Stockwell Day has repudiated a controversial Reform-sponsored ad from the 1997 election campaign that crossed out the faces of prominent Quebec politicians and earned Preston Manning lasting scorn in Quebec.
In the strongest blow so far in the campaign for the Canadian Alliance leadership, Mr. Day says in a prepared text that he would never air such a commercial, nor would he have approved a 1993 Tory advertisement widely criticized for its depiction of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's facial irregularity. The Reform ad was approved by Mr. Manning, the party's leader, who has since defended it.
"During the next election campaign, be assured that if I lead the Canadian Alliance, our ads won't say that we need a prime minister from somewhere other than Quebec," Mr. Day says in a text obtained by The Globe and Mail, and to be delivered today in Quebec City.
"I want to defeat Jean Chrétien, not because he is a Quebecker but because hundreds of thousands of Quebeckers know that this Albertan can represent their interests better than Mr. Chrétien can."
Mr. Day's remark is contained in a speech that outlines a number of areas in which the provinces should be allowed to run their own affairs, and goes as far as to suggest that the provinces be given decision-making power in social and economic policy along the lines of the European Union.
Mr. Day has been the most active of the four candidates in Quebec, and has been rewarded with support from a number of members of the Action démocratique du Québec,including former MNA Jean Allaire.
The advertisement to which Mr. Day refers depicted Mr. Chrétien, Progressive Conservative Leader Jean Charest, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe and Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard with a red "No" graphic superimposed on them, while Mr. Manning said it was time for people other than Quebec politicians to have their say.
A number of Reform candidates blamed the ad for their defeat in 1997 and for the fact that Reform was unable to win seats in Ontario. By the same token, others said it shored up what was perceived to be Reform's lagging popularity in the West. The Alliance was formed from the core of Reform two months ago.
In his speech, Mr. Day says he would immediately move to give the provinces the right to opt out of any new or modified Canada-wide social program with federal compensation, provided the province carries on a program that addresses the same priority areas. The notion was agreed to by Quebec in a provincial and territorial leaders meeting in Saskatoon in 1998, but was then left out of the subsequent social-union deal between the provinces and the federal government.
"Let me say clearly that as prime minister I would implement the Saskatoon consensus tomorrow," he said. "I would go even further in promoting provincial co-decision in social and economic policy along the lines of the European Union."
He also said that national standards on services should be voluntary and agreed to by the provinces. "This can be done by provincial ministries co-operating together, with the federal government acting as observer or facilitator, but not sitting in judgment of the provinces."
Mr. Day also appears in his text not to support the notion of distinct-society status for Quebec, saying, "Quebec's culture and identity could bloom perfectly without Ottawa's paternalism.
"You should know that I'm not a big supporter of symbolic recognition, nor of the double speak which often results," he says. "The Quebec people exist. They don't need a paragraph in a constitutional preamble to understand that they are different."
Meanwhile yesterday, Ontario strategist Tom Long took out a substantial advertisement in a Montreal newspaper saying that he, too, is in tune with Quebeckers' needs, although he doesn't speak French.
The ad says "strangely, it's an English Canadian who best understands Quebeckers," and goes on to say that Quebeckers want more autonomy and power, and an end to federal interference in their culture and language.
Of the four candidates in the race, only Mr. Day speaks French. Mr. Long has pledged to learn the language.