At a town-hall meeting in the riding of Okanagan—Shuswap, a large crowd listens patiently to the speeches of the candidates during the federal election in the fall of 1993. Several of the candidates made lengthy presentations about the platforms of their parties and their positions on the major issues of the day. The Reform candidate, Darrel Stinson, stands up for only a few minutes of his allotted time, looking nervous and out of place.Telling this story, you might think that this would mean the end of Stinson's political career.
He tells the crowd everything they need to know is in the Reform "Blue Sheet." "Read it. If you have any questions, we'll be happy to answer them." Then he gives them the telephone number of his campaign office. Twice. During the question-and-answer period that follows, several people ask Stinson about his party's position on specific issues. "I haven't looked into that one myself but I know we have a position somewhere here in this," he says, holding up the "Blue Sheet." It falls to me, the Liberal candidate, to inform the audience of Reform's position, quoting from the sheet as a furious Stinson looks on. (1)
But on the contrary, not only did he win a seat for the Reform Party that year, but would hold that seat for more than a decade. In 2004, he won with 46.39% of the vote.
Some of his more memorable performances in the House, included the suggestion that "the best way to prevent spousal abuse was to give women handguns", he challenged a Liberal opponent to a fistfight, asking "Do you have the fortitude or the gonads to stand up and come across here and say that to me, you son of a bitch?" and he called then PC leader Jean Charest, a "fat little, chubby, little sucker."
An absolutely charming man.
But he was not, and is not alone, in the redneckery Conservative stable. And even in 1993, the combative style, that now defines Conservative politics, was emerging.
Across British Columbia and Alberta similar scenes of overzealous Reform behaviour unfolded in many ridings. Although Okanagan- Shuswap may have been among the most extreme cases, the dumbing down of politics in the 1993 election was a common phenomenon in Western Canada, as was the emergence of a large group of previous disaffected voters whose only interest was in expressing their negative often prejudiced views. (1)They knew where to draw support, and most of that support came from what we might now call a "Tea Party" uprising.
Reform was a corporate sponsored movement, in the same way that the American version is. But it knew how to play to a noisy "silent majority".
And it's rather sad, because Western Canada is more progressive than their representatives would suggest. The Famous Five were from Alberta, the women involved in the "Person's case" that finally made women "citizens".
Yet most Conservative MPs from the West, would prefer that the case was repealed.
So why do they keep sending people like Brad Trost, Maurice Vellacott, Garry Breitkreuz, Rob Anders and Jason Kenney to represent them, when they do not reflect Western values?
And two decades later, the candidates are still using talking points to drive their campaigns, no more aware of the world around them than Stinson was.
David Climenhaga discusses going to an all-candidates meeting in Alberta, where Conservative incumbent Brent Rathgeber was asked about the future of the CBC.
"I don't know that we need a national broadcaster in 2011," Rathgeber told about 100 people at a Chamber of Commerce all-candidates' forum in a local hotel. "…We have to wean them off … of the taxpayer's dollar…" It is well known, of course, how since Stephen Harper became prime minister of Canada, the Conservative Party has become a tightly disciplined organization, especially during election campaigns.Yet Rathgeber will probably be re-elected, based solely on the fact that he is running under the Conservative banner. In 2009, Lawrence Martin spoke to a party strategist:
No Conservative candidate strays far from the official talking points, and if that means repeating the phrase "constant bickering" seven times in an introductory speech to a local all-candidates' meeting in a Prairie town, as Rathgeber did at another forum last week, you can be confident the same phrase is being repeated a similar number of times at dozens of other meetings across English Canada.
Over lunch the other day, a senior Conservative strategist from Calgary mentioned how his party was suffering from Alberta leader fatigue. There's no way, he said, the next Conservative leader can come from that province. For two decades, he added, Alberta has had the run of the party. (2)I'm not experiencing Alberta leader fatigue, only Reform-Conservative MP fatigue, especially the most regressive ones coming from the West.
Why do they keep sending us these people?
Enough already. You're better than this. Take a stand.
1. Hard Right Turn: The New Face of Neo-Conservatism in Canada, Brooke Jeffrey, Harper-Collins, 1999, ISBN: 0-00 255762-2 4, Pg. 304-306.
2. Alberta leader fatigue is the federal Tories' next big test, By Lawrence Martin, Globe and Mail, April 16, 2009