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Belinda Stronach

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Belinda Stronach

The Honourable Belinda Stronach, PC, MP, (born May 2, 1966 in Newmarket, Ontario) is a Canadian businessperson, politician and a Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) in the Canadian House of Commons.

She is the former President and Chief Executive Officer of Magna International, a major automotive supplier based in Aurora, Ontario. In 2004, she entered the race for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, which she lost to Stephen Harper. In the 2004 federal election, she was elected MP for the riding of Newmarket—Aurora, north of Toronto. On May 17, 2005, she crossed the floor of the House from the Conservatives to the governing Liberals. It was simultaneously announced that she would join the cabinet as Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and Minister responsible for Democratic Renewal.

Contents

Background

Stronach is the daughter of the founder of Magna International, Frank Stronach. She attended York University in 1985, where she studied business and economics, but dropped out after one year to work at Magna.

In February 2001, she was appointed CEO of Magna, and in January 2002, she also became its president. While she led Magna, the company added 3,000 jobs in Canada, 1,000 of them being in the Newmarket-Aurora area she now represents in Parliament. During her time as president, Magna had record sales and profits in each year.

Stronach was a member of the board of directors of Magna from 1988 until 2004. She has chaired the boards of Decoma International Inc., Tesma International Inc., and Intier Automotive Inc., all in the auto parts sector. She was a founding member of the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council and served on the Ontario Task Force on Productivity, Competitiveness and Economic Progress. She is a director of the Yves Landry Foundation, which furthers technological education and skills training in the manufacturing sector.

In 2001, the National Post named Stronach as the most powerful businesswoman in Canada; and, in the same year, the World Economic Forum named her a "Global Leader of Tomorrow." Fortune Magazine ranked her #2 in its list of the world's most powerful women in business in 2002. She was also named one of Canada's "Top 40 Under 40." In April 2004, Time Magazine ranked her as one of the world's 100 most influential people.

Stronach is honorary chair of the Southlake Regional Health Centre fundraising campaign and a former honorary chair of the Howdown fundraising campaign. In 2003, she received one of Canada's oldest and most distinguished awards, the Beth Shalom Humanitarian Award, presented in recognition of outstanding achievement in humanitarian service. She is reputedly a close friend of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and former Ontario Premier Mike Harris.

She is twice divorced; her first husband was Magna executive Donald Walker and her second was Norwegian speed skating legend Johann Olav Koss. She has two children from her first marriage, Frank and Nikki.

Stronach speaks English and German fluently. She does not speak French, but she can read it.

In a Toronto Star interview published January 8, 2005, Stronach confirmed that she was dating deputy Conservative leader Peter MacKay. After she left the Conservative Party, the Canadian Press reported that she and he are taking "a break from their relationship." The National Post reported that MacKay was "gobsmacked" by her decision to join the Liberals.

Conservative leadership race

Throughout the summer and into the fall of 2003, talks were undertaken by officials of the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance party with respect to a merger of those parties. Meetings between the parties were overseen by a facilitator, who was later revealed to have been Stronach. She was among many who had called for PC leader Peter MacKay and Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper to undertake the merger talks in the first place.

As a candidate for leadership of the new party, she drew a great deal of publicity to the race. Some felt that this had more to do with her being an attractive female than being a strong contender.

Many in the media saw her first foray into politics as sophomoric, flubbing obviously-practiced lines, and approaching the podium well before the teleprompter was ready. In one of her first appearances, Stronach stood before the microphone mute for several minutes before the prompter began. Critics also accused her of being a "manufactured candidate," dependent on a high-priced network of professional campaign staff and Magna associates. Insinuations about her paid membership organizers in the province of Quebec hit particularly hard, recalling to some Tom Long's controversial 2000 Canadian Alliance leadership campaign.

Media reaction to Stronach's candidacy, however, was also open to serious criticism. Casting Stronach as an "heiress" with a "coddled career" — to the point of joking comparisons to Paris Hilton — and the attention paid to her physical appearance and personal life, could be seen as patronizing and sexist. [1] (http://www.expressnews.ualberta.ca/expressnews/articles/ideas.cfm?p_ID=5562&s=a) While the Canadian media generally prides itself on much greater reserve and discretion about the private lives of public figures than media of other countries, it paid considerable attention to rumours and innuendos about Stronach's personal life, particularly her relationship with Bill Clinton.

Supporters touted her youth and style, corporate experience, private life as a "soccer mom", and her potential to win new and swing voters, especially moderate, socially progressive voters in the province of Ontario.

On February 11, 2004, she declined to participate in a debate between the Conservative party candidates, leaving Tony Clement and Stephen Harper to debate each other on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast. She later also skipped a March 14 debate on the Global Television Network. She argued that she ought only to participate in party-sponsored debates, rather than picking and choosing among those organized by outside sponsors.

In her major speech at the leadership convention on March 19, 2004, she promised to serve only two terms if she became Prime Minister, and to draw no salary. She made a major gesture of "throwing away the script", but then undercut this somewhat when she was seen referring to cue cards. On March 20, 2004, she finished second to Harper with 35% of the vote.

In the 2004 federal election, by a margin of 689 votes, she was narrowly elected as a Member of Parliament in Ontario, representing the riding of Newmarket—Aurora. She was appointed the International Trade critic in the Official Opposition Shadow Cabinet.

Political positions

On social issues, Stronach was generally to the left of her Conservative caucus colleagues. She supports abortion rights, gun control and same-sex marriage. During her leadership campaign, she called for a free vote in parliament, with votes cast individually and not along party lines, on same-sex marriage. She has been speaking and voting in favour of same-sex marriage as the issue comes to the House of Commons in 2005. Social conservative elements in Canada have been critical of Stronach, calling her a "Red Tory". During Stronach's leadership campaign, REAL Women of Canada said: "If Ms. Stronach is elected as leader of the Conservative Party, social conservatives will no longer have a voice in Canada." [2] (http://www.realwomenca.com/alerts.htm) Stronach, for her part, promised after the leadership race that she would do her best to keep the party from moving too far to the right. [3] (http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2004/03/20/conserv_040320?GXHC_GX_jst=90c78ae4662d6164&GXHC_gx_session_id_=7c33008d8d7b5484&) She cited discomfort with Stephen Harper's social policies as one of her reasons for crossing the floor.[4] (http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2005/05/17/stronach-liberals050517.html)

Stronach is against the decriminalization of marijuana, though she has committed herself to investigating the safety of the substance.

Stronach supports trade with the United States but would like to re-examine and review parts of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to ensure, in her view, that Canadians can stand on a more equal footing with U.S. competitors. During her leadership campaign she said the country needed to consider changes to the Medicare system that would respect the principles of the Canada Health Act "as our standard, not our straitjacket". [5] (http://www.canadanewswire.com/en/releases/archive/February2004/20/c2545.html?view=print)

As a CEO, Stronach was more conciliatory to organized labour than her father, who was noted for his strong opposition to unions at Magna. While head of Magna, she ceased fighting the United Auto Workers in a dispute before the National Labor Relations Board, and the union organized numerous Magna workers in the United States.

In Parliament, Stronach has been a prominent supporter of a push by MPs, across party lines, to lower the voting age in Canadian federal elections to 16.

Move to the Liberals

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Stronach with Paul Martin on May 17, 2005, the day she joined the Liberal Party and Martin's cabinet.

In May 2005, Stronach suggested publicly that quickly forcing the next federal election, especially before passing that year's federal budget, was risky and could backfire. [6] (http://sympaticomsn.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1115128357918_22?hub=topstories) Stephen Harper was advocating an early election, in the wake of testimony at the Gomery Commission damaging to the Liberals. The party planned to bring down the government by voting against an amendment to the budget that the Liberals had made to gain New Democratic Party (NDP) support; this would effectively be a motion of no confidence.

However, on May 17, 2005, two days before the crucial vote, Stronach announced that she was "crossing the floor" and joining the Liberal Party. Her decision to join the Liberals was facilitated by former Ontario Liberal Premier David Peterson. Stronach was immediately appointed to the cabinet position of Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, and given the portfolio of Minister responsible for Democratic Renewal, charged with overseeing the implementation of the Gomery Inquiry recommendations, upon their release.

Her decision to leave the Conservative Party came after an uneasy relationship with Stephen Harper. In a press conference after leaving the party, she said that Harper was not sensitive to the needs of all parts of the country, and was jeopardizing national unity by allying himself with the Bloc Québécois to bring down the government. [7] (http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2005/05/17/stronach-liberals050517.html) She also stated that the party was too focused on Western Canada and "western alienation" instead of having broader focus. During her time in the Conservative Party, she was considered to be one of the few nationally prominent socially liberal Conservatives.

Stronach's move shifted the balance of power in Parliament and allowed Paul Martin's Liberal minority government to survive. On May 19, 2005, two crucial confidence motions were voted on in the House of Commons. The first vote, on Bill C-43, the original budget proposal approved by all parties, was passed as expected, with 250 for and 54 against. The second vote was on a new budget amendment that included C$4.6 billion in additional spending the Liberals negotiated with NDP leader, Jack Layton, to secure the support of NDP MPs. It was on this amendment that the Conservative/Bloc alliance planned to bring down the government. However, the initial vote resulted in a 152-152 tie. It then fell to the Speaker, Peter Milliken, to cast the deciding vote, which he cast in favor of the government. The vote carried with a final count of 153 for and 152 against. [8] (http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,15349101-23109,00.html).

Stronach's decision to cross the floor has delighted Liberals and New Democrats, and has been used as evidence that the Conservative Party is too extreme for moderate voters in Ontario.

Reaction to Stronach's move

Stronach's party switch mere days before the scheduled confidence vote has made her the target of considerable criticism within the Conservative Party. In a press conference following the announcement, Harper speculated that Stronach had left the party simply to further her own career. Many likewise accused her of being an opportunist who had never been a true conservative, but had been willing to use the party as a vehicle to achieve political prominence.

The day after Stronach crossed the floor, the reaction in Newmarket—Aurora was mixed. Many of her constituents were upset and expressed a sense of betrayal. Protestors picketed her riding office for several days, demanding a by-election.

There was additional criticism of Stronach's attendance at a Conservative election strategy planning workshop on the weekend immediately prior to her switch of allegiance, prompting allegations of unethical behaviour from John Reynolds, the Conservative campaign co-chair.

Considerable media attention was paid to Peter MacKay, MP and the deputy leader of the Conservative Party, with whom Stronach had a relationship of several months. Interviewed (http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2005/05/18/mackay050518.html) the day after Stronach's departure from his party, he stated that he had learnt of her intention to cross the floor mere hours before the public announcement. In an interview conducted at his father's farm, MacKay showed discernable emotion.

Characterization in the media

Political scientist Linda Trimble of the University of Alberta has studied the media's treatment of Belinda Stronach and describes some of the reaction to Stronach's defection to the Liberals as "offensive and sexist." Trimble was referring, in particular to the comments of two provincial legislature members Ontario Progressive Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament Bob Runciman and Alberta PC Tony Abbott. [9] (http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2005/05/18/stronach-sexism050518.html)

Runciman made himself the target of Liberals and media alike when he told CFRB, a Toronto radio station, that, "She sort of defined herself as something of a dipstick, an attractive one, but still a dipstick." [10] (http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1116347413338_5/?hub=TopStories) He elaborated that, in his opinion, Stronach failed to adequately express her reasons for defecting from the Conservative Party. Abbott made even more disparaging remarks, saying Stronach had "whored herself out for power." [11] (http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2005/05/18/stronach-sexism050518.html) He apologized for the statement the next day[12] (http://www.canada.com/news/national/story.html?id=7e0aaf86-9a53-4878-a9cc-bf8a53ed9d0a), saying that the term "whoring" had been misunderstood from context, and noting that it could be equally used for men and women. (CBC news, The National, May 18 broadcast.)

Criticism of the reaction to Stronach's move was not limited to politicians. Women's groups charged that the media also unfairly characterized the transition. The National Post used the front page headline "Blonde Bombshell", and political cartoonists made reference to Stronach prostituting herself to the Liberal party.

Trimble's view is that the comments are examples of the "political lows" that started with Stronach's bid for the leadership of the Conservative party in early 2004. According to Trimble: "The overall suggestion was that she was this bikini-clad blonde fronting for these backroom boys seeking power... The candidate's aspirations were often ridiculed, her qualifications trivialized, and her youth and looks the subject of vulgar and excessive obsession."

On May 18, 2005, a group of female Liberal MPs also charged that Stronach was the target of “overt sexism” over her decision to cross the floor in the House of Commons. Members of the Liberal women's caucus accused Harper and Conservative MPs of “unacceptable and disrespectful” comments following Stronach's move and called for an apology. Liberal MP Judy Sgro said: “I think it's important that we try to raise the level of discourse and debate and they shouldn't be reduced to the kinds of throw away comments that people are clearly using last night and this morning. So I would call on Mr. Harper to apologize to Ms. Stronach and to women of Canada and ask his colleagues to very much do the same so that we can try and restore some level of respect and discussion here in Ottawa.” [13] (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20050518.wstronach0518/BNStory/Front)

Trivia

Related links



Preceded by:
Electoral district created
Member of Parliament from Newmarket—Aurora
2004-present
Succeeded by:
Incumbent

Template:End box

27th Ministry - Government of Paul Martin
Cabinet Posts (1)
Preceded by:
Lucienne Robillard
Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development
(2005)
Succeeded by:
(incumbent)
Special Cabinet Responsibilities
Preceded by:
Mauril Bélanger
Minister responsible for Democratic Renewal
(2005-)
Succeeded by:
(incumbent)
de:Belinda Stronach fr:Belinda Stronach
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