Thursday, September 9, 2010

When Stephen Harper "United the Right", He Solidified the Centre. Just Not For Himself.

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

How Stephen Harper became a "Tory" is the stuff of legend. Or more accurately, the stuff of fairy tales. He did have a brief stint with the PCs in the early 80's, but left the Party because they weren't right-wing enough.

The fact is, that the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was not really right-wing at all, at least not in heart and soul. They were just right of centre. And they were 100% Canadian. And in many ways, historically, they were not unlike the Liberal Party in terms of policy.*

That doesn't mean that there weren't fierce rivalries. They were like two football teams (I don't want to use hockey because Harper has done that to death) who battle each other for the prize, but at the end of the day, both teams are in the same league, and committed to the game.

And while they both went after the same prize, the team that won it, honoured it. Showed it off and protected it for the next winner, whether it be themselves or their opponents.

They didn't win it, then smash it, to make sure that no one else could have it. That's how I see the Reformers, whether calling themselves Social Credit, Reform, Alliance or Conservative. They are the party that wants to smash the trophy and terminate the league.

Uniting the Right Was Not About Vote-Splitting

The common belief was that the PCs and Reform-Alliance joined forces to avoid splitting the vote. Sounds good but completely false. That's the way it was sold when David Frum arranged a meeting between Jean Charest then head of the PCs, and Preston Manning, then head of Reform.
In terms of bridging the differences between the parties of Preston Manning and Jean Charest, the conference made little headway ... the chasm in terms of the egos and pride of the leaders; the different attitudes that the parties have towards populist initiatives; Reform's origins in western alienation, Social Credit, and religious fundamentalism; and the fact that Reform emerged in part as an angry protest against the policies of a Progressive Conservative government made a rapprochement unlikely. (1)
A later report by Laurence Putnam confirmed the divide.
The first misconception about the Reform movement is that it is a conservative party. The Reform party has all the characteristics of a Western populist party and very few marks of a conservative party. (2)
And as to the myth of avoiding vote-splitting. In the West, many of those who voted PC did not go to Reform. Most of Reform's gain was at the expense of the NDP, another party that started out as a Western protest movement. But many also went to the Liberals.
Since the 2000 election, unity activists in both the PC and Canadian Alliance parties have preached that the PC party lost a major part of its family when the Reform Party rose to prominence, however, this is not exactly true. The PC Party did not experience a mutiny, but rather with the decline of the PC Party in Western Canada, an opportunity was extended for a new crew, the Reform movement, to come to power. In fact, many members of the Reform Party elected in 1993 had never been Conservatives at all. Preston Manning had been a member of the federal Social Credit Party prior to incepting the Reform Party. MPs Diane blonczy, Deborah Grey and Val Meredith were never members of the PC Party ... As these members were not Tories throughout the 1980's and early 1990's when the Tories were at their most successful peak since Sir John A. Macdonald ... (2)
Promoters of unity between the PC and Canadian Alliance parties had argued that if there were either only a PC or CA candidate in your average Ontario riding, they would have beat the Liberals in 2000. But what about Etobicoke North? In 2000, no PC candidate ran in Etobicoke North, but a Canadian Alliance candidate did, and yet they gained only 3.9%, and the majority of the PC votes migrated to the Liberal candidate. This despite the fact that provincially, the identical riding was held by PC M.P.P. John Hastings.
This riding is one example that proves 1+1 doesn't necessarily equal 2 when it comes to defeating a Liberal incumbent in Ontario ridings. Another interesting Ontario result was found in the riding of Markham, where Jim Jones was elected as a Progressive Conservative in 1997. Mr. Jones crossed to the Alliance in the summer of 2000, but lost re-election just months later. Why was Mr. Jones electable to the people of Markham, Ontario, as a Tory, but unelectable as a Canadian Alliance M.P.? (2)
It's because the majority of the Canadian electorate are moderates. The same people who voted for Brian Mulroney later voted for Jean Chretien, illustrating that votes between the Liberals and the PC Party were always liquid, while votes cast for ideologically-driven parties, like Reform/Alliance and NDP**, came from a "base".

The Reform movement only became palpable to Canadians when they shed their wolf's clothing and started calling themselves "Conservative", or worse yet "Tories", cashing in on a century and a half tradition. And for awhile, they were able to fool some of the people some of the time. But unfortunately for them, as their policies became increasingly un-Canadian, their level of support has drifted back to their "base".

They have no hope of drawing votes from the NDP, except perhaps in the West, but they are also losing the votes of moderates ... aka: ordinary Canadians.

So now they have a problem. Instead of eliminating what they thought was their own competition, they have eliminated all competition for the centre, and all of the "liquid" votes are now flowing away from them.

They are a right-wing fringe party. Nothing more. They came, we saw, they scared the hell out of us, and now they must leave.

This brings us to Michael Ignatieff. I see him as the perfect leader to unite the centre. And if I wasn't convinced before, a column by the widow of the late PC president Dalton Camp, has me sold. Ignatieff is not "a bleeding heart Liberal" but will lead a party that will be fiscally responsible but socially aware.

His family has a long history in this country, and come from all political stripes. His G-Grandfather, George Munro Grant helped Sir John A. and Confederation, and later promoted his railway. His uncle George Parkin Grant was also a Conservative, and author of the popular Lament for a Nation, as reaction to the defeat of John Diefenbaker. His fear was that we would become too Americanized and too beholden to corporations, and while this book was reactionary, he would later suggest that he felt that Pierre Trudeau was on the right track. (3)

Michael's father George Ignatieff was a foreign secretary under Diefenbaker, Diplomat under Pearson, and even served as acting president of the United Nations General Assembly***. He was also a peace activist, who fought hard against nuclear weapons, earning him a reputation as a "Peacemonger." (4)

Another uncle was Vincent Massey.

And though Michael Ignatieff's political views are his own, they have been nurtured in the true Canadian tradition.

So while Johannes Wheeldon may ask "Can Iggy Find His Centre?" He didn't have to. He was already there. And as Wendy Camp says: "He has come home to us." And whispering in his ear, will be family voices from the past, making sure that he doesn't screw up what they helped to build.


*Stephen Harper referred to the PCs or "Red Tories" as "Pink Liberals".

**The NDP has since become more moderate and appealing, though some of their early followers feel that they had to sell out to do so. I like them and remember the greats like Tommy Douglas and Ed Broadbent, and the leader Jack Layton
used to be.

***Stephen Harper and the Reformers never trusted
the United Nations.


The Winds of Right-wing Change in Canadian Journalism, By David Taras (University of Calgary), Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 21, No 4, 1996

2. An Analysis On The Differences Between the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada & The Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance, by Laurence Putnam As prepared for the Fraser Institute, December 2002

3. Lament For a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism, By George P. Grant, McClelland & Stewart, 1970 edition with new introduction by author.

4. The Making of a Peacemonger: The Memoirs of George Ignatieff, By Sonja Sinclair, University of Toronto Press, ISBN: 0-8020-2556-0

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