Bye-bye Belinda. Politics just wont be the same!

Lana Payne
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For three years, she stirred up Canadian politics, making headlines, reinventing herself from rich daddys girl to feminist role model. She left a mark. And politics just wont be the same without Belinda Stronach.

No matter how you feel about her and make no mistake most people feel something about Stronach the woman has guts. She did not inspire ambivalence.

Boring. Dull. These were not words one could use to describe Stronach.

She lived her political life under excessive media scrutiny, more than nearly any other politician. Certainly her personal life was subject for much media fodder.

And yet she never flinched, not even when the insults being hurled included prostitute, bimbo, bitch and home-wrecker.

She kept her dignity. And with her confident smile and sense of humour, she took the high road, leaving her critics in the muddy gutter.

And the gutter got pretty cluttered with the likes of former Alberta premier Ralph Klein, Norman Spector the Globe and Mail columnist and former Brian Mulroney chief of staff who reportedly called her a bitch on a radio show and Stephen Harper, who questioned Stronachs intelligence when she crossed the floor to the Liberals, saving Paul Martins government and gaining herself a cabinet position in the process.

At the time, Harper said he never really noticed complexity to be Belindas strong point.

But she managed to outfox the ruthless Harper in spite of his low opinion of her.

Harper was quickly coming to realize that this was one woman who wouldnt be pushed around. She challenged his authority, questioned his decisions, and opposed him on high profile issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

Despite claims that she lacked substance and was light on policy, Stronach would paste that winning smile on and get through the day, even when the day included her being allegedly called a dog by former boyfriend Peter MacKay, who lost more than a girlfriend when Stronach crossed to the other side. He lost his star power.

Her comments to biographer Don Martin, a National Post columnist, regarding her social life were classic Belinda. She told him, I just dont sit home on Friday nights and knit.

Stronach proved over and over again that she would not be cowed into a corner.

Glamourous, rich and friends with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, she did not go out of her way to avoid controversy, like many politicians do. Instead, she decided that controversy and the medias fixation with her and with her fashion sense, her shoes, her suits, her hair colour and especially her boyfriends could be used to her advantage.

And the bigger the insults and there were some pretty huge sexist comments made about Stronach the more her celebrity grew. And to a certain extent she used that celebrity to promote her causes, whether it was to encourage women to get involved in politics or to get wealthy nations to provide mosquito nets for Africans to prevent malaria.

Her tenure in politics highlighted just how tough it can be on women. It proved there is indeed a double standard.

And it proved, as Stronach had noted many times, just how far we have to go before women are treated as equals in the political arena.

Of course, her money, her millions, her options made the life a little easier. No matter how tough politics got, she always knew she had a nice cushion waiting for her in her fathers auto-parts corporation, Magna.

And thats where shes headed. Back to big business, boardrooms and the high-flying lifestyle she left for Parliament Hill.

There was something about Belinda. Charisma, power, glamour. Yes she had all of that, but it was her ability to make those old boys look so bad that was so attractive.

She got people interested in politics and that is no easy feat these days.

I would have preferred that people got interested in politics for the possibilities, the ideas, the sense that its one of the ways we can change the world. But whatever the reason right or wrong - Stronach engaged people in the political process.

Despite all of her faults and her millions, I found something to like about Belinda Stronach.

She may not have set out to do so, but she gave feminists something to cheer about, even if it was for a fleeting moment.

Bye-bye Belinda. Canadian politics is going to be a tad bit duller without you around to get the Conservatives all riled up.

Lana Payne is a former journalist who is active in the labour movement. Her column returns April 29.

Organizations: Globe and Mail, National Post, Conservatives

Geographic location: Alberta, U.S., Parliament Hill

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