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"Betrayal" 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 6:15 p.m. May 17, 2005]

Newly appointed Human Resources Minister Belinda Stronach and Prime Minister Paul Martin stun the Press Gallery Tuesday in Ottawa. (photo by Jake Wright www.jakewright.ca). 

OTTAWA  — Aftershocks from Belinda Stronach's defection to the Liberals continued on Parliament Hill on Tuesday overshadowing any news coming out of question period. 

Conservative MPs expressed disappointment and some contempt with Stronach's decision to abandon the party she sought to lead a little more than a year ago. 

Stronach's departure comes at a crucial time for the Conservatives as they are trying to defeat the Martin Liberals on a confidence vote this week. The Tories and the Bloc Quebecois will now need the votes of both undecided independent MPs if they have any hope for a spring election. 

Rona Ambrose, who replaced Stronach as the Conservatives' trade critic, said everyone was quite surprised by her decision to cross the floor. 

She said those who were close to Stronach in the caucus are "feeling some betrayal."

"You have to ask yourself would she have left if she felt she could lead the Tory party? And it's become clear that she can't," said Ambrose. 

When asked what evidence there was to other MPs of Stronach's leadership ambitions, Ambrose said, "This morning is indicative of her leadership aspirations."

John Reynolds, a close Harper ally and the chair of the Conservative election campaign, described Stronach's decision to cross the floor as "crass opportunism."

"Belinda Stronach got into this business to be leader of a party," he said. "She's gone to a party where she thinks she's probably got a better chance of being a leader."

He also noted the problems MPs who cross the floor have had historically in winning re-election.

"It's a decision that's a very tough one to make," said Reynolds. "I've seen it made by some of my colleagues in the past in the House - I've been around a long time. Well known people -- as well known as Belinda or even more so -- and it didn't work very well for them and I don't think it will work very well for her."

Ontario MP Peter Van Loan said he was "saddened and disappointed" with Stronach's decision. 

He found it puzzling considering the Toronto MP voted against the government in a non-confidence motion last week. 

"Obviously her confidence in the government is limited, but bolstered by a cabinet post, I suppose," he said. 

At her press conference with Martin Tuesday morning, Stronach said that she was involved in discussions about joining the Liberals for "several hours" on Saturday with former Ontario Premier David Peterson, the brother of International Trade Minister Jim Peterson, who is a friend of the PM. 

But those talks did not prevent Stronach from participating on the weekend in a Conservative Party candidates' school, where MPs were prepared for the upcoming election campaign by party officials. 

"On Saturday she goes to a Conservative candidate school, takes inside information over to the other side," said a clearly bothered Tory MP Vic Toews. 

"It's to be expected from a Liberal. I'm disappointed in Belinda Stronach."

However, one Tory MP told PoliticsWatch that the Conservatives will not have to change election strategy because Stronach did not participate in all the events but basic training on dealing with the media and "how to be a team player," the MP said underscoring the irony with a chuckle. 

Meanwhile, reaction to Stronach's departure was all the buzz on Canadian political  blogs all day long. 

"How's (Liberal MP) Dan McTeague feeling today?" asked Maclean's Paul Wells on his popular blog. 

"Or the MP I will not today name, who once showed up in Jean Chrétien's office with a PowerPoint presentation explaining why she deserved a Cabinet job? The Prime Minister seems awfully big on prodigal sons and daughters. Too bad for any suckers who devoted 20 or 30 years of their life to the Liberal party."

Meanwhile, the popular Andrewcoyne.com had over 500 comments in just over six hours on his one-line blog posting about Stronach's departure. 

"There are no words," wrote Coyne, echoing what CNN anchor Aaron Brown said when the second World Trade Centre tower collapsed on live television on September 11, 2001. 

Stronach now appears to be a strong contender to replace Public Works Minister Scott Brison - another Martin acquisition from the Tories - as the Liberal conservatives love to hate. 

"I am ashamed to say that I served on Belinda's leadership campaign team," wrote on poster on Coyne's blog. "What a sellout. Her true colours come out. This changes everything. There's no honour left in politics, I swear."

"What a traitor!" another Coyne reader wrote. "Everybody knew that the Liberals were going to pull a dirty trick and she fell for it. No wonder Martin wanted to wait till Thursday."

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