Thursday, September 24, 2009

While We Were Dirty Dancing, Harper Was Dancing to a Different Tune

I love this song and while I could never actually dance like that, I secretly wished I was Jennifer Beales in that movie. It's a shame that we lost Patrick Swayze this year.

However, in some ways the video is fitting for this post, because we know that neither Stephen Harper nor Preston Manning, would have ever gone to that movie (or at least not admit to it), yet most Canadians loved it.

Therein lies the problem with this Reform - Alliance - Conservative Party. They are completely out of touch with Canadians, and if they really believe that their plan for radical government restructuring, is what we've been pining for, why is everything so secret? It all goes back to their notion of a 'Silent Majority', promoted by Harper's Northern Foundation.

So as part of my journey to discover how a party that was grounded in bigotry is now running our country, I'm going back to Harper's Reform Party days, and dispelling the myth that this was a party for the people. It was a party for the corporate elite and the extreme right-wing.

Both had different agendas (more or less) but they merged to create the Reform Party of Canada (now calling themselves Conservatives).

The 1987 Western Assembly and a Leader Looking For a Party

"At lunch on the Saturday, Harper and Weissenberger sat at a table with David Somerville, President of the National Citizens Coalition. At one point, according to Weissenberger, Somerville, who attended as an observer, asked if any of the eight people at the table were members of the NCC. All of the other seven, including Harper, raised their hand." (Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada by William Johnson ISBN 0-7710 4350-3, 2005, Pg. 76)

This lunch took place at the Western Assembly, where the stage had been set for the formation of a new party. They had their corporate giants and the social elite; they had their leader (though Stan Roberts did contest Manning's proclamation. More on that in another post) and they had their ... hmmm ... Stephen Harper.

All they needed now were their right-wing nut jobs.

"An advertisement that was run in advance in the major western newspapers set the tone for that meeting on the last weekend of may 1987: 'Something is grievously wrong in western Canada. Farmers can't afford to seed their crops, mines are closed, oil rigs lie derelict, shipyards are idle, food banks are besieged, the savings of many lifetimes have vanished, homes have lost their value, and a host of unemployed bursts the welfare rolls of every town and city. In vain we look to Ottawa, but more and more we find that Ottawa's first concern must be with the Big Vote, and the Big Vote is not here. And though we demand action, often we ourselves have little to propose'." (Johnson, 2005 Pg. 58)

Boy, that could be written about today's economic situation, not the one of more than 20 years ago. But the disgruntled arrived in droves to fulfill Mannings' prophesy of "...a radical free-market agenda, that would be brought to fruition on a wave of popular anger." (Preston Manning and the Reform Party. Author: Murray Dobbin Goodread Biographies/Formac Publishing 1992 ISBN: 0-88780-161-7, pg. 75)

To further assure that the party would be successful, one of it's founding members was Ted Byfield, founder and publisher of the Alberta Report, who began prior to the assembly, writing columns in his newspapers, calling for a new party. Couple that with Conrad Black, who owned 58 of the country's 105 daily newspapers, and was already pushing for a right-wing government; how could you lose?

("Lawrence Martin has written several articles about the Canadian media's rightward migration. In a January 2003 column headlined It's not Canadians who've gone to the right, just their media, he quoted an unnamed European diplomat saying "You have a bit of a problem here. Your media are not representative of your people, your values." Too many political commentators are right of centre while the public is in the middle, the diplomat continued. There is a disconnect.""Martin believes the disconnect began when Conrad Black converted the Financial Post into the National Post, hired a stable of conservative commentators like Mark Steyn, David Frum and George Jonas, bought the centrist Southam chain and turned the entire package into a vehicle to unite Canada's right and retool the country's values to U.S.-style conservatism." (Winnipeg Free Press, December 12, 2007))

And then of course, there's the National Citizens Coalition and the placing of it's then president David Somerville, at Stephen Harper's table. This may not have been accidental.

After millionaire Francis Winspear agreed to put up $ 100,000.00 of his own money to help get the Reform Party off the ground, "Messrs. Winspear and (Stan) Roberts travelled to Toronto and endeavoured ... to interest a society dedicated to influencing the government without formal political action. That society was the National Citizens Coalition. Winspear's firm is a contributor to the NCC and, as we have seen, the meeting was not the first between the various parties." (Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada. Author: Trevor Harrison Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995. ISBN: 0-8020-7204-6, Pg. 108)

In fact, this was not Preston Manning's introduction to the National Citizens Coalition either. His father Ernest, was one of the directors of the NCC, and a founding member when they incorporated in 1975. It was on his suggestion that they file as a 'not for profit' agency to enjoy the tax breaks. "Ernest was one of the moving forces behind the creation of the NCC and a founding member when the organization was incorporated in 1975. He remained on the advisory board for many years." (Dobbin, 1992, Pg. 97)

So you might say that the Reform Party was the culmination of the very wealthy, mostly from the oil industry; the Manning family and their ideologically driven movement, Conrad Black and the National Citizens Coalition. They tapped into 'the popular anger' of westerners and rode the wave all the way to Parliament Hill.

As further proof of this being an NCC agenda: Harper himself claimed “the agenda of the NCC was a guide to me,” while then NCC President David Somerville crowed that Reform “cribbed probably two-thirds of our policy book.” In 1997, when Harper announced his intention to abandon his role as an MP to take over the NCC, he called himself “a longtime supporter of the NCC I'm a strong supporter of the things that it stands for — political and economic freedoms.” When he ran for and won the Alliance leadership in 2002, he said he had done so because he “feared that if I did not do this, the NCC would find itself again alone or at least without any allies in the Parliament of Canada.”

And to prove that little has changed, Harper himself recently presented Preston Manning with the Colin Brown medal of Freedom (meaning freedom from government controls) at an NCC conference, and in the following video, you will see Colin Brown Jr. introducing another recipient, who just happens to be the editor of the National Post; or what I like to call the Conservative Cryer or the Harper Hawker.

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