Monday, March 8, 2010

I Miss People Like Dalton Camp From a Forgotten Era: When Canada Was a Democracy

"One would think that man would run out of wars to make or nations to invade or, that at some epiphanous time, nations would conspire to stop the killing, that war would become not the last resort but simply an unthinkable one. But here we find ourselves at war again, against half the world in general and no one in particular, pulverizing ruins and inflicting "collateral damage" - a euphemism for killing - on people we know nothing of, in a land we have nothing against, hope never to see, in a cause so rhetorical and clothed so much in hyperbole as to be unattainable." Dalton Camp

When I was researching something else yesterday, I came across a 2000 introduction to Dalton Camp, by senator Lowell Murray; and it reminded me of what politics and the media used to be like. Yes campaigns got ugly, but once the elections were over, the politicians got down to the business of running our country, and journalists to the business of making sure they did it right.

Don Newman was recently asked about the toxicity of politics today, and when it changed:

Of course, Parliament worked because elections in those periods also produced majority governments and sooner or later majority governments get their way. But it also worked because MPs made it function. They seemed to understand that they were there to get things done. That is not the case today and, on reflection, I'd have to say that the fraying of the system began during the Chrétien years.

The fraying was not — it might surprise some I'm sure — the fault of the Bloc Québécois who, while preaching their own view of both history and the future, always treated Parliament with respect. Rather it came from the Reform Party led by Preston Manning.

Manning brought Republican style politics to Canada, though in more subtle ways than Stephen Harper.

Dalton Camp certainly recognized the difference between the Conservative Party we knew and the one created by the Reformers. When he first learned of the attempt to unite the right he was livid, claiming that the conservatism of Stockwell Day "is viewed by most Tories as embedded in the lunatic fringe."

I couldn't agree more.

Joe Clark fought it and when Flora MacDonald learned of their demise called it: "... the demolition of a historic 150-year-old institution that has done so much to build this country ... The party's future lies not in some right-wing alliance that would violate the progressive and moderate traditions of its former leaders, but with a renewed emphasis on the values that the great majority of Canadians feel represent their views." ( The Toronto Star, November 14, 2003)

Dalton Camp was responsible for getting the Progressive put into the Conservative party, and Stephen Harper was responsible for knocking it right out, once calling the term Progressive Conservative an oxymoron.

There is one story form Lowell Murray's introduction that epitomizes Canada's former political climate:

The question Dalton Camp and his Conservative parties tried in their various times and places, and their different ways to answer, is a question Senator MacEachen posed a couple of years ago in his introduction to the book of essays, In Pursuit of the Public Good, published in his honour. The question is, Senator MacEachen said, "who puts bread on the table when private markets fail to do so?" It is a question that today preoccupies Dalton more than ever as his newspaper columns attests. It is a question for Conservatives, Liberals and everybody.

Which somehow reminds me that one day 30 years ago I saw Dalton in Ottawa, marching arm and arm with the late Tommy Douglas, protesting the Vietnam War. Some Tories thought this a preposterous place for their national president to be. More of us thought it a principled and profoundly Conservative response to what David Halperston later called "the aggressive, combative, liberal nationalism" of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and we were proud.

Does the neoconservative Stephen Harper ever worry about who will put "bread on the table when private markets fail to do so?" Hardly. He once bragged that he was often sought out to speak against public money being spent in the name of child poverty.

Neocons just want white women to keep having babies. What happens to the babies after that is not their problem.

I miss Dalton Camp and I miss the Progressive Conservatives and I miss our democracy.

But we will get our country back, so that Mr. Camp can finally rest in peace.

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