The federal Liberals are laying the groundwork for a hard-edged personal attack on Canadian Alliance leadership front-runner Stockwell Day, circulating lists of his most controversial quotes on abortion and gays and documenting the missteps of family members.
Campaign-style documents being passed around among senior Liberals show that the party takes Mr. Day seriously as an opponent because he is charismatic and performs well on television. But they also show that many Liberals believe Mr. Day's past can easily be used against him, especially his strong stand against publicly funded abortions and negative comments about homosexuals.
Mr. Day handily defeated Preston Manning and Tom Long on the first ballot, and is the front-runner to win the leadership of the Canadian Alliance on Saturday. The former Alberta treasurer is not well-known to many Canadians. That will change if he wins, and the Liberals are gearing up to let Canadians see a side of Mr. Day they believe many voters will find unsettling.
His organizers say they are expecting personal attacks if he wins. "We expect nothing less from the Liberals than personal attacks," Day strategist Rod Love said. "We are fully aware that, should Stock win, they intend to attack him personally."
One document notes that Mr. Day supported the Committee to End Tax-funded Abortions, a group that wanted abortions dropped from the list of insured services under the Alberta Health Care Plan. In 1995, he supported a group of Conservative Party delegates that campaigned for a resolution that would end public funding for abortions. The resolution was narrowly defeated.
"Mr. Day's personal views on abortion may be private, but they influence his approach to public policy, and Canadians have a right to know about that," said one senior Liberal who agreed to an interview on the condition he not be identified.
The document lists several of Mr. Day's quotes linking abortion to child abuse.
"The thinking is, if you can cut a child to pieces or burn them alive with salt solution while they're still in the womb, what's wrong with knocking them around a little when they're outside the womb?" Mr. Day was quoted as saying in 1988. The quote was published recently in the Edmonton Journal.
There are even more controversial quotes from Mr. Day on homosexuals.
Liberals say that in February of 1992, Mr. Day was quoted in Alberta Report saying that "Homosexuality is a mental disorder that can be cured through counselling." They note that in 1986, when leaders of gay groups were introduced to the Alberta Legislature, he was quoted in the Calgary Herald as calling it an "offence to the Lord."
Three years ago, while in the Alberta cabinet, they say he opposed offering gays some human-rights protection because it "legitimizes a lifestyle choice that doesn't deserve this kind of attention."
Senior Liberal strategists have stressed in recent interviews that the Liberals will not attack Mr. Day for his strong religious views, which they say must be respected. But at the same time, they plan to paint him as an extremist whose private views, including his stand against abortion, have shaped his approach to public policy and could do so again if he is elected prime minister.
Mr. Love did not want to go through each controversial quote to say if it was true, false or taken out of context.
"At least 50 per cent, that I have seen, of the quotes attributed to Stockwell Day were either not said, or were a report of a report of a report, or were taken so out of context as to be worthless."
Mr. Love said it would take three weeks to respond to 14 years worth of quotes Liberals and others dredge up.
"I fully expect them to pass it around as gospel, and I fully expect them not to want to campaign on issues like tax reform. By the way, Stockwell Day will never embarrass this country in the Middle East."
Mr. Love then launched into a spirited impersonation of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's gaffes on a recent trip to the region.
"I don't know what part of Jerusalem I'm in. The North, the South . . .."
Some of the information the Liberals have prepared about Mr. Day goes far beyond pointing out how his personal views on moral questions might influence the kinds of legislation he would introduce.
One of the partisan documents talks about the "sins of the father," and quotes comments by Stockwell Day Sr., a western separatist, who questioned Canada's immigration policies, saying it allowed more non-whites than white people into the country. Under the heading Sins of the Son, it notes that Mr. Day's eldest son, Logan, was the first person to be banned from the halls of Parliament by the Speaker of the Commons. He had tried to drape the Canadian flag on Suzanne Tremblay after the Bloc MP complained that too many were flown at the Nagano Olympics.
The Liberals aren't the only ones circulating this kind of material. Opponents of Mr. Day within the party are also passing information about his father to the media.