New Day for Canadian Alliance

Canada's newest political party has its first full-time leader. Stockwell Day was elected leader of the Canadian Alliance on Saturday night in a vote that wasn't even close.

The former Alberta treasurer cruised to victory over Preston Manning, capturing 63.4 per cent of the 114,218 ballots cast.

Hundreds of Day's supporters roared as the results were posted on a gigantic TV screen at a convention centre near Pearson International Airport.

He wasted no time urging Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark to abandon the old Tory party and join the Alliance so that they could defeat the governing Liberals in the next election.

"There are so many federal Tories that are here in this room and so many across the country that have joined," Day said.

"Joe, I reach out once again to you with respect and sincerity . . . . It's only on that TV series 'Survivor' that the last person on the island is a winner."

Clark flatly rejected Manning's original overtures to unite the political right a few years ago, and has predicted that most Tories who bolted will return to the fold now that Day is leader.

There was virtually no drama during the night, which ended a leadership race that started more than two months ago.

Polls closed at 7 p.m. ET, and the first results began trickling in around 45 minutes later. Day took a commanding lead, with close to 62 per cent, and never looked back.

It was a crushing defeat for Manning, who founded the Reform Party 13 years ago and then voluntarily put his job on the line as he pushed to create a new, national political movement.

In a gracious concession speech, Manning said he was proud to have been able to start two political parties in the past two decades, and urged everyone to unite behind the new leader.

"Stockwell, we are behind you 200,000 strong. Tonight I join with all our members to give you the mandate to knock on the door of 24 Sussex Drive on behalf of all Canadians and to say: `Mr. Chretien, your time is up,' " Manning shouted to the cheering crowd.

He stood on the side of the stage for a few moments until the new leader walked over, grabbed his hand, and walked him back on the platform with their arms both up in the air. Manning's wife pinned a Stockwell Day pin to his lapel.

Just over 200,000 Canadians were eligible to vote over the phone and at polling stations across the country. Two weeks ago, only 116,000 people cast ballots.

Riding the momentum generated by his unexpected eight percentage point lead on the first ballot two weeks ago, Day had been considered the favourite.

In a fight for his political life, Manning spent the last 48 hours of the campaign hop-scotching around Alberta and Ontario by helicopter, staying on the ground just long enough to appeal for support.

At each stop he asked people to "make me leader of the Canadian Alliance, so that we can take all that we have shared one step further to the prime minister's office."

There was no mistaking the sense of urgency in the Manning camp. After finishing about 10,000 votes behind Day on the first ballot, his organizers kept him on the road again Saturday in southern Ontario, right up until the polls closed.

By contrast, Day's campaign appeared to sense victory. He made his last public appearance Friday night in Vaughan, north of Toronto, reminding his supporters not to be overconfident. "I can't repeat it enough. Get out there and vote, vote, vote."

Day argued that he offers the Alliance a fresh face, and a stronger commitment to conservative ideals.

Manning had played up his experience in particular, his record of taking Reform from a Western-based protest movement to the official opposition in Ottawa.

Two weeks ago there were five names on the first ballot, and the results came in slower than expected because of technical problems. Thousands of people also complained that they hadn't been able to vote. But Saturday night's run-off vote appeared to go much more smoothly.