David Orchard
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Toronto Star, June 29, 1998 (The day David Orchard launched his campaign for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party)

Conservatives can win if they only remember their history

by David Orchard

In the current debate about the Conservative party's future virtually the only question being asked is how far right the party should move. The party's history is being ignored as is any serious analysis of it's past success and recent failure.

John A. Macdonald created the Conservative party. Facing threat of invasion from the U.S., the "pilot of Confederation" brought together Canadian provinces which had existed separately for two-and-a-half centuries before 1867.

In the next four tumultuous years, Macdonald cemented Confederation and expanded it continent wide.

The Liberals fought against the terms of B.C.'s entry to Canada; a railway was "too expensive" for the fledgling union, they said, "all the resources in the British Empire" could not build such a line and even if it could, what would it carry -- "buffaloes and Indians?"

Macdonald, his eye on U.S. attempts to annex Manitoba, then B.C., drove the railroad through in half the promised ten years time. He defeated his American adversaries and gave Canada the foundation for greatness. The Liberals wanted American help to build an easier, cheaper line south of the Great Lakes, through the U.S. "Never," replied George Cartier, Macdonald's French-Canadian co-leader, "will a damned American company have control of the Pacific." Under Macdonald, four million Canadians built one of the world's largest railway systems, all Canadian.

Against the Liberals' support of "provincial rights," Macdonald steadfastly insisted on a strong central government and economic nationalism -- to secure Canada's independence. "Canada for Canadians" was his slogan. In the 1880s the Liberals called for free trade or commercial union with the U.S. Free trade, Macdonald replied, was the prelude to annexation: "They have as many aliases for their policy as a thief has excuses for his wrong doing," he thundered. "It has been commercial union, unrestricted reciprocity and latterly tariff reform: but there is another name by which it must be known, and that is annexation -- which is treason."

In the 1891 election, the old Chieftain, 76, gave his all to defeat free trade. That victory, which cost his life, caused the Liberals to drop free trade and adopt completely Macdonald's National Policy, and Canada entered its years of greatest prosperity.

In 1911, the Liberals again proposed free trade with the U.S. The Conservatives forced an election and fought. Robert Borden called free trade "the most momentous question ever submitted to the Canadian electorate." Laurier was calling for a greater Canada, Borden noted, but it seemed to be a greater United States that the Liberals had achieved. The voters swept Borden to office in triumph.

Borden's successor, Arthur Meighen, advocated strong protection against the Americans; "Not a single country in the world requires a tariff so vitally as does this Dominion -- competing as we do chiefly with the United States..."

In 1932, R. B. Bennett's Conservatives created the forerunner of the CBC, now one of the world's major public broadcasters, the Bank of Canada and the Canadian Wheat Board, the world's most powerful and prestigious marketing board. Bennett declared, "to my mind reform means government intervention. It means government control and regulation. It means the end of laissez-faire.... If you want no changes in the capitalist system declare for the Liberals."

John Diefenbaker refused to support U.S. bullying of Cuba. In 1963, standing almost alone against the American government, he also refused to accept Bomarc nuclear missiles. "We are a power, not a puppet.... I want Canada to be in control of Canadian soil. Now if that's an offence I want the people of Canada to say so." Newsweek magazine launched a cover story attack calling Diefenbaker a "sick and maniacal" character uttering "shrill cries of anti-Americanism." Constitutionally Diefenbaker resisted the premiers' demands for more power; "provincial nabobs" he called them.

In 1983, control of the Conservative party was seized by the president of an American mining corporation. Turning the party against its historical roots, Brian Mulroney signed a sweeping continental integration agreement and attempted to weaken the central government.

The party's reward was annihilation at the polls in 1993.

Those advocating further Americanization of the party, as David Frum, the darling of Wall Street, and his friends are currently doing, will ensure the party's demise.

The hope for the Conservative party, and for the country, lies in realizing that Brian Mulroney's policies were an aberration and correcting them. This means a return to the historic and successful Conservative position of fostering a Canadian economy, Canadian independence and a Canadian spirit. This means reversing the unmandated (NA)FTA. Mulroney rammed the FTA through Parliament by the unprecedented use of closure, even though it was opposed in 1988 by the largest majority in any free trade election in Canadian history. His NAFTA was ratified by the Liberals after their express 1993 electoral commitment to "renegotiate or abrogate" it.

The Chretien Liberals' greatest fervour to date has been in cutting and slashing the Canada which already exists, while extending and promoting the promoting the FTA, which they, in opposition, called "the Sale of Canada Act."

The Liberals, however, cannot be defeated by trying to out-Reform, out-Mulroney, or out-Gingrich them. They can be defeated by outflanking them, not on the right, but on the centre left, ground which the Liberals have fatally abandoned in their pellmell rush to embrace Mulroney's agenda -- so thoroughly rejected by the voters.

This is not a task for Jean Charest, who supported Mulroney's continentalism, even less can it be achieved by the new Republicans and Reformers gathered at the Conservative party's sickbed. It can only come from new leadership which understands the lessons of history and is prepared to act with Macdonald's courage to reclaim Canada for Canadians.

David Orchard is the author of The Fight for Canada - Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism and was runner-up to Joe Clark in the 1998 federal Progressive Conservative leadership contest. He farms in Borden, SK and can be reached at tel (306) 664-8443 or by e-mail at davidorchard@sasktel.net

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