Totonto Star, Tuesday, July 6, 2004
(Also published in the Regina Leader-Post, Edmonton Journal, Whitehorse Star, and Winnipeg Free Press)
Math didn't add up for the Tories
by David Orchard
The election is over and the great experiment of "uniting the right" has been put to the people.
Since 1997, the mantra has been that if only the Reform/Alliance and Progressive Conservatives would "get together" then "vote splitting on the right" would end. On the altar of this logic, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was sacrificed. It was regrettable to bring to an end Canada's oldest political party, but necessary. One party rule would end, democracy would be restored.
Those who raised their voices in defence of the only party that has ever defeated the Liberals, were treated to a chorus of boos. Could we not do the math? Once the Alliance and PCs were merged, the new party would receive the total of the two parties' votes. In fact, we were assured, one plus one would equal more than two. The new party would exceed the combined total of the two parties. When Joe Clark stood against the Reform drive in the late 1990s to take over the PC party, he was admonished by Preston Manning to "think big."
In 2003, from the helm of the Alliance, Stephen Harper told Progressive Conservatives they must choose between "a coalition with David Orchard or with real Conservatives."
To help them choose, the PC constitution was mangled and 20,000 Alliance members were allowed to join the PC party and then vote twice, i.e. in both parties, in a sham ratification process quickly trumpeted to the nation as a 90 per cent endorsement of the merger.
Peter MacKay's signed pledge not to merge with the Alliance and to honour the PC constitution, given in exchange for the leadership, was tossed to the wind. Never mind the constitutional and ethical niceties, politics is a blood sport, and besides the end was worth it. Liberal rule would be over.
From a position of great moral superiority, Harper and MacKay attacked the Liberals for their lack of ethics. Brian Mulroney warmly embraced Stephen Harper and told us the merger was a good thing. He gave Canadians his opinion that this election had the hallmarks of his 1984 sweep.
Stephen Harper announced that his new party was headed for a majority. The Liberals, he said on the eve of the election, were about to receive "the most humiliating defeat" in their history.
As the votes were being counted, Elmer MacKay proudly told the nation, "This long, trying election night wouldn't have happened without Peter MacKay," his son's work was about to "bear fruit for the Canadian political system."
Perhaps, in the cold light of dawn, it is worth examining this fruit.
In the 1997 election, the combined vote for the PCs and Reform was 38.2 per cent, 80 seats and 4,959,785 votes.
In the 2000 election the PC and Alliance total was 37.7 per cent, 78 seats and 4,843,927 votes.
In 2004, after destroying the PC party, removing it from the ballot and "uniting the right," the "Conservatives" received 29.6 per cent of the vote, 99 seats and 3,994,333 votes — a drop of 849,594, or 17.5 per cent, from the Alliance/PC vote in 2000.
In B.C. and New Brunswick the vote fell a whopping 32 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively, from the combined 2000 Alliance and PC vote; in Nova Scotia, 27 per cent (behind the NDP's showing); in Quebec 25 per cent; in Saskatchewan 22 per cent; Alberta 13 per cent; and in Ontario 6 per cent.
Thus, in an election of unprecedented opportunity for the new party — riding a wave of cash and all the advisers, strategists and pollsters money could buy, a major scandal handed to it on a platter by the Auditor-General, an incumbent government without visible moorings seeking a fourth mandate and no shortage of serious issues of discontent in the countryside — it hit the same wall as the Alliance and Reform before it.
Next morning from Calgary, Conservative party partisans complained bitterly about "eastern" voters. Some raised the tired refrain that Alberta "might have to separate." Party officials declared that voters had been "frightened" by Liberal advertising. In a party that prides itself on its business orientation, one would have thought that the customer is always right.
Now party leadership has announced that, for the first time, it is going to meet with its members, it is going to write a constitution after all and policy will actually be voted on by the grassroots. Those of us former PC members standing by the roadside clutching our new (unsolicited) membership cards we received during the election, are expected it seems, to step up and get with the program.
Perhaps if the unite-the-right chorus would finally pause to take a breath, those who resisted the destruction of the party that created Canada would be permitted a moment to speak.
All along we argued that one plus one would not equal two. We said the merger was the takeover of a moderate, mainstream party by the Canadian Reform-Alliance and would be seen as such. We pointed out that Canadians have never elected a party with a right-wing platform nationally, that only a broad, progressive party with roots in all regions of the country could defeat the Liberals, that any narrow, regionally based party or one demanding "western power," would not achieve majority support.
In the aftermath, rather than questioning the wisdom of the voters, perhaps one could ponder the possibility that Canadians watch their politicians, understand what they say and expect them to keep their word. It could also be that Canadians believe that the means matter as well as the end.
David Orchard ran for the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative party in 1998 and 2003. He farms at Borden, Sask.