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Day Shuffle

Warren Kinsella

since at least the 1950s (as students of political science will recall from their mid-terms), the idea of a "shadow cabinet" - that is, the group of elected representatives who seek to present themselves as an alternative to the government - has been an important part of the British Parliamentary system of government.

In fact, select eggheads will know, shadow cabinets can be traced back to the United Kingdom of the late Nineteenth Century. At that time, ex-cabinet ministers would meet after their government had gone down to ignominious defeat - so as to prepare for their next shot at power.

In the Canada of the Twenty-First Century, we have now been presented with Stockwell Day's newly-minted shadow cabinet. At the risk of sounding uncharitable, however, Mr. Day's version is a shadow cabinet in more ways than one. They are a group of people who toil almost entirely in the shadows. In the dark, as it were.

It may be the most tired political cliché in the industrialized world, but it is no less true: Mr. Day has merely shuffled the chairs around on the deck of his metaphorical Titanic. Proof of this is not difficult to produce. An Ekos Research poll released this week, for example, shows that Mr. Day's party - after receiving a year or so of fawning publicity in the media, and after countless televised rollerblading stunts - trails the Liberals by 30 percentage points. Thirty points! Mr. Day may be selling, but Canadians - in droves - are not buying.

Why, his cohorts in the shadows might ask, and well they should. How can it be that Jean Chretien remains the most popular Prime Minister in Canadian history - and Mr. Day's party is still mired in the basement of popular opinion? For starters, he should recall that the Canadian economy extraordinarily strong. Mr. Chretien appears to be genuinely liked by Canadians. Joblessness is at a record low. And no less than the United Nations has said - for the umpteenth year in a row - that Canada is the best country in the world.

In these trying circumstances, it is understandable that Mr. Day would be scrambling to make changes. Others have done that before him. As students of Canadian history will know, Mr. Day is not the first Opposition leader Mr. Chretien has faced. Since 1993, in fact, the revolving door that is Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition has seen Lucien Bouchard, Michel Gauthier, Gilles Duceppe, Preston Manning and Deb Gray whizz by. All laboured mightily to emerge from the shadowy world of shadow cabinets, but none did. Mr. Day won't, either.

He will, however, likely keep trying. Mr. Day's record in recent years, in fact, is that of a man who will do - and say - virtually anything to achieve power. He will deny, for example, that he tried to limit the reproductive choice of Alberta women - but he did. He will deny that he worked to kill laws designed to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination - but he did. He will even deny he supported a move to ban a book like Of Mice and Men - but he did.

Mr. Day is apparently so desperate to achieve power, in fact, he will - egads! - have lunches with Brian Mulroney, as recently reported in the Post. And, like Mr. Mulroney before him, Mr. Day is busily attempting to fashion a Faustian deal with the Devil - with the separatists in the Bloc Quebecois.

Just last Friday, Mr. Day shrugged about news that his team was at work on this beastly new unholy alliance. "I'm not big on labels," he sniffed. One of his MPs, Rahim Jaffer, went further, chirping that Mr. Day "wouldn't rule out" a coalition government with separatists. Is that so?

Mr. Chretien, unlike Mr. Day - and unlike his new lunch date, Brian Mulroney - will never try to stay in power with help of people who want to blow Canada to smithereens. Never. Never, ever, ever. Mr. Day, perhaps sensing disaster in the offing, has lately been attempting to squirm out of his planned alliance with the Canada-wreckers. And well he should. No less than National Post has excoriated him for his Mulroney-style blueprint - saying Mr. Day had become "Stock Quebecois." And that he is "reckless." And that his footsie-playing with the Bloc is "nonsense." And that it is "dumb." And that it is a "sick joke." And so on and so on - you get the picture.

At the end of his shadowy cabinet-making, at the end of all of these desperate political machinations, Mr. Day will perhaps learn a political truism: You can dress them up in a shiny new outfit. You can give them a shiny new name. You even can play the political equivalent of musical chairs.

But the Alliance are still the same old gang. They're the Reform Party - the grumpy old men of Canadian politics.

Warren Kinsella is a Liberal Party member.

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