TORONTO — THERE'S usually a break in politics here during the summer. But this year Prime Minister Kim Campbell is moving fast, trying to build her own public image and repair that of her Progressive Conservative Party (PCP).
Whether attending a rodeo in Alberta, flipping burgers at barbecues in Ontario, or talking job security with fish factory workers in Nova Scotia, analysts say Ms. Campbell is working on the same thing: Getting out from behind former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's shadow.
Mr. Mulroney stepped down as party leader and prime minister in June following a leadership convention where Campbell was elected party leader. A federal election is widely expected by the end of October, but by law must be held before the end of November.
Recent polls have given PCP stalwarts new hope. A Gallup poll released Aug. 16 shows Campbell's approval rating at 51 percent - the highest level for a prime minister in 30 years. Her main rival, Liberal Party (LP) leader Jean Chretien, received a 37 percent approval rating. And New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Audrey McLaughlin received 5 percent.
Campbell's popularity hasn't yet pulled her party ahead of the LP. A poll Aug. 19 shows PCP popularity at 36 percent, closing in on the LP at 40 percent. The NDP got 8 percent support, the Alberta-based Reform Party 7 percent, and Quebec-based Bloc Qucois 6 percent.
"Changing leaders is something Canadians view as almost creating a new party," says David Stewart, a political scientist at the Edmonton-based University of Alberta "Canadians identify parties by their leaders, so that if you change the leader it almost creates a new party in the eye of the beholder."
It was Mulroney's monarchical style as well as his controversial policies that seemed arrogant to many Canadians.
The pressure on Campbell is to demonstrate to Canadians that she is not "Kim Mulroney" as critics have dubbed her.
Recently Campbell pointedly indicated she did not want Mulroney's help on the stump in the coming campaign.
The July Group of Seven economic summit in Tokyo helped Campbell kick off that change, allowing her to stand out as the only woman among those world leaders. Since then, she has mixed a new populist, anti-establishment style with substance in the form of policy announcements.
On Aug. 16, Campbell put forward a nationwide education reform plan. Earlier in August, it was government reform, including requiring lobbyists to report in greater detail on their activities, and slashing the pensions of Members of Parliament (MP). In July she cut the number of Cabinet posts and announced a restructuring of ministerial responsibilities.
Still, there is danger if the actions of the new leader aren't perceived as sincere. "The actions of the party have to be consistent with the new leader," Mr. Stewart says.
And to some, that's the problem with Campbell. Liberal, NDP, and Reform Party officials grouse that Campbell's conversion to populism is shallow and borrows liberally from their platforms and positions, though conservatives gave no earlier hint of support for those positions including, for example, cuts in MPs' pensions.
"She's certainly stealing the nice words, but not the substance of our proposals," says Dimitri Pantazopoulous, manager of policy for the Alberta-based Reform Party. "She talks of the need to change the MP pension plan, but not made any commitment to change. She says she'll look at it."
NDP leader McLaughlin quickly reminded reporters that it was Campbell who was ridiculed by the ruling party in 1992 for proposing pension reform.
"I think she [Campbell] is doing what she needs to be doing," says Richard Simeon, a political scientist at the University of Toronto.
"She has to distance herself from Mulroney," Mr. Simeon says. "By mingling well at the barbecues, she is trying to soften the image that she's disdainful of the ordinary Joe."
Once the campaign begins, however, all three analysts say the gaze will shift to weightier issues where Campbell may be more vulnerable: the Conservative Party's unpopular tax policy, free trade, and unemployment.
"She'll look a lot less like the prime minister trying to get her point across," Mr. Pantazopoulous says, "and a lot more like just a typical politician."