BRIAN LAGHI in Ottawa JOHN IBBITSON in Toronto
The Canadian Alliance official who portrayed Atlantic Canadians as unwilling to work and interested chiefly in federal handouts has quit the party's governing council, saying he didn't want to damage the movement he helped create.
"Nothing says I'm sorry better than a resignation," said John Mykytyshyn, who left the party's national council yesterday, two days after the controversy erupted.
"I've worked too hard and long to see this thing I built be harmed."
Mr. Mykytyshyn's decision allows for a quick ending to an embarrassing situation for the party's new leader, Stockwell Day, who was grilled about the remarks. Mr. Day immediately moved to put distance between himself and Mr. Mykytyshyn's remarks, saying the pollster had nothing to offer the Alliance if he meant what he said about Atlantic Canadians believing in federal handouts and being unwilling to leave their region to find work.
Yesterday, Mr. Day told a gathering of supporters in Toronto that Mr. Mykytyshyn had resigned from the party's national council "to seek opportunities in other fields, and let's leave it at that."
He also rejected suggestions by reporters that the controversy surrounding Mr. Mykytyshyn's remarks had damaged the new party's credibility.
"I don't think any reasonable person would think for two seconds that this was any kind of policy of the Canadian Alliance," he said.
Yesterday, Mr. Mykytyshyn repeated his apology.
"I deeply regret any damage that my comments have done to either the Canadian Alliance or Stockwell Day," he said in a prepared statement. "I would also like to apologize again, without reservation, to the people of Atlantic Canada."
He said in a later interview that he quit, in part, to put a stop to the criticisms being levelled at the Alliance by the federal Progressive Conservatives. He said he made his remarks in an effort to explain how the Alliance might have difficulty in Atlantic Canada, noting that federal subsidies act as a disincentive for some easterners to move.
The party's co-president, Ken Kalopsis, said in a prepared statement that he accepted the resignation.
"I spoke to John [Mykytyshyn]and conveyed the profound displeasure of both the Alliance and the leader over his recent comments concerning Atlantic Canada," Mr. Kalopsis said. "I made it perfectly clear that his remarks, however they were intended, in no way, shape or form reflect the views and spirit of the Canadian Alliance."
Mr. Mykytyshyn's comments came last week during a Vancouver conference of political strategists, where he said the Alliance will never change the "mentality" of easterners.
"People in eastern provinces believe in handouts and 'Give me a cheque for doing nothing,' " he said. "They don't want to do like their ancestors did and work for a living and go where the jobs are."
Mr. Mykytyshyn also offered advice to defeated candidate Tom Long, the Ontario backroom strategist who ran third in the leadership campaign won by Mr. Day.
His remarks about Atlantic Canadians are problematic because they recall a series of earlier imprudent statements made by the Alliance's forerunner, the Reform Party. They also come during the middle of the Nova Scotia by-election in which Tory Leader Joe Clark hopes to win a seat in Parliament. The controversy has given Mr. Clark an opportunity to heap scorn on the Alliance, saying the party is enforcing old stereotypes.
Mark McCready, the Alliance's chief political operative in Atlantic Canada, said the comments are not helpful as the party tries to build popularity. "Obviously it was front-page news here," he said. "I think it [resigning]was a fair-minded thing for him [Mr. Mykytyshyn]to do."
But even as one controversy was neutralized, a small group of protesters descended on a pub in Toronto's gay district where Mr. Day was lunching with campaign workers. Mr. Day opposes abortion and believes only heterosexual couples should marry.
Protest organizer Andrea Calver said she wanted Canadians to know Mr. Day is antichoice and antigay.
Mr. Day said campaign workers, some of whom support abortion and gay rights, tried to engage the protesters in conversation but were shouted down, Mr. Day said.