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Brison hopes Tories will follow NDP lead
Bruce Cheadle
Source :  Halifax Herald

Ottawa - Call it the Jack Layton effect.

As the federal Conservatives look to choose a new leader this spring, Tory MP Scott Brison hopes to tap into a thirst for outspoken leadership that could vault his party from the political wasteland back to centre stage.

The New Democrats took a chance on Layton last weekend when they picked the glib, declarative former Toronto city councillor to carry the NDP torch.

Brison, 35, suggested it's the kind of choice that can give relevance to a federal party with just 14 seats in the Commons and public support hovering in the low teens.

That describes both the NDP and the Conservatives these days.

"My advice to a Jack Layton is to present clear, bold ideas and defend them vigorously," Brison said Tuesday in an interview at his Parliament Hill office.

"I may disagree with almost everything he says, but I'll have more respect for him, and most Canadians will have more respect for him, if he has the courage of his convictions," he said.

Brison, a fiscally conservative investment banker, is set to announce his official candidacy to succeed Joe Clark on Thursday in Toronto.

The party will select a new leader June 1.

Calgary lawyer Jim Prentice and Saskatchewan farmer David Orchard are also seeking the party leadership.

As the second thirty-something Tory MP from Nova Scotia to enter the race, Brison was asked to differentiate himself from higher profile caucus mate Peter MacKay.

"Right now Canadians don't know whether we're fish or fowl," responded Brison, who recently openly declared he is gay in an effort to head off controversy about the issue in a leadership campaign.

"We're more like tofu. . . . We have to clarify for Canadians what the PC party actually is."

And in a shot a Liberal heir apparent Paul Martin, but perhaps MacKay as well, Brison scorned politicians who "avoid risk and try to avoid saying something that somebody, somewhere might disagree with some part of."

"When you do that, you also avoid relevance."

Brison cited the policy legacy of Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney as one example, and the Common Sense Revolution of former Ontario premier Mike Harris as another.

"One could agree or disagree with his policy ideas," Brison said of Harris. "But you couldn't ignore him."

Canadians have been living in a federal leadership vacuum, agreed David Docherty, chair of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University.

The prime minister is a lame duck, he said. And Paul Martin, freed from cabinet last June, has reneged on his promise to barnstorm the country with a fresh political vision.

"So far we've seen nothing from Martin beyond letting Commons committees select their own chairs," laughed Docherty. "I mean, nothing!"

The NDP, he noted, picked Layton ahead of veteran MP Bill Blaikie, a highly effective parliamentarian who failed to make any impact outside the Commons. It's an example Tories should examine.

"Layton is all about getting media attention. He's very good in debate, he's very thoughtful and he's witty - he provides a good quip," said Docherty.

"I think the Tories at this stage could probably use a good dose of that bold leadership."

Public opinion, however, has swung against some of the hard-right provincial policies witnessed in Ontario the late 1990s.

"Bold leadership in 2003 can't be the kind of Mike Harris bold leadership," cautioned Docherty.

"Bold leadership without radical policies: that's achievable, but it's tougher to finesse. Brison's got to walk that fine line."

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