When the Canadian Alliance was formed from the Reform Party and members of the Progressive Conservatives, Preston Manning was out and he was replaced by a new man, Stockwell Day, and that meant a new Leader of the Official Opposition.
Before we get to that though, we need to jump back to the beginning.
Stockwell Day was born to Gwen and Stockwell Day Sr. in Barrie, Ontario on Aug. 16, 1950. Day’s father was a supporter of the Social Credit Party and would run in the 1972 federal election against the leader of the NDP, Tommy Douglas in Nanaimo. Stockwell Day Sr. would finish fourth in the riding, 23,000 votes behind winner Douglas. His father was also a vice president with the Zellers retail chain.
During his youth, his family moved around because of his father’s job, and he would live in several places in Eastern Canada including the Maritimes, Ottawa and Montreal. It was in Montreal he would graduate from Westmount High School. In that city, he was also a gifted soccer player, and could be found scalping hockey tickets outside the Montreal Forum. He would also gain a passable command of French there. He would say years later quote:
“It would be nice to be fully immersed for a period of time. As it is, I can go into restaurants and most business meetings and fool them for the first few minutes.”
After high school, he travelled across the country and enrolled at the University of Victoria, and then attended Northwest Bible College in Edmonton, but did not graduate from either institution.
While living in Victoria, he would buy a 1956 Plymouth for $25 because, as he states, the radio worked. Safety inspectors stated the vehicle was not roadworthy, so he bought three hens that provided him with eggs, and he would walk the hens on a leash. Finally, a bylaw officer informed him that he could not have the hens. He would say quote:
“I tried to suggest these were my pets, but he didn’t buy that either. So that night, there was a nice roast chicken dinner.”
Around this time, he would meet his wife Valorie, and they would marry in October of 1971.
He would work on a fish boat on the west coast and spend time as an oilfield worker in the Northwest Territories as well. He even worked as an auctioneer for a short time, as well as a chicken peddler. A lot of the work he did was to pay off a large business loan after his auctioneering business burned down to the ground. As an installer of draper tracking equipment in Edmonton, he would get his first look into the Legislature. He would say quote:
Day would work as an assistant pastor and school administrator in Bentley, Alberta from 1978 to 1985.
In 1986, he made the jump to provincial politics when he was elected in Red Deer North to the Alberta Legislature.
When he got the nomination, he would state quote:
“I have gambled. I have put it all on the line. Let’s put it on the line together.”
He would hold this riding for the next 14 years, during a transformative time in Alberta under Premiers Don Getty and Ralph Klein.
In December 1992, after becoming premier, Klein made Day the Minister of Labour. In that position, Day would oversee major and controversial changes in the ministry including laying off several people in the civil service. In his time as minister, Day achieved a five per cent voluntary reduction in collective agreements with the Alberta’s Public Service Unions. As well, during his time as minister, Alberta had the lowest number of days lost due to labour disputes in the country. Day would also eliminate the Compensation Board’s unfunded liability of $600 million, which reduced premiums for businesses and increased workers’ benefits.
In October of 1994, Day became the Government House Leader and one year later was made the Minister of Social Services. In March 1997, he became the Provincial Treasurer, where he oversaw the paying down of Alberta’s debt while cutting taxes.
Many of his constituents described Day as someone who could hold one-on-one talks or speak to a crowd and form a connection. Patricia Wynne, who ran the Red Deer Food Bank from 1990 to 1998 would state quote:
“He did listen, but he took the information and did what he felt was appropriate with it. That wasn’t always what I felt was appropriate but at least you knew that he had listened to what you had said.”
Day would say of his connection to people quote:
“People tell me that I can communicate one-on-one or to a crowd in a way that there is a connection there. People look at my record and see I can work and build consensus around a table and get the job done.”
Day would court controversy in October 1997 when he stated that convicted child killer Clifford Olson should be released into the general prison population so that quote:
“Moral prisoners will deal with it in a way which we don’t have the nerve to do.”
In April of 1999, Lorne Goddard represented a man who would be convicted of possessing child pornography. Day would send a letter stating that due to Goddard arguing in court that the constitution protected a man’s right to possess child pornography, then he must believe that teachers should have the right to have pornographic images of their children. Goddard would sue Day for defamation. On Dec. 22, 2000, when Day was in Parliament, the court founded in Goddard’s favour, with the settlement cost being $792,000, which included $60,000 in damages to Goddard. For legal fees the cost was $225,000, and $474,000 went to Day’s lawyers and $2,900 went to cover the Alberta justice ministry legal costs. This was paid for by Alberta taxpayers, although Day eventually paid $60,000 to the Alberta government. Day would also write a letter to the local paper stating he regretted causing personal hurt to his former friend Goddard.
Day would say quote:
“I am sorry the way it turned out. The principles I addressed in the letter are very important principles.”
Harold Jansen, a political science professor would say quote:
“It took taxpayer money to settle what was an incredible lapse on Day’s part. He’s got to try and move past it, but the damage is done.”
Despite this, Day remained popular in Alberta and other provincial politicians were taking note of him. Ontario Transportation Minister Tony Clement would say quote:
“He’s got a very bright future, whether in Alberta or beyond.”
In 2000, Day decided to run for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance Party.
Day’s campaign was highly publicized, and he would defeat Reform Party founder Preston Manning on the second ballot with 63.45 per cent of the vote.
He would tell his supporters quote:
Day now needed to run for Parliament, and he chose not to run in his home riding of Red Deer, and instead ran in the riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla, which was vacated by Alliance MP Jim Hart. Day easily won the by-election on Sept. 11, 2000.
In 2007, allegations would be brought forward by the Liberals that stated Jim Hart had accepted $50,000 to step aside so Day could run in the riding. Hart would send an e-mail to CBC that did not deny the allegations or question the authenticity of the evidence the Liberals had. The RCMP would investigate but found no evidence of wrongdoing.
With his election win, many in the country were wondering about this new person now leading the Canadian Alliance. Maclean’s would write on Nov. 13, 2000, quote:
“He is a charming, glib man, obviously a nice man who would help Granny across the street. But he is a blank slate, someone who would approach the prime ministerial chair with fewer formal credentials than any aspirant in our history.”
That may be an exaggeration. Brian Mulroney was elected as prime minister in 1984, less than a year after he first entered Parliament and had never held any government cabinet post.
The biggest story of that by-election win would come when Day held his first news conference, arriving to it on a jet ski while wearing a wetsuit.
The incident was mocked in Parliament, with Joe Clark stating the Canadian Alliance should rename itself as the costume party.
It should be noted though that there were many who praised Day as a new type of politician who understood the visual needs of an election, which the country had not seen since the days of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. While Day was mocked for the wetsuit, his supporters highlighted that Trudeau was praised for images of himself in a French bathing suit jumping into water for a swim on the campaign trail in 1968.
Soon after Day was elected, Chretien called a snap election for Nov. 27, 2000, to prevent the Canadian Alliance from having time to consolidate itself. The party had high hopes for the election, even with the short notice.
Day would say after the election quote:
“I had been leader for 35 days when the election was called. Jean Chretien was politically smart to call it early.”
The hope of the party was the media friendly image of Day would appeal to Ontario voters. The platform document would feature pictures of Day jogging, lacing up skates and other activities to give the image of a younger man, compared to the image of Chretien, who was 66 years old at the time. Even press tags issued to the media had Day’s image on them. One Alliance Party member would state quote:
“It looked like a vanity campaign that was all about image and little substance.”
There was also the worry that Day’s fundamentalism would deter many voters, especially with his views against homosexual rights and state-supported abortion, and his support of capital punishment. One website also released letters his father had written to an Alberta separatist organization.
Murray Billett, a member of the LGBTQ organization Equal Alberta, would say of Day quote:
“He is not a bad guy. He’s always given us respect and listened to us, but he imposes his religious views on this province and on his day-to-day legislative responses.”
There would be some moments of stumbling for Day on the campaign trail. One was when he stated that the Niagara River ran south out of Canada, when in fact it runs the opposite direction. Day would make light of it, saying at one speech quote:
“The geese are flying north. The Canadian Alliance can turn almost anything around folks.”
The most damning for his campaign was when it was revealed that during a speech at Red Deer College, Day had stated he believed the world was only 6,000 years old and that humans and dinosaurs had co-existed. While most considered religion out of bounds in an election campaign, Ontario premier David Peterson would question his intelligence over the matter. This would hurt him in several Ontario ridings and was widely mocked in the media. Warren Kinsella, a Liberal Party member, would state that Day thought The Flintstones was a documentary.
Day would shoot back over the matter, stating quote:
“There is scientific support for both creationism and evolution. I don’t think I should have to debate the interpretation of Genesis any more than I would expect Jean Chretien or Joe Clark to debate Catholic teaching on transubstantiation or the Immaculate Conception.
Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark would respond, quote:
Day would also use Ordinary Day by Great Big Sea at a campaign rally, without permission, and the band would demand he stop using the song for campaign purposes.
At one point on the campaign trail, an activist splashed two litres of chocolate milk on Day from the front of the stage during a speech to protest what he saw as homophobic comments by Day, as well as an anti-immigrant and anti-poor agenda. Mary Walsh of This Hour Has 22 Minutes would later offer Day chocolate milk, stating quote:
“All they had was homo, and I knew you wouldn’t like that.”
In one incident at Carleton University, student protestors disrupted Day’s speech to the point where he had to slip out a back door with a bodyguard and get into another car to escape the throng of protestors.
The Alliance would put forward direct democracy proposals during the campaign. This would require a referendum on any proposal if three per cent of Canadians signed a petition, about 350,000 people. This would be satirized by Rick Mercer on This Hour Has 22 Minutes when he proposed a petition for a referendum that demanded Day change his first name to Doris. The petition received 370,000 signatures, reaching the required threshold. Before long, there were over one million signatures.
At the French debate, many were surprised at Day’s awkward French. Previously, the Canadian Alliance had touted Day’s fluency in French, which did not seem to be the case.
During the English language debate, Day would come out with a hand-crafted sign that read No Two-Tier Health Care, to counter claims that the party would bring in the proposal if elected. Party strategists had tried to convince Day not to take out the sign, stating it violated debate rules. Clark, a seasoned veteran of politics, would state that Day was, quote:
“Trying out for the position of game show host.”
In the 2000 election, Day would lead the Canadian Alliance to a gain of six seats, but it was not enough to unseat the third majority won by Jean Chretien and the Liberals, but Day was able to win more seats than his predecessor Preston Manning ever did, and he also took a larger share of the popular vote.
Controversy would follow Day after the election. In April 2001, it was reported that Day had approved hiring a private investigator to dig up dirt on the Liberals. On April 7, he confirmed he met the man, then on April 8 he denied he met the man. The next day he claimed he had read about the meeting in the Globe and Mail.
Many Alliance members began to grow critical of Day’s leadership, leading to several members, including Deborah Grey, to resign from their posts and then resign from the party itself.
In the fall of 2001, only one year after he was chosen as leader, Day agreed to step aside and recontest the leadership in March 2002.
Day would say quote:
“I’m ready, I’m willing and we will assess things as we move towards an announcement the first week or so in January.”
In that leadership election, Day was defeated on the first ballot by Stephen Harper, who took 55.04 per cent of the vote.
Day would urge the party to rally around Harper. He would state quote:
“We are so glad there’s a conclusive result here tonight.”
In December 2003, the Canadian Alliance became the Conservative Party of Canada and Day chose not to run for the leadership of the party.
After the Conservative Party won the 2006 federal election, Day was made the Minister of Public Safety on Feb. 6, 2006.
On Oct. 30, 2008, he was appointed as the Minister of International Trade.
On Jan. 19, 2010, he would be appointed as the President of the Treasury Board.
By this point, many felt that Day had exceeded expectations. One University of Toronto security expert would say quote:
“He has eluded the expectations that he would be a gaffe-prone minister.”
After winning several elections, Day announced on March 12, 2011, that he would not run in the 2011 federal election. Day would say why he gave so much notice in resigning, quote:
After his retirement from politics, Day would start a government relations firm.
On June 14, 2011, Day was appointed as a Distinguished Fellow with the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, a role he would continue in until 2016.
Day would serve on the board of directors of Telus and as a senior strategic advisor to the law firm Macmillan LLP from June 2011 to June 2020. He was forced to resign from both positions after he stated he supported the right of people to protest but opposed the George Floyd riots in the United States. He would also say that systemic racism did not exist in Canada, stating that he was bullied as a child for wearing glasses, suggesting it was the same as having to endure racism.
Day stated quote:
“The Canadian system is built and every day functions to defend the rights of minorities and it should and we celebrate that.”
Telus would respond by stating quote:
“The views expressed by Mr. Day during yesterday’s broadcast of Power & Politics are not reflective of the values and beliefs of our organization.”
Day would apologize the next day and vowed to fight against racism in all forms.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Macleans, Wikipedia, Red Deer Advocate, Edmonton Journal, Calgary Herald, Ottawa Citizen, Vancouver Sun, Windsor Star