Politician, auctioneer, businessman, contractor, school administrator
Member of Parliament from 2000-present
Minister of Public Safety from 2006-2008
Minister of International Trade from 2008-2010
President of the Treasury Board from 2010-present

Stockwell Day is a Canadian politician and was, while leader of the Canadian Alliance, the leader of the opposition in the House of Commons. Though he has a solid vote base and has been elected as the member of parliament for the British Columbia riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla three times, he has become somewhat of a caricature of himself in recent years.

Early life and career

Stockwell Burt Day was born on August 16, 1950, in Barrie, Ontario. His early life was spent between Canada’s east coast and its capital city of Ottawa. According to his official bio, he has lived in several parts of Canada (including the Arctic). Day’s official website states that he “attended” the University of Victoria but his official parliamentary webpage does not list a degree. He was not always politically interested and worked as (among other things) an auctioneer and a vice-principal before entering provincial politics in the 1986. He was elected to the Alberta provincial legislature and served as the Progressive Conservative party’s minister of finance and chief whip. During various periods in which Ralph Klein was unavailable or unable to govern (due to matters including but not limited to official trips and the like), Day also assumed the role of “acting premier.”

He represented the riding of Red Deer North for his entire provincial career and left provincial politics in 2000 after the “evolution” of the federal Reform Party into the Canadian Alliance to run for federal parliament.

Federal politics

Day had garnered a fair amount of popular support during his political career in Alberta. After the Reform Party became the Canadian Alliance, the leadership of longtime Reform leader Preston Manning began to be questioned. Day ran for the leadership of the newly minted Alliance and defeated Manning on the second ballot with 44% of the vote. Though the leadership campaign had been reasonably tense at times, Manning encouraged the party to unite behind Day’s leadership so that the Alliance might provide a viable alternative to the governing Liberals. Since he had inherited the leadership of the second largest party in the House of Commons, he was ‘automatically’ Leader of the Opposition. Wanting to prove himself as a leader and provide his party with the opportunity to increase its power, Day lobbied for a federal election shortly after his arrival in the House (he won the right to represent Okanagan-Coquihalla in a by-election after his election as party leader). Prime Minister Jean Chrétien called an election for that November; it was during this campaign that Canada became extremely familiar with Stockwell.

The 2000 Canadian Federal Election

Throughout the campaign, Day promised to reevaluate Canada’s health care system, and pushed for better federal-provincial relations. At its outset, he came across to many as “leadership material.” Then some other things happened.

Speed bumps

Much of Day’s popularity came from the fact that, despite a well-publicized attempt at a “makeover,” he was undoubtedly more “media savvy” than Manning (who was often stereotyped as being old and out of touch). Supporters and critics alike agree that there are few other Canadian politicians who can play to a camera like Stockwell Day. This just didn’t always work to his advantage.

In an attempt to increase the amount of “power” held by the Canadian populace should the Alliance be elected as the governing party, Day announced that, should the party win a majority government, it would introduce legislation that would hold a referendum on any issue if at least 4% of the population signed a petition in favour of holding such a vote. The only problem is that, in a country of roughly 30 million people, 4% of the population is not a large number – at all. In an attempt to prove this, the good people at This Hour Has 22 Minutes decided to put together a mock petition campaign challenging Day to change his first name to Doris. The petition received over a million signatures (well more than the 4% required to stage a referendum if the Alliance won power, which they didn’t) and Day attempted to use the incident to increase his level of “approachability:” he appeared on 22 Minutes saying that Doris Day was before his time, but some of the Liberals might remember her. He also sang part of Que Sera, Sera, and several million people rolled their eyes in unison. (He and several other members of the Canadian Alliance caucus also appeared in a mock music video produced by 22 Minutes after the election was called. They lip synced ‘Raise a Little Hell.’)

Day, a devout Christian, also raised eyebrows by announcing that he was making a point of not campaigning on Sundays. This would not have been much of a ‘gaffe’ except in that he drew so much attention to it that something that should have been a personal decision ended up the target of an elaborate musical number on Royal Canadian Air Farce: Don Ferguson, the Air Farce member who plays Day in the troupe’s skits, appeared as the Alliance leader in what appeared to be a small church with a group of dancing congregants. He sang a reworked version of Never on Sunday and eventually joined in the traditional Greek dance. He was also wearing a wetsuit. Confused? Read on.

The incident for which Day is perhaps the most remembered is his arrival at a news conference on a Jet Ski, clad in a wetsuit. He claimed his point was to illustrate his dedication to his constituency and his hobbies, but the press jumped all over this one. Every time he is portrayed on Air Farce – to this very day, nearly five years later – he is depicted wearing a wetsuit. Political analysts and media experts often cite the incident as one of the most disastrous blunders in political history. Photographic evidence of the moment lives on through the miracle of the Internet, right next to photos of Margaret Thatcher on a toboggan. bewilderbeast points out that at one event, after having been drenched in chocolate milk by a protestor, Day attempted to salvage his dignity by saying he wished he had a wetsuit at the time, but the damage had already been done. By this point, many Canadians (most of whom indicated that they wouldn’t necessarily be willing to vote for the Alliance anyway) grew disenchanted with Day and his unique brand of politics.

The political half of the campaign

Despite the aforementioned stunts and blunders, Day did campaign fiercely throughout the 2000 race. He took the government to task on matters including health care and national defense. He attempted to come out as a fighter during the televised debates, during one of which (if I recall correctly) he must have set the record for most uses of the phrase “Answer the question” in one 60 minute period. Day is also remembered for making frequent use of a handwritten sign reading “No 2-Tier Healthcare” throughout the debate, a reference to his attempt to portray himself as an advocate for Canada’s unilateral health care system. The moderator admonished him on several occasions for making use of the sign (props aren’t allowed at these debates). He claimed they were his lecture notes, but most people didn’t believe him.

Day and the Alliance fared considerably well in the 2000 Canadian Federal Election despite growing concerns as to his ability to lead the party. They, though unable to win, retained their position as official opposition and increased their seat count. For the first time ever, a Reform/Alliance party also won seats in Ontario. Day’s tenure as leader of the opposition continued throughout most of the 37th parliament, until dissident MPs put a stop to it.

Cast off

Day’s actions and statements throughout the 2000 election campaign, though they didn’t have any major adverse effect on the Alliance’s election results, were damaging to both Day’s approval rating and general public opinion of the party. This became increasingly controversial when certain Alliance members openly criticized Day’s leadership skills and techniques and were subsequently suspended from the caucus. As various MPs began to get fed up with his leadership, a small group of them formally split from the party in the summer of 2001 (Reform Party original member Deborah Grey among them) and sat independently as the Democratic Representative Caucus. In the fall of 2001, Day offered to welcome the 12 MPs back into the Alliance caucus if they were to promise not to criticize his leadership. Some accepted but others remained independents. During this time, they co-operated with Joe Clark and the Progressive Conservative Party.

As this continued and his popularity rating decreased, Day realized that such actions would not be good for the party and that it would therefore be unable to act as an effective opposition and/or viable alternative government. He then offered to resign his position as leader and hold a leadership convention, granted that he was able to run for the position again, thus leaving the choice up to members of the party. He was defeated by Stephen Harper, an Alliance MP from Calgary, on the first ballot. He was promptly appointed as the party’s foreign affairs critic.

Stockwell Day in today’s parliament

Day was re-elected in the 2004 Canadian Federal Election and continues to serve as the Conservative Party of Canada’s foreign affairs critic (the Alliance merged with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in December 2003).

When the Conservatives stumbled into a minority government in the 2006 Canadian federal election, Day was appointed Minister of Public Safety. In the period between the election and the swearing-in of the new government, there was a great deal of speculation that he would be appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs (as that had been his critic portfolio). This caused a great deal of controversy, as Day himself was seen to be somewhat of a controversial figure to represent the country on certain issues. The post went to Peter MacKay instead.

Stockwell Day splits his time between his constituency in British Columbia and Ottawa. He is married and has three sons and eight grandchildren.

Constituency Office http://www.stockwellday.com/stock.htm April 27, 2005
Federal Political Experience – DAY, Stockwell Burt http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/people/key/bio.asp?lang=E&query=17719&s=M April 27, 2005
Personal interest in Canadian politics