Globe & Mail, March 14, 2001
PCs belong in the centre
by David Orchard
Joe Clark has stated clearly, and often, his opposition to any
merger or change of name of the party which he leads. In response,
prominent members of the Alliance have declared merger talks will
take place with or without Mr. Clark's support. Well meaning, but
naive, voices from within the PC party itself declare that "we must
do something." If only the votes weren't split on the right, then
perhaps the Liberals could be defeated, they repeat.
The problem is that the Conservative party and its supporters
are not now, and never have been, mainly of the right. The party's
past actions -- battling apartheid in South Africa, opposing the
death penalty, creation of the Bank of Canada, the CBC, the Canadian
Wheat Board, Canada's first unemployment insurance plan, nationalization
of Canadian National Railways, construction of the CPR and of course
confederation of Canada itself -- are a far cry from those generally
regarded as right wing.
Peter Lougheed, former premier of Alberta, in explaining why he
would not support a unite-the-right movement, said: "I've never
been on the right. I've been in the centre. I'm a Progressive Conservative.
And that's where I want to be and that's where the people are. Don't
get on the right, because the people aren't there."
A recently published study of Canadian voting patterns in 1997
election shows that Conservative voters are 3 1/2 times more likely
to turn left in their second choice as right. Forty-four per cent
of Conservative voters surveyed chose the Liberals as their second
choice, 20 per cent chose the NDP and only 18 per cent chose the
So any move to unite the right, while undoubtedly rescuing the
Reform/Alliance would end up undercutting the Conservative party's
own support and driving more voters to the Liberals, not less.
Since Confederation Canadians have repeatedly refused to elect
a party running to the right of the governing party.
John Diefenbaker won his major victories running to the left of
the Liberals, whom he condemned for the sellout of the TransCanada
pipeline to American interests. Diefenbaker was attacked as being
a "prairie Bolshevik" by some members of the same central-Canadian
establishment now attacking Clark. (R.B. Bennett was labelled a
"Tory of the Left," when he introduced some of the pivotal Canadian
institutions mentioned above.)
The idea that a few financiers on Bay Street can snap their fingers
and create a new party that will appeal to the voters ignores political
reality. The Liberals would love to have such an opponent to target
in the next election. John Diefenbaker ran against Bay Street --
and won 208 seats in 1958. When Pierre Trudeau stood for the leadership
of the Liberal party in 1968 he was, and continued to be, regarded
by some of that same establishment, including many Liberals, as
a raving radical, a communist. He was, however, elected four times
by Canadians, governed the country for roughly 15 years and was
named Canadian news maker of the century just over a year ago.
In the last election, far more eligible Canadians didn't vote
at all than voted for the Canadian Alliance. Does anyone believe
merging with the Alliance will attract disillusioned youth? Aboriginals?
New Canadians? Francophones?
Many more Canadians vote Liberal than Reform/Alliance -- and many
are swing voters without any real allegiance to the Liberal party.
They cannot be won over by merging the PCs and the Reform/Alliance;
they will be permanently repelled.
The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan has remained in power for
over 50 years for one simple reason -- lack of a credible mainstream
alternative. An alliance between the PCs and the Reform/Alliance
would ensure a similar result for the Liberal Party of Canada.
The choice before us is either permanent Liberal rule or a rejuvenated
mainstream Progressive Conservative party which steers well clear
of the Reform/Alliance. The Progressives came and went; so did Social
Credit; so will the Reform/Alliance. Instead of chasing fantasies
of quick power through backroom deals and dragging the PC party
through yet another divisive and exhausting consultation about joining
the Reform/Alliance, these hyperactive souls dreaming of a merger
would do well to reread Aesop's fable about the tortoise and the
The PC party faces a golden opportunity to rebuild itself, to
build on the excellent job Joe Clark and his caucus are doing in
the House and to reconnect with the Canadian public.
Marriage to the Reform/Alliance is a substitute for a vision of
the future and hardly the way to fire the imagination of Canadians.
It is time to stop looking backwards, stop spinning our wheels and
stop flirting with oblivion. There is a brave new world out there
with burning issues for those bold enough to respond. Let's seize
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
party leadership contest. He farms in Borden, SK and can be reached
at tel (306) 664-8443 or by e-mail at email@example.com