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Draft Evades Pallister While Winds Whisper a Winner's Name

Brian Pallister can take solace in knowing that his aborted campaign for the leadership of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party has not been in vain.

Now, we know Pallister is living proof that politicians in the new millenium are not John Diefenbaker or Tommy Douglas, or even Steven Lewis, who, even if you disagreed with their message, you knew were sincere in doing what was best for all Canadians.

Who can forget that, only days after he was re-elected to Parliament, Pallister decided to announce he was thinking of quitting, to run for the Manitoba leadership--- providing the federal job was still there in case he lost, of course.

We can't help but think It was this outright contempt for the people that voted for him, and not David Emerson's defection to the Conservative Party, that served as the impetus for calls to put politicians on a tighter leash.NDP leader Jack Layton is trying to steal the limelight and make himself champion of voters disaffected by politicians. He's promised to introduce a bill to force a byelection whenever an MP wants to switch parties. True to his ideology, he wants to make the State the final arbiter.

But this gives Brian Pallister a chance to redeem himself and to prove to Canadians that Conservatives intend to listen to the public's will.

He can do this by becoming the champion of the electorate.

He can do this by declaring that voters deserve the final say, not bureaucrats.

He can do this by spearheading Recall legislation in the coming Parliament.And he can still make an important contribution in Manitoba.

He should continue to press his one initiative that would have made him a formidable opponent to the provincial NDP--- spearheading the drive to make Manitoba a 'have' province. Addressing the democratic deficit (through Recall legislation) and attacking out-of-control spending (through "Have" status ideas) would turn his candidacy from a negative into a positive, and act as a great motivator of the Manitoba caucus.

And it would shock the hell out of U of M Prof.Paul Thomas, Manitoba's most-quoted political pundit. Thomas certainly shocked us by his reaction to Pallister's decision not to run for Tory leadership in Manitoba.

He must have lost a bet with Gretzky to explain his sudden peevishness with the local Conservatives.

Regardless of who becomes the next leader, Thomas doesn't think they'll be able to turn the party around quick enough to defeat the NDP in the next election. (Winnipeg Sun, Feb. 18)

Hmmm. What's behind this sentiment?

* Two years ago, the Tories were a solid 18 points behind the NDP in the polls. The NDP were soaring at 47 percent of the vote, and the P.C.'s bottomfeeding at 29 percent.

* One year ago, the NDP were looking over their shoulders as the Tories closed the gap to 3 percentage points. (NDP 40 and P.C. 37).

* In December, a Probe Research poll found the parties in a dead heat, both with 39 percent, with the hapless Liberals at 19.Pundits said 'so what.' Tory support in the polls doesn't translate into seats. They can't break into urban Manitoba where the seats they need to take power lie.

Then, just last month, the Brandon Sun carried the results of a poll showing the Conservatives leading in both Brandon seats, which are currently held by the NDP. Leading, though not by much. P.C.'s 39, NDP 36. But the momentum is still there.

And for his university smarts, Paul Thomas is overlooking the wild card in the next election--- 34,000 Manitobans who watched their investments in the Crocus Fund melt like a snowcone in August.

And most of them are NDP supporters.

Or were.

How do you think they will respond when the No.1 issue in the election is: a public inquiry into the Crocus debacle? The NDP will never agree to an inquiry.

The Conservatives may be electing a leader of the Opposition, but they are likely picking the next Premier of the province.

The problem is, they are like someone who's been in a coma for years and has to learn to walk all over again. They don't know what a leader is.

It's painful to hear that potential leadership candidates were waiting until Brian Pallister decided whether he was going to run or not before making their intentions known. Timidity is not an attractive trait for a leader, and they have disqualified themselves from the running. You don't lead by standing next to the Exit door (and you might get run over by Hugh McFadyen.)

Now, unfortunately, Pallister has given the Conservatives the worst of all worlds. He squandered time other potential candidates needed to build campaigns. If the Tory brain trust decides, again, that a single candidate is best, it will demonstrate how shallow the party truly is.

If Hugh McFadyen, their annointed one, is the pick, it shows they know nothing about true leadership. How will he rouse the party faithful? By telling them
how he ran from Reg Alcock? Or how he tried to sabotage Rod Bruinooge, the man who eventually defeated the most powerful politician in the province?

And is there another motive for his front-runner status?

Will McFadyen, former Premier Gary Filmon's Chief of Staff, go on the hustings promising a public inquiry into the Crocus scandal? Or will he soft-pedal the issue to protect Filmon's son -- and his colleague at Aikins McCauley--- from nasty questions about the day the Tories were muzzled by a phone call from David Filmon and Charlie Spiring, the CEO of Wellington West.


Maybe Paul Thomas knows more than he's telling.

Wellington West was the Crocus underwriter. Spiring and Filmon fils had a 'chat' with turncoat Tory John Loewen, then MLA for Fort Whyte, who was about to raise questions regarding the valuations of Crocus investments. Loewen cancelled a sheduled news conference and ate crow, with a smile, following the discussion. The duo then met with Conservative leader Stu Murray and told him Crocus was a fine, healthy, thriving company that would sue his pants off if he said otherwise. He took the hint. Obviously, David Filmon is a persuasive fellow.

Back to today.

With three weeks to go before the deadline for nominations, the Conservatives are in trouble. They have no nominations (or one, if McFadyen announces today). That's embarassing.

The Black Rod would like to help with a few suggestions.

The party should immediately announce the deadline for leadership nominations has been extended by eight weeks, to make up for the disruptive effect of the federal election campaign.

They should identify and recruit at least four strong, viable candidates. Four is a manageable number.

It's been said the rule requiring a $10,000 deposit to run is a deterrent to candidates. (It's refundable to those who get five percent or more of the vote.)

Ten thousand dollars is two socials, one in Winnipeg and one in Brandon, each with 250 guests at $20 per. The Party should organize them just to showcase their candidates.

It's the cheapest advertising you can buy--a hall, a band and some kubasa.

So.... that's extend the deadline, recruit candidates and throw socials.

Something's missing.

Oh yeah.

Draft Batra.

There. We've said what everyone's whispering.

Draft Adrienne Batra.

It's a no-brainer. As leadership material, she towers over any of the other contenders floated in the press.

She's known---and respected. She's comfortable on radio and on television. She stands up to Charles Adler and she, more than any of the others, can match Gary Doer quip for quip. Next year, she's even going to be a superhero in a comic book.

Unlike you-know-who, she doesn't run from a fight.
Maybe its her six years in the military. She left with the rank of Lieutenant.

Or maybe it's her 3 years working for the Saskatchewan Party before coming to Manitoba to become the provincial director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Imagine a provincial debate with Batra, against Liberal Jon Gerrard and any NDP standard-bearer. Then tell us who would be a better choice to put in front of the cameras and microphones.

We expect the Tory back room to say she's too small-c conservative to attract the federal Liberals the party needs to win.So they think that Liberal women won't vote for a strong woman because....

Why? Ideology before merit?

And Liberal-friendly minorities won't vote for her because---uh----they don't want their children to see that with education and hard work they, too, can reach the top?

And Liberals who want someone --anyone -- to get a handle on public spending, won't support a professional tax watchdog who knows the tricky language bureaucrats use to bamboozle the media? Puh-lease.

We suspect the movers and shakers of the Party, the so-called Tuxedo Tories, are just afraid to take a chance. But leadership is not giving in to fear. It's taking on a challenge and overcoming.

That's what inspires people. Leaders know how and when to take calculated risks.

If the Conservatives are still too scared to take a risk, they were handed a safety net on Global News yesterday.

Mike Brown interviewed outgoing leader Stuart Murray about the tepid race to replace him.

And Murray dropped a big hint.

He's standing by the phone.
Just in case there's a draft.

A Stu Murray draft.