Stronach jumps into Conservative leadership race

Multi-millionaire stresses business savvy and motherhood as job qualifications, despite lack of political experience

Belinda Stronach ended weeks of speculation Tuesday by announcing that she will run for the leadership of the new Conservative Party of Canada.

Stronach, who had resigned as president and CEO of auto-parts maker Magna International earlier in the day, spoke in a calm, measured tone with the help of a TelePrompTer.

She reeled off a list of values she would use to govern. They included "honesty, compassion, fairness, respect and integrity."

Acknowledging that some would call these "motherhood issues," the 37-year-old divorced mother of two said: "Who better than a mother to ensure these values are always reflected in the actions of government?"

Stronach will be running against former Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper and former Ontario health minister Tony Clement. The convention is scheduled for March 19-20.

The multimillionaire businesswoman made her decision official at the Royal Canadian Legion in her hometown of Aurora, Ont. She was flanked by supporters and backed by a banner displaying the address of her website,

She stressed that she was the daughter of immigrants, and knows the value of hard work and listening.

But her main card was that as the CEO of Magna International, a 72,000-employee global giant based in Aurora, she knows how to be a leader and create the conditions for success.

"I am not a professional politician, but I have met a payroll," she said. "I understand what it takes to compete on a global basis.

"When I travel the world, I worry about Canada's future prosperity and Canada's place in the world ... I see the entrepreneurial spirit that exists elsewhere in the world ... We need to make sure that Canada can compete."

If elected leader of the new united-right party and eventually prime minister, Stronach said she would support:

  • Cutting taxes while preserving social programs such as health care by "baking a bigger economic pie."
  • Modernizing government and cutting the cost of delivering services.
  • Rebuilding Canada's relationship with the U.S. by, among other things, becoming part of the integrated North American security perimeter.
  • Scrapping the tax on capital and making mortgages partially tax-deductible.
  • Rebuilding the military, giving the forces the money and equipment they need to do the job more safely.
  • Encouraging young people to consider jobs as skilled labourers.
  • Allowing same-sex couples to marry.
  • Beefing up penalties for crimes committed with guns while scrapping the long-gun registry.
  • Maintaining criminal bans on the use of marijuana.

Speaking of her support for the unite-the-right movement from the start, she said: "Our goal is not just to present an alternative to the Liberals. We plan to defeat them."

At two points in her speech, she read in laboured French, saying, "Je vais écouter et apprendre," and stressing that Quebec is a vibrant and a necessary part of Canada.

On her road to the leadership, Stronach said she would seek the Conservative party nomination for the riding of Newmarket-Aurora.

Many in the crowd were impressed with what they saw. Betty Price said she came undecided, but left a believer.

"She's got everything. She made me proud to be a Canadian."

She has also snapped up a lot of high-powered conservative organizers, such as kingmaker John Laschinger and party worker Kevin Gallagher.

"Belinda brings a fresh face and a clean start," said Gallagher. "There's something special going on here."

Meeting reporters earlier during a school visit in Toronto, Prime Minister Paul Martin welcomed Stronach's entry into the Conservative campaign.

"I think that Ms. Stronach brings a very different experience to the race than the other candidates," he said. "I think that she's got great intelligence and I'm sure she'll do very well."

Martin is expected to call a general election this spring, throwing the new boss of the Conservatives into the hubbub of a federal campaign just weeks or months after the leadership convention.

Harper couldn't resist taking a shot against his new opponent's self-description as a down-to-earth mother with immigrant roots.

"I'm a much different candidate than Belinda Stronach or Paul Martin," he said. "I can't write a cheque for my own campaign."

Clement focused on Stronach's total lack of political experience.

"We need someone who can unite the party, certainly in time for the next election, and they're also looking for someone who can with credibility take on Paul Martin and go toe to toe with him."

Meanwhile, Stronach's father Frank took back the reins at Magna on an interim basis while the company searches for a new president to replace the Conservative leadership candidate.

Ms. Stronach also resigned as a director of the company and as a director and the chairman of Decoma International Inc., Intier Automotive Inc. and Tesma International Inc.