How the Hare Beat the Turtle

Canada's political contest seems to have turned on issues of region, gender, age, marital status. A LETTER FROM OTTAWA.

JOHN HAMILTON, a retired Canadian Army officer from Peterborough, Ontario, was trying to decide who to chose as Canada's next prime minister: a twice-divorced woman from British Columbia with great credentials, or a married man from Quebec with great style.

With little difference between the candidates on policy matters, region, gender, age, and marital status all became decisive issues.

Standing in the Ottawa Civic Center hallway, across from a telephone company exhibit where delegates were lining up for a free phone call anywhere in the world, Mr. Hamilton was explaining his challenge.

"I'm trying to assess the candidates as individuals, to see whether these people will be leaders," he said. "But I admit I'm concerned over further leaders coming from Quebec."

Hamilton's dilemma was familiar to the 400 to 500 uncommitted delegates at last week's Progressive Conservative Party leadership convention. Most of the 3,476 delegates had chosen sides. But the race appeared close and many thought the uncommitteds would decide who would replace resigning Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and lead the party into fall elections.

"Winnability" was the crucial quality all agreed on. But who or what was winnable? Many delegates worried 34-year-old Environment Minister Jean Charest, though a sparkling bilingual orator, was too young.

Others feared western Canada would reject him as yet another Quebecois prime minister who would favor Quebec over the rest of Canada.

Mr. Charest, however, was overcoming those doubts with smooth political skills. He surged last week as front runner Kim Campbell, a 46-year-old lawyer and former professor who plays cello, lost ground. Some delegates worried her wit and glibness were dangerous propensities.

"I was one of the first to bail out of Kim's camp," says Geoff Scott, a member of Parliament from Wentworth, Ontario. "I wanted to see a woman in there. But she has a tendency to shoot from the lip, plus ... I hold family values dear, and Charest is a family man."

Robert Dieleman, a delegate from Oxford, Ontario, was sitting with his wife Marion in the civic center auditorium heat. Between them was their 9-week-old daughter Laura. "I have concerns about Charest because that would mean choosing another leader from Quebec," he said. "I have problems with Campbell. Some of her comments, make her look like a bull in a china shop."

Charles Murray, an uncommitted delegate, said the party's core followers were torn. "They're afraid Campbell is going to take the party away from traditional values," he says. "She sends the message that she's an urban intellectual with fairly liberal social views, and that makes them nervous."

Making the most of such doubts, favorable polls, and fresh endorsements, Charest's team dubbed the contest a race between the tortoise (Charest) and hare (Campbell).

Plastic turtles and turtle stickers were in abundance. Both camps cajoled and fed delegates - and there were a few reports of arm twisting.

Last Sunday, however, the hare won. Campbell edged out Charest, overcoming charges that she was arrogant, too ambitious, and even unstable.

"Some of these things are just code words for voting against women," said Flora MacDonald, who in 1976 became the first woman to run for the conservative leadership.

She had planned to watch this race from the sidelines, she said, but as the sniping got worse, she stepped up to endorse and defend Campbell.

"There are all kinds of men in politics who are arrogant," Ms. MacDonald says. "Nobody ever said they were unstable or indecisive."

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