Globe and Mail, Monday, June 14, 2004
online edition, in slightly edited version as "Why I won't vote Conservative"
A graveyard for our dreams: why I'm not voting Conservative
by David Orchard
The "new Conservative party" under Stephen Harper declares itself a moderate alternative to the Liberals, ready to govern Canada.
In reality, the party has never had a convention or meeting of its members. It has no constitution. Policies are set with no control by, direction from, or accountability to a membership — whoever those members may be. (The party is mailing out unsolicited membership cards informing surprised recipients they are party members. Mine arrived last week.)
The "new" party is the old Reform-Alliance which took over the Progressive Conservative party, its colours and half its name. The word "progressive" was purged (along with its progressive wing). As Stephen Harper explained last June: "We may not have some of the old conservatives, red Tories like the David Orchards or the Joe Clarks. This is not all bad. A more coherent coalition can take strong positions it wouldn’t otherwise be able to take — as the Alliance alone was able to do during the Iraq war."
To accomplish the takeover, the Progressive Conservative constitution was trampled. Roughly 20,000 Alliance members were allowed to join, in Trojan horse fashion, increasing the PC membership by 50%. These Alliance members then voted twice — in both the PC and Alliance ratification votes — producing the farcical figure of over 90% support for the takeover/merger. Senator Lowell Murray described the takeover of the PC party as a "coup, similar to what we have seen in some countries where the constitution is suspended and a new order ratified in a quick plebiscite."
Now Mr. Harper’s party has set up a Truth Squad to challenge Liberal lies, headed by none other than Peter MacKay, the man who infamously broke his word — including that given in writing to win the leadership of his party — not to merge with the Alliance, and who now refuses to reveal the source of the large donation he subsequently received to erase his campaign debts.
This is the party that attacks the Liberals for lacking ethics and accountability! A vote for it will legitimize the actions of the clique, accountable to no one except their unseen backers (the most visible being Brian Mulroney) which destroyed the party that created Canada and which now openly spurns the most basic elements of democracy. As Mr. Harper has charmingly admitted, policy for the new Conservatives will be essentially what he says it is.
For years Mr. Harper headed the National Citizens Coalition (NCC) — whose motto is "More freedom through less government." Speaking to the NCC in 1994 as a Reform MP, Harper boasted: "What has happened in the past five years? Let me start with the positive side. Universality has been severely reduced: it is virtually dead as a concept in most areas of public policy. The family allowance programme has been eliminated and unemployment insurance has been seriously cut back... These achievements are due in part to the Reform Party of Canada and... the National Citizens' Coalition."
As Alliance leader in Parliament, Stephen Harper set out his views on health care: "Several provinces are involved in pushing for alternative private delivery, even on a profit basis. This is a natural development. In a properly functioning system, profit is the reward that businesses obtain for making substantial, long-term capital investments... The federal government must support this initiative."
The Canadian Wheat Board, established in 1935 by Conservative prime minister R.B. Bennett, has in spite of fierce U.S. opposition become Canada’s largest net earner of foreign currency. It has played a crucial role in keeping the grain industry in Canadian hands and provides one of the few defences left for western farmers. Harper and his colleagues, cooperating fully with the U.S. grain industry, call repeatedly for its destruction.
Mr. Harper has promised to scrap Canada’s commitment to Kyoto, joining the U.S. in its opposition to the only international agreement to reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions. He plans to privatize major parts of the CBC and gut the nation’s broadcast regulator, the CRTC, opening the broadcast industry to foreign takeover.
And there is more: since coming from the U.S. Tom Flanagan, a key founder of the Reform Party and now Mr. Harper’s chief advisor and the party’s campaign manager, has made his career attacking Aboriginal people. The Alliance platform called explicitly for the privatization of the reserve system and the deliberate assimilation of Native people. In his book First Nations? Second Thoughts Flanagan writes: "European civilization was several thousand years more advanced than the aboriginal cultures of North America." He sneeringly dismisses Aboriginal treaty rights: "Sovereignty is an attribute of statehood, and aboriginal peoples in Canada had not arrived at the state level of political organization prior to contact with Europeans." With Flanagan’s man in power Aboriginals are offered one choice: to cease to be a distinct people with fundamental rights.
On June 29 a minority Conservative government can expect Bloc support — for a price. Both parties agree on dismantling the central government and national institutions in favour of greater provincial powers. As constitutional affairs critic for the Reform Party in the lead up to the 1995 Quebec referendum, Mr. Harper stated: "Whether Canada ends up with one national government, or some other kind of arrangement is, quite frankly, secondary in my opinion." His essay in 2001 defending Alliance MP Jim Pankiw’s private member’s bill to emasculate the Official Languages Act, "Bilingualism — the God that failed," is equally revealing.
Bloc MP Yves Rocheleau prefers a Conservative victory, he said, because it would "demonstrate what René Levesque called 'the impossible Canada.' Canada is a madhouse. It’s a country that cannot be administered."
A unilingual French speaking Quebec, a unilingual English speaking rest of Canada and no need for the twain to meet; this is the meeting ground for the Bloc and the Conservatives and a graveyard for the dreams of all who have fought for a tolerant bilingual nation stronger for our efforts to learn from, and be protective of, the other’s culture and language.
During the U.S. war on Iraq Stephen Harper and Stockwell Day repeatedly and vociferously advocated Canadian participation, including attacking the Canadian government in the Wall Street Journal:
"Today the world is at war. A coalition of countries under the leadership of the U.K. and the U.S. is leading a military intervention to disarm Saddam Hussein. Yet, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has left Canada outside this multilateral coalition of nations.
This is a serious mistake... The Canadian Alliance — the official opposition in Parliament — supports the American and British position...
Make no mistake... the Canadian Alliance won't be neutral. In our hearts and minds we will be with our allies and friends...
But we will not be with the Canadian government."
(March 28, 2003)
Only in Quebec with its "pacifist tradition," Mr. Harper alleged, were most people opposed to the war. Peter MacKay, now Harper’s deputy leader, excoriated Mr. Chrétien for being weak and vacillating, even cowardly, in refusing to join that illegal invasion. Today, apparently hoping Canadians and the media have lost their memories, Harper and Day try to deny their words.
For those who want to protect Canada’s culture, its environment, its institutions and its sovereignty, Mr. Harper and his inner circle have nothing but words of contempt as they work to dismantle our nation. They march to a different drummer, to the beat of Mr. Mulroney and Mr. Bush, pledging allegiance to a foreign flag.
David Orchard is the author of The Fight for Canada - Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism, and ran for the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative Party in 1998 and 2003. He farms at Borden, SK and can be reached at tel (306) 652-7095, E-mail: email@example.com