"We are actually moving out of the era of fear of political correctness. That era is on its last legs. My campaign has proven this right from the beginning." Stockwell Day justifying support for a citizen-initiated referendum on abortion during his leadership campaign in June "The polls are very clear, the people don't even want that." Mr. Day when asked on Monday about a referendum on abortion "I think they see honesty, I think they see someone who's forthright. I think they see someone who's not afraid of issues or ducking issues." Mr. Day when asked on Tuesday how Canadians view him T he problem with Stockwell Day is he hasn't thought things through. He likes to speak without notes and seems to prefer extemporaneous thinking. We saw this tendency when he suggested at his caucus meeting in Saskatoon in September that he might cut the GST. The urge passed before the party released its platform four weeks later.
The latest example of Mr. Day making (or unmaking) policy on the fly concerns citizen-initiated referendums. The Alliance has always been vague on the concept. But the policy backgrounder obtained this week by The Globe and Mail shone some light by revealing that the proposed number of signatures necessary to trigger a referendum would be 3 per cent of voters (about 400,000 people).
Fine, except that Mr. Day, who is alleged to be leader of the party calling itself Canadian Alliance, immediately disavowed that same party's 3 per cent threshold, explaining away its inclusion as the handiwork of anal-retentive researchers. He now wants to consult Canadians on the matter, which suggests the delicious possibility of a referendum on what the threshold should be for a referendum.
It invites the question of whether he needs a few more years to figure this stuff out. Does he really think a yes or no vote is the best way to resolve such complex ethical issues as euthanasia or late-term abortion? Moreover, is he serious that "governments would be forced to act" through these votes? What happens, say, to minority rights?
Then there's the issue of who gets to frame the question. Environics Research has posed two different abortion questions in recent years, both fair and legitimate, but with a 12-point spread in the results. As any student of Quebec politics knows, there is great art to writing a referendum question.
What's really hard to understand is the ease with which Mr. Day flits from position to position. Doesn't he know that, rather than building trust on the eve of the critical debates, he's sowing uncertainty? André Turcotte, who used to be the Reform Party's pollster and is no fan of the Alliance leader, recalled in a conversation this week how Preston Manning failed to overcome a deep-seated perception among Ontario voters that he harboured a hidden agenda. When prodded in focus groups as to what they thought was contained in this hidden agenda, participants replied with impeccable logic: "We don't know. It's hidden."
The forthright nature that Mr. Day displayed in winning the Alliance leadership and his general likability furnished him with some advantage over Mr. Manning. But ever since he softened his stand on the flat tax, he's assumed the visage of any other waffling, obfuscating politician. On health care, can anyone honestly discern any more the Alliance's actual position after the disorderly musings of last week?
On abortion and a citizen-initiated referendum, Mr. Day, in trashing his own documents, again fails the sniff test. And then he gets shirty with the media for probing his contradictions. Inexplicably, he's creating the impression of a guy with something to hide. At best, as an Ottawa high-tech entrepreneur with previous Alliance leanings said last week, his party looks immature in its policy development.
It's a shame because a well-conceived proposal on how we as a society should address difficult issues such as euthanasia is welcome. Successive governments, Jean Chrétien's in particular, have buried their heads in the sand rather than confront these delicate topics. They've too often left tragic figures such as Sue Rodriguez and Robert Latimer to fend with a legal system lacking in legisative direction.
In an interview this week, McGill University ethicist Margaret Somerville said: "Sometimes, it is unethical to avoid controversy." That indictment now appears as true of Mr. Day as of other politicians.