Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Defense Chief Leads Canada Party Race Image as `Softer' Conservative Bolsters Kim Campbell

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Defense Chief Leads Canada Party Race Image as `Softer' Conservative Bolsters Kim Campbell

Article excerpt

DEFENSE Minister Kim Campbell has become the clear favorite to win the leadership of Canada's Progressive Conservative Party and become prime minister.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's Feb. 24 announcement that he would resign as party leader and prime minister was a starter pistol's pop for a field of would-be party leaders. Party strategists, and apparently Mr. Mulroney himself, decided that bad polling numbers were not going to rebound and that the party needed a new face to lead the ticket in federal elections this fall.

As of March 15, the leadership race still had no formally declared candidates, although that is expected to change soon.

The striking element of the race so far has been Ms. Campbell's rocket start. She has amassed, in a matter of weeks, the keys to success: money, insider support across Canada, and good polling numbers. An early Gallup poll showed that with her as party leader, Conservatives would close the gap in popular support with the Liberal Party. Fast track

A former political science professor who entered political life as a member of the Vancouver School Board in 1981, Campbell was elected to the House of Commons in 1988. Her fast-track career has included the high-profile posts of minister of state for Indian affairs in 1989 and minister of justice, which she was named in February 1990. She was appointed the nation's first woman defense minister in a January Cabinet shuffle.

Part of the reason for her climb is that Campbell, as a relative newcomer to Mulroney's Cabinet, has not been heavily tarred by his fiscal policies, which have included unpopular cuts to social programs. She also is considered a softer Conservative, taking uncharacteristic positions such as open support for gay rights.

"I think there's a yearning to find something that binds us and some way of defining us and some way of feeling that Canada really is something," Campbell told the Monitor in December. "I think that's one of the things people in public life have a responsibility to do - to find the language that encapsulates the ideas and the feelings that make community life a reality."

David Bellamy, a political science professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, says Conservatives "have found a way to resuscitate themselves by playing down the old gang - the hard-headed neoconservatives - and to put forward a more sublime sort of person, which is what Kim Campbell is purported to be."

The Conservative field has rapidly narrowed as opponents, finding a dearth of money and support, have dropped out. Deputy Prime Minister Donald Mazankowski announced March 2 that he would not run. Three days later International Trade Minister Michael Wilson said he would not run either. …

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