Parliamentarian from 2004-present
Belinda Stronach is a Canadian businesswoman and politician who currently represents the Ontario riding of Newmarket-Aurora in the House of Commons. She was a member of the Conservative Party of Canada and made an unsuccessful bid for its leadership shortly after its creation in late 2003. She ran for parliament in the 2004 Canadian Federal election and narrowly won her seat over her closest competitor, a member of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Stronach's political career follows her reasonably lengthy tenure as CEO of Magna International, a Canadian company that manufactures "automotive systems." Much has been made of her role within this company, as it is owned by Frank Stronach, her father. She resigned as CEO after announcing her candidacy for the Conservative Party's leadership in 2003.
She sat as a Member of Parliament as a Conservative until May of 2005, when she crossed the floor and joined the Liberal Party of Canada. She claimed to be disturbed by the blind partisanship displayed by Stephen Harper and other high-ranking officials within the party.
Belinda Stronach was born on May 2, 1966 in Newmarket
, Ontario. She was well aware that, as the daughter of entrepreneur Frank Stronach, she was expected to be a part of the family business
in at least some way. Upon finishing high school, she began business studies
at York University
but left in 1985 at the age of 18 to devote most of her time to the organization. Her role within the company was limited at first; she was initially a member of junior management
before being appointed CEO in 2001 and its president in 2002.
Stronach's time as head of Magna was seen as a "golden age" for the company. Under her leadership, 3000 new jobs were created. This had a positive effect on the city of Aurora's economy, as the company was (and is) based there. She was also a member of Magna's board of directors and served on various councils pertaining to the industry in which she worked. Stronach helped to bring about record profits during her time as president and CEO. This is a stark contrast to the financial troubles the company experienced before her arrival and after her departure.
She has been divorced twice and has two children with her first husband; she has made no secret of the fact that she shares joint custody with their father and his current wife.
Having been raised by an entrepreneur in a business-driven family, and having briefly pursued a business education, Stronach always considered herself a fiscal conservative. She supported Peter MacKay in his bid for the Progressive Conservative party's leadership in early 2003 both by endorsing him and donating to his campaign committee. She supported the movement to "unite the right" (as the Progressive Conservative party had lost much of its clout after the 1993 Canadian federal election, leaving the further-right Canadian Alliance as the only successful right-wing party in Canada) but, as a social moderate, was concerned about the Alliance's social conservative values and the alienation it seemed to be causing. Sources have indicated that Stronach spoke to Alliance leader Stephen Harper about her concerns more than once.
Harper and MacKay hatched out an agreement to unite the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and the Canadian Alliance, forming the Conservative Party of Canada
, in late 2003. The new party's leadership was a huge issue, as many expected a fierce contest between Harper and MacKay (who had, up until this point, tried to come across as colleagues). Harper was widely expected to win, even against MacKay, and this was expected to be symbolic of the swallowing
of the Tories
by the Alliance.
Harper did win, and party faithful and analysts alike likened it to one party overshadowing the other, but things didn't happen quite as expected.
Belinda Stronach was quoted by The Toronto Star in early 2004 as being "encouraged" by citizens who suggested she should run for the leadership. Up until this point, however, few outside of the fiscally conservative/business communities really knew who she was, and many seemed surprised by the prospect of this businesswoman with no political experience musing about making a run for the leadership of the party that might possibly, maybe have a chance at taking out the federal Liberals.
Shortly after Stronach formally announced her candidacy (in a legion hall; this was thought to be an attempt to counter her "rich girl" image), MacKay announced that he would not run for the leadership. He insisted that it was a personal decision and that he truly wanted to run for the job, he didn't feel up to it. Analysts quickly drew attention to the fact that his main financial supporter had also just entered the race and he didn't want the added stress of running against her. There are also some more "interesting" theories as to why MacKay didn't run, but more on those later.
Stronach announced her candicacy at roughly the same time as Ontario politician Tony Clement. Clement had been an MPP under former premier Mike Harris, and had lost his seat in the 2003 Ontario provincial election. The deadline for leadership "applications" passed. There were no other takers. Harper, Clement, and Stronach. Let's get ready to rumble.
The leadership race
Harper and Clement criticized Stronach because she spoke only basic French
, one of Canada
's official languages. Media outlets had a field day; her age, gender
, lack of political experience
and hair colour
garnered her some reasonably unflattering comparisons
. Stronach attempted to hit back at these by casting herself as a working mother
who wanted the best for her community and country, but most of the damage had already been done. (Media analysts also point out that various factors, including the prominence given to her first name
on most informational packaging and her reputation for coming across as packaged and insincere was at least partially her fault, as well as the fault of her campaign staff
Though Stronach's campaign was not without various gaffes, to her credit they were not as damaging as other gaffes in recent memory. Much was made of the fact that she declined to participate in two network-sponsored debates, opting to wait for the official party-sponsored one. When Harper and Clement participated in these debates, they used the opportunity to criticize Stronach, even though she wasn't there. There was also a faux-pas or two at the official debate when she stood silently (on camera) for a few seconds, waiting for the teleprompter to start working. She also had to make use of a translator when Harper and Clement debated each other in French, though she did read her opening statement in French.
Stronach went to great lengths to appeal to the youth demographic within the party, and used her socially moderate views to do so. Early in the campaign she pledged her support for same-sex marriage (while asserting that she believed that religious congregations were free to define marriage for themselves and insisting that the issue be left to a free vote in parliament) and abortion rights. She also insisted that she was a feminist and supported gun control. This earned her support from some younger and socially progressive members of the party, whereas social conservatives and hardliners attempted to paint her as a "Red Tory" or "closet liberal."
A recurring theme in Stronach's addresses was pie. It's clear that she was referring to the economic variety, but analysts and critics suggest that she may have, consciously or unconsciously, associated herself with a profoundly domestic image, spurning the supposed "tradition" of women "acting like men" in order to achieve political success.
One of the main "promises" of her leadership campaign was that, if elected leader of the party (and subsequently, she said, prime minister), she would not accept a salary. She also challenged Prime Minister Paul Martin to do the same. She used the "As your prime minister" line on a reasonably regular basis, making her campaign reminiscient of U.S. election campaigns. Her attempt to "return" to fiscal responsibility by offering to not draw a salary was met with enthusiasm from supporters, though her critics argued it was naught more than an attempt to "win over" swing voters -- and her way of reminding Canadians how rich she already is. During this time she won the right to run for the Conservative Party in the next federal election in the riding of Newmarket-Aurora -- narrowly.
Belinda Stronach lost the Conservative Party of Canada's first leadership convention
to Stephen Harper on the first ballot
, though she did manage to beat Tony Clement with 35% of the total vote. During the convention she was seen seated with former Ontario premier Mike Harris -- the man who, according to critics, put the Tory
back in 'notorious
' -- and this is believed to have hurt her chances at least somewhat in Ontario, the province in which she was expected to have made the biggest breakthrough.
Stronach was gracious in defeat, congratulating Harper in her concession speech and urging the party to unite behind him in order to put forth its best effort at defeating the Liberal Party in the next election. During his victory speech, Harper thanked his former rivals, adding that Stronach "added more glamour to the race than (he) could have." While it's hard to tell with Harper, a lot of people seem to agree that this was more of a backhanded insult than a compliment, and was an attack on Stronach's lack of political experience.
The election and life in parliament
Disappointed but not discouraged by her convention defeat, Stronach ran for parliament in the June
election and promised to work as a constituency MP for Newmarket
. She won her seat -- by less than 700 votes -- and took her seat as a member of the opposition
when the 38th
parliament convened in the fall of 2004. Harper appointed her the party's international trade
critic when he announced his shadow cabinet
and she has been a fervent critic of the state of the Liberal government's trade relations
with the United States and European countries.
When the Conservative Party held its first policy convention in March 2005, Stronach's reputation as a media darling was further cemented. Her arrival at the convention generated more of a media storm than Harper's arrival. By this time she had confirmed that she and former Progressive Conservative leader (and, by this point, deputy opposition leader) Peter MacKay were an item. This gave rise to rumours that they had been involved during the Conservative merger talks and that he had put his career on hold (and not pursued the party's leadership) for love. There is also speculation that they, both being somewhat more socially moderate than the current party leader, are in the process of devising a plan to run for the party leadership if and when Harper steps down or is possibly forced out. They have, for the most part, managed to keep their relationship out of the spotlight.
At this same convention, Stronach voiced her opposition to an amendment of party policy that would formally oppose same-sex marriage. While her dissent was welcomed by younger members and supporters, she was heckled by some hardliners. Former MP Elsie Wayne started making the media rounds minutes after her speech, telling reporters that Stronach was "dead wrong."
Within the party, it seems, Stronach has a reputation for being a "diva;" she supposedly refused to give a speech at the convention after learning that it would not be a keynote address. Since these sources have opted to remain anonymous, however, it is difficult to gage the accuracy of the information.
The Liberal Cabinet
Stronach stunned the nation on May 17, 2005, when she crossed the floor of the House of Commons to become a member of the Liberal Party
. She was appointed Minister of Human Resourcess and Skills Development. She cited displeasure
with Conservative leader Stephen Harper
's insistence on bringing down the Liberal minority government
as well as the party's general platform on issues such as same-sex marriage
. The move was widely criticized by members of her former party, several of whom questioned her intelligence. Stephen Harper pointed out that he had been notified by Peter MacKay
minutes before Stronach went public with the news, and that she hadn't notified the party directly.
Stronach and MacKay are reported to be on a "break" from their relationship.
Stronach announced that she would not stand in the next Canadian federal election on April 11, 2007. She plans to return to an executive position at her family's auto parts compnay.
Belinda Stronach - Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belinda_Stronach April 19, 2005
Kwong, Matt "Running Like A Girl" MiNX Magazine http://www.minxmagazine.com/belinda.html April 18, 2005
This Is Belinda Stronach MP http://www.belinda.ca April 19, 2005