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In Canada, right wing on verge of collapse

Smiles abounded on Canada's political right a year ago when Stockwell Day became the first leader of a new party seeking to unite conservative forces and topple the governing Liberal Party.

Only the Liberals are smiling today.

In a spectacular free fall attributed to ineptitude and bitter political rivalry, Day is on the verge of losing his job as opposition leader in Parliament _ and his Canadian Alliance party may never recover.

Dreams of a political transformation like the Reagan revolution in the United States have been crushed, and Canada's conservatives warn that the lack of a credible opposition could create a virtual one-party state.

"It is a thoroughly depressing and humiliating state of affairs for adherents of the opposition parties, and should be for all Canadians interested in responsible government," Kenneth Whyte, editor-in-chief of the National Post newspaper, wrote in a recent front-page editorial.

A meeting today of the Alliance Parliament caucus could bring Day's demise. Thirteen of the party's 66 Parliament members have demanded his resignation, automatically suspending them from the caucus. More may join, and if the total passes 28, the Alliance would lose its status as Canada's official opposition party.

Alliance support has dropped from the 28 percent it received in November's federal election to 10 percent or less in recent opinion polls. Party membership is down and fundraisers say their job has become difficult.

"Here lies a man who fell so far, so hard and so blindly that he cracked the foundation of the party he helped create," said an editorial in the Peterborough, Ontario, Examiner.

The Alliance decline involves more than Day, 50, whose youthful dynamism helped him defeat Preston Manning, founder of the old Reform Party, for the Alliance leadership.

Day's victory created a hierarchy of divided loyalties in the Alliance that contributed to the current implosion. Under his leadership, the Alliance failed to lure disgruntled Conservative Party supporters into a center-right bloc that could challenge the Liberals.

A former preacher with socially conservative views _ he opposes abortion, favors capital punishment and believes in creationism _ Day resembled the caricature of a Western right winger feared by fiscally conservative easterners, the core support of the Conservative Party.

His inexperience and tendency to ignore advice led to gaffes that bolstered the perception he lacked the flexibility and judgment needed for a federal politician, let alone a potential prime minister.

He used a hand-drawn cardboard sign as a prop during a debate. He said he knew an investigator hired by the Alliance to dig up dirt on the Liberals, then denied having met him.

A similar reversal may have ensured his ouster as party leader. Under pressure from a growing revolt within the Alliance, he recently offered to step aside by taking a "leave of absence." When party dissidents rejected his proposal, Day rescinded it, prompting fresh criticism and the resignation of five members of the Alliance executive committee.

"He's losing credibility by the minute," said Bob Mills, an Alliance member of Parliament still in the caucus. "This is a guy who just doesn't get it."