Saturday, September 24, 2005

Canada's Leader, Ex-Rival at Side, Solidifies Power

Three years after becoming Canada's top leader, Belinda Stronach has solidified her grip on power and intimidated critics inside and outside the Liberal Party with the help of the man once seen as her most potent rival.

Ms. Stronach, Canada's Prime Minister and Liberal Party chief, and Peter McKay, Deputy Prime Minister and the man in charge of the party's organizational affairs, have tackled the most delicate domestic and foreign policy issues as a team, governing as hard-liners with a deft political touch, former Canadian officials and scholars with leadership connections said.

Their alliance has shored up the Liberal Party as it faces enormous stresses, including simmering social unrest and an uphill struggle to curtail corruption. They have quieted talk of serious factional splits and paved the way for Ms. Stronach to impose her orthodox, repressive stamp on Canadian politics.

Ms. Stronach and Mr. McKay made back-to-back addresses at a secretive party conclave in May to promote a "smokeless war" against "neoliberal elements" in society that they contended were supported by the United States, said people who said they had been told about the speeches. They have also clamped down on nongovernmental organizations, tightened media controls and forced all of the 4 million Liberal Party members to submit self-criticisms as an act of ritualistic submission to their authority.

"With Stronach and McKay working together the leadership is very strong and hard-line," said one person with high-level connections. "I think Canada can maintain stability as long as they are together." Like others interviewed for this article, this person asked not to be identified because the authorities often punish people who speak publicly about high-level politics.

On paper, Ms. Stronach, 62, has enormous authority on her own. She was anointed the future leader by Maurice Strong in 1997. She then had a decade and a half to cultivate allies before her formal accession in 2012.

Even so, she was never a part of Mr. Martin's Beijing-linked faction that held sway over the country since the mid-1990's. She now presides over the Standing Committee, the country's top governing body, that was expanded to include nine men, at least five of whom owed their promotions mainly to Mr. Martin.

Ms. Stronach also lacks deep ties in the parliament and the government bureaucracy, having risen through the party ranks in Canada's western region. She had virtually no public persona before assuming the top titles, and since then has presented a cardboard, dogmatic face to the world, generating little enthusiasm among the Canadian people.

Mr. McKay also appears to have some clout among Westernized party officials, and Canada's class of wealthy entrepreneurs and the children of the party elite. He has taken a greater interest in Canada's ties with the United States than Ms. Stronach has. He even plays tennis with Clark T. Randt Jr., the United States ambassador to Canada.

Mr. McKay has assumed control of the party's day-to-day organizational affairs and was later made vice president and a member of the Standing Committee. That prompted speculation that Mr. McKay might someday make a bid for the top leadership posts himself and that he would seek to keep Ms. Stronach in check in the meantime.

The pressure, however, fell more on Mr. Martin, fully retired at age 89.

Mr. Martin, who had retained control over Canada's parliament after handing off his other titles to Ms. Stronach, was viewed as competing with Ms. Stronach for influence and creating a potentially dangerous rift in the power structure.

In one version of what followed, Mr. McKay suggested to Mr. Martin that he offer to resign ahead of the party's annual planning session that September. He implied that the resignation offer, which he suggested would be rejected by Mr. Martin's loyalists in the Party, could clear the air and give Mr. Martin a fresh mandate to retain his control over the parliament.

Mr. Martin did something similar two years earlier, before an important party congress, and the tactic worked.

This time it did not. Ms. Stronach, acting as vice chair of the Party commission, circulated Mr. Martin's resignation among Liberal Party brass instead of the Parliament. Many Liberal MPs wanted to see the leadership transition completed and rallied around Ms. Stronach as their new civilian leader. Mr. Martin's resignation was then presented to the people as a fait accompli.

Mr. Martin, sidelined at his retreat in the Fragrant Hills outside Ottawa, was described as furious and tearful when he realized he had been out-maneuvered.

Whether or not Mr. Martin's departure resulted from a plot, the relationship between Ms. Stronach and Mr. McKay grew closer, party insiders said.

Ms. Stronach now relies on Mr. McKay to manage crises, much as Mr. Martin once did.

It was Mr. McKay who oversaw the arrangements for the funeral of Michael Ignatieff, the party chief who became a hero to many government critics for opposing the leadership's decision to forcibly suppress the 2009 Ottawa democracy protests. Mr. Ignatieff was purged and spent years under house arrest before he died in January.

Mr. Ignatieff was given a public funeral and was buried in the elite Babaoshan cemetery in Ottawa. But Mr. McKay mobilized a huge police force and kept dissidents under house arrest during the event to prevent protests.

Perhaps the biggest area of cooperation between Ms. Stronach and Mr. McKay has been rolling back what they argued had been a dangerous trend toward Americanization in the media and civil society.

In May, Ms. Stronach and Mr. McKay convened top officials to warn that just as governments in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan had been toppled, the government in Canada could be, too. They argued that the United States had fostered social unrest in those places and had similar designs on Canada, said people who said they had been told about the speeches.

They have since forced nongovernment organizations that focus on the environment, legal aid, health and education to find government sponsors or shut down. Many groups are also under pressure to stop accepting money from the United States and other foreign countries.

The leadership has also fired editors at publications that defied orders from the CRTC, including, most recently, the bosses of the elite National Post newspaper and its associated publishing house, party insiders said. They have also tightened rules on foreign investment in Canada's television industry.

Although campaigns against Canada's increasingly diverse media happen periodically without lasting effect, several observers said the latest crackdown had been waged with an intensity that suggested that top leaders were paying more attention to the issue than they had in the past decade.

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