mulroney touted the billionaire heiress as a powerful force in the merger between the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties in late 2003.
She subsequently ran for the leadership and aspired to become prime minister. Aides at the time say she needed a crash course on the most basic tenets of Canadian democracy.
"It was Public Policy 101," said one of her high-profile aides from last year?s race.
"It was, `How does Parliament work, the Constitution, division of powers? (between Parliament, cabinet and the justice system)."
Stronach told the CBC that she spoke with Mulroney today to discuss her move.
"Brian said to me, `I'm your friend. . . I support you as a friend," she said.
Mulroney was not available for comment.
Stephen Harper's Shouting Match with Belinda Stronach:
The end began with a shouting match in Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's oak-panelled Parliament Hill office.
Harper hauled in Newmarket-Aurora MP Belinda Stronach to his inner sanctum last Thursday to, sources say, "read her the riot act."
"You'll never have a future in this party ? you're too ambitious," he told her.
"If we lose the confidence vote I will hold you personally responsible," Harper screamed, furious, insiders say, that she had expressed support for some elements of the Liberal budget.
While history might ultimately show him to be right on all three counts, the confrontation was the culmination of a feud that has been simmering since Stronach, 39, finished second to him in the March 2004 Conservative leadership contest.
"There was no outreach for a year after the leadership contest. There's an old saying in politics: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. I don't know if Harper read that chapter," one senior Ontario Conservative strategist said yesterday.
The already-tense relations between Stronach and Harper have deteriorated since Christmas and the bad blood has periodically spilled out publicly.
In March, Stronach was furious at leaks surrounding the financial details of her leadership bid that were seen as a retaliation from Harper's people, who in turn were incensed by what they felt were Stronach-led attempts to disrupt the party's policy convention.
More recently, Stronach, received a dressing-down from fellow caucus members after telling an interviewer that her party should reconsider forcing an early election.
"Leadership politics were taking up too much space; she's turned a lot of people against her," said one MP who was at the meeting.
After her meeting with Harper, sources say Stronach "left shaking" for a flight to Toronto, where she was attending the Woodrow Wilson Awards dinner at the Liberty Grand in Exhibition Place that was honouring her friends former Ontario Progressive Conservative premier Bill Davis and Galen and Hilary Weston.
She told confidantes at the event that she was "very upset" at Harper's comments and the way he and his associates had treated her over the past year.
Former Ontario Liberal premier David Peterson was among those whose counsel she sought.
"She was vulnerable and Peterson was skilful in recognizing that and he moved swiftly," says a Stronach friend who was at the dinner.
"It isn't as if this just developed on Thursday, this had been percolating," Peterson insisted to the Toronto Star yesterday.
"She's a friend of Shelley and mine, I know her kids, she knows my kids, she's been at our place, I've gone skiing with her, we're friends. I'm very fond of her," the former premier said.
"She's very idealistic about the stability of our political institutions. She's not a natural critic; she's not mean-spirited or nasty. She's a constructive person and I think if you put all those things together this was an option that turned out to be realized."
After a heart-to-heart conversation, where she outlined her uneasiness at the Tories siding with the sovereignist Bloc Québécois to defeat the Liberals, Stronach said she called Peterson the following afternoon.
"I said `It was great to see you last night, how are you,' just kind of touching base. And he said `How are you,' and I said `Well, actually I'm reflecting on things,'" she recalled yesterday.
"So as the conversation went on, I said I was seriously considering the options available to me and that included leaving the party. And David said `Look, if you want to serve, perhaps I have another option for you. Would you consider it?' I said it depends what it is, but I'd consider it."
Peterson, who ended 42 years of Progressive Conservative rule in Ontario by signing a pact with Bob Rae's NDP in 1985, plunged himself into the talks.
He immediately called Martin's chief of staff Tim Murphy, a former Ontario Liberal MPP.
"I said this is a possibility here, and what are your thoughts. And of course he was wildly enthusiastic," said Peterson.
"And I said she could be a very important player. She's very capable and so, there were no decisions made, she went back and thought about things, you know it was just back and forth, it was me in the middle."
On Saturday, Stronach was back in Ottawa, at closed-door Conservative election strategy sessions ? policed by security guards ? at the Delta Hotel with her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, Tory deputy leader Peter MacKay.
One attendee noted: "She was schmoozing and having lunch with people and sitting in the room with everyone taking notes," and that like other Tory candidates, she left with documents outlining "key messages and campaign strategy." Sources groused that Stronach would be able to deliver a full briefing to the Liberals about the Tory election plan.
But a Stronach spokesman said she only attended the introductory session of the party's "candidate college," and a long-time Tory MP who also sat in on the meetings said there were no sensitive discussions relating to the election platform or strategy.
After leaving the Delta, Stronach flew back to her Aurora estate, where she again called Peterson to set up a meeting.
"I was out at her place for about three hours on Sunday, and she didn't meet Murphy until Monday night. Then she had dinner with the PM," said Peterson, who drove up from his farm in Caledon.
Stronach's chief adviser Mark Entwistle, former Tory prime minister Brian Mulroney's communications director and Canada's one-time ambassador to Cuba, was also in on the top-secret talks.
"The only people that knew were Mark, Tim Murphy, me and my wife," said Peterson, who flew to Ottawa with Stronach to ensure negotiations went smoothly.
All Sunday there were delicate conversations about the role the rookie MP could play in Prime Minister Paul Martin's government.
Considering what was at stake, observers say it is amazing that the talks were kept secret.
"(Peterson) had had discussions with the PMO and Tim Murphy ... and ... we came to a loose arrangement that evening," said Stronach, adding she felt it was important to meet Martin.
"I wanted to look him in the eye and say, `Look, are you serious about this, are you committed to this, do you really want to bring about democratic renewal and reform because that's what I'm passionate about.'"
The following day, Monday, Murphy quietly met with Stronach at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa for some last-minute discussions on her new post as minister of human resources and skills development and minister responsible for democratic renewal.
Then, Murphy, Stronach, Peterson, and Entwistle went to 24 Sussex Drive for dinner at the Prime Minister's official residence.
They dined on venison medallions, toasted pecans and partridgeberry compote, tiède salad of spring turbot composed of local greens, persimmon, grapefruit and home-pickled onions, young cucumbers with coriander, followed by chocolate semi-freddo, mango terrine, Valhrona chocolate mousse and brandy snap.
"It was a lovely dinner," remembered Peterson.
"Belinda and the PM just talked policy. They talked about their ideas for the country; they weren't making deals. It had been done at this point ... it was a very uplifting conversation," he said.
While the gourmet fare was delicious, Stronach, an auto-parts heiress who has grown up dining at some of the world's finest restaurants, said the conversation was even more fortifying.
"(The Prime Minister) gave me his assurance, I looked him in the eye, he gave me his assurance he is serious about democratic renewal, and I felt that this is a way I can make a contribution to Canada," she said.
It was then back to the Chateau Laurier, where Stronach reportedly broke news of her defection to MacKay, who had known her since before she helped broker the deal between him and Harper that merged the Progressive Conservative Party with the Canadian Alliance in late 2003.
Peterson stressed Stronach's decision was "wrenching."
"It's hard and there's obviously the personal consideration with Peter. She's a strong person, and I thought she handled it with complete composure and class," he said.
For her part, Stronach declined to discuss the apparent end of her relationship with MacKay, although the former couple did speak again yesterday morning before her dramatic appearance with Martin at the National Press Theatre across from Parliament Hill.
In six whirlwind days, the neophyte MP had gone from being scolded by Stephen Harper to being feted by Paul Martin.
"The biggest surprise," said Peterson, "was that it was such a surprise."