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Ottawa Citizen, Friday, January 20, 2006

The beginning of the end
The Conservative party has demonstrated from its origins in 2003 that it can't be trusted

by David Orchard

Monday's election is important for several reasons. Long before the current campaign, the now front-running Conservative party revealed its fatal shortcomings on major issues facing Canada, as well as in its own ethical conduct. Canadians need to be reminded of these flaws before they vote on Jan. 23.

On the international stage, Mr. Harper would fold Canada tighter into the U.S. grip. He is prepared to negotiate Canada's entry into the U.S. missile-defence project. He would pull Canada from its Kyoto commitments and enter a "North American" agreement. Mr. Harper, his foreign-affairs critic, Stockwell Day, and his deputy leader, Peter MacKay, were vociferous in their support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. While the vast majority of Canadians – French- and English-speaking – are grateful to former prime minister Jean Chretien for keeping Canada out, Mr. Harper, Mr. Day and Mr. MacKay would have had Canada participating in the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, and Canadian women and men would today be coming home from Iraq in body bags.

On the domestic front, we may well have another Quebec referendum during the mandate of the next federal parliament.

Who then will rally and speak for the federalist forces at the national level? Who will speak for Canada? In 1980, Pierre Trudeau did; in 1995, it was Mr. Chretien. If Mr. Harper holds power after the election, who believes he will be able to inspire Quebecers to remain in Canada? His past writings attacking bilingualism as "the God that failed," his advocacy of a firewall around Alberta, and his lack of passion for and roots in French Canada are lethal obstacles to such an effort in Quebec.

Mr. Harper's view that "whether Canada ends up as one national government or two national governments or several national governments is ... secondary" is not one that can hold the nation together.

I believe there is only one party with the strength, will and history to hold our country together and that is the Liberal party.

And what is the position of this new Conservative party on aboriginal people, another key part of Canadian society? One of Mr. Harper's principal advisers is a man named Thomas Flanagan, who came here from the United States and has made a career of attacking the rights of aboriginal people. His book, First Nations? Second Thoughts, sneers at the very the idea of treaty rights. The Canadian Alliance position was for privatization of the native reserves, which means the outright assimilation of aboriginal people and their cultures.

Agriculture is a major Canadian industry. The Canadian Wheat Board is the world's largest marketer of wheat and barley and, although almost unknown to Canadians, the most prestigious marketing board in the world. It is Canada's greatest net earner of foreign currency and one of the few remaining defences for western grain farmers. (Most recently, it played a key role in preventing the damaging release of genetically modified wheat in our country.) The new Conservatives have repeatedly stated their intention to dismantle and destroy the powers of the Canadian Wheat Board. Without the Wheat Board, our grain industry will move, virtually overnight, into U.S. hands and we will see even more farmers driven off the land.

Mr. Harper and his colleagues, although campaigning as friends of the farmer, revealed their true colours when they blocked an all-party investigation into the exorbitant profits made by the giant U.S. meat packers at the expense of Canadian farmers during the BSE crisis.

The new Conservative party has run a campaign focused on ethics. For months Mr. Harper and Mr. MacKay have been talking loudly and sanctimoniously about honesty, integrity and trustworthiness in our public figures and promising to "clean up" Ottawa. Well, the ethics of Mr. Harper and Mr. MacKay are, unfortunately, something I happen to know about.

In the last leadership race of the Progressive Conservative party, in 2003, Mr. MacKay and I went into the convention with the two largest blocks of delegates. At the end of the day, Mr. MacKay sought my support. We negotiated an agreement, put it in writing and signed it. Point number one of our agreement was no merger or joint candidates with the Canadian Alliance. I and the majority of my delegates then delivered our part of the bargain – we voted for Mr. MacKay and made him leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

Afterwards, what did Peter MacKay do? Mr. Harper urged him to abandon his commitments to the membership of the PC Party and his agreement with me, and to merge the party into the Canadian Alliance. This the two men did – in a blatantly fraudulent manner. They arranged to stack the ratification vote of the PC party, whose members had steadfastly opposed merging with the Alliance – by allowing tens of thousands of Alliance members to join the PC party to overwhelm our existing membership and the voting process itself.

They then trumpeted a so-called 90-per-cent majority for the merger and destroyed the founding party of Canada, but not before stealing the party's colours, its reputation as a moderate centrist party, its history of achievement and half its name. These are the two men who would now lecture the rest of the political spectrum in Canada about ethics.

For all of these these reasons, I urge Canadians to look long and hard before buying the dangerous brew Mr. Harper is attempting to sell us on Jan. 23.


David Orchard ran for the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative Party in 1998 and 2003. He is the author of The Fight for Canada – Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism. E-mail: davidorchard@sasktel.net, Web site: http://www.davidorchard.com

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