Toronto Star, November 15, 1998
Conservatives should have principles
by Dalton Camp
The backside of the membership application form printed by the Progressive
Conservative party for its leadership vote bears the following inspiring
"For the first time in the history of our country, a political party is
inviting all Canadians to have a say in the selection of its next leader... Join
now and participate in this groundbreaking process."
On the face of the application, the new member is asked to affix his
signature to the document which also proclaims: "I support the aims and
principles of the PC Party of Canada."
Tens of thousands must have signed on as PC party members without having the
faintest idea of the "aims and principles" of the PC Party. Does anyone? Does
No, it is not free trade. On that subject, there are three opinions at least,
among Tories: some, like Clark, think it essential to the Canadian economy;
others think it a sell-out of Canadian interests; still others don't believe it
matters much, one way or another. Tories, in that regard, are no different than
Liberals. Clark, like the present Prime Minister, was once opposed to North
American free trade; now they are both champions of it.
But we are talking aims and principles here. The aim of the Tory party ought
to be victory. Failing that, it should be respectability, without which there
will never be victory. But as to the rest, the party must remain principled,
whatever else, and nurture and champion a spirit of democracy and abhor and
oppose violations against it. This is not hope for perfection but to warn
against indifference, sheer ethical laziness and moral sloth.
This recent exercise in direct democracy has offended many Tories -- even a
few I know in Ottawa -- not because of the flawed process and the corruption,
but because the party's officials and leaders have tried to run and hide from
the evidence, pretend it is "insignificant," and to hope it will go away. This
is a style of crisis management whose first strategy is denial and the other is
to deny responsibility.
In the Quebec riding of Longueil, 18 advance poll ballots were "accidentally
thrown into the garbage by the deputy returning officer's father," according to
a party spokesperson. Tough luck. As for David Orchard's 42 missing votes in the
first round in the Red Deer poll, we have it from a former Mulroney cabinet
minister in Alberta that the number was "insignificant." By a remarkable
coincidence, the party's national director said the same thing. But the
uncounted votes would have won the poll for Orchard over Clark.
Pity the party leadership; they have no idea what to do with or about
Orchard. When he first indicated he might run, you may recall, another
ex-minister in Mulroney's cabinet told the world that orchard "won't get a vote
in Saskatchewan;" he won the province in the first round. Clark, in a display of
dazzling arrogance, told viewers of Pamela Wallin Live he didn't care "what
Orchard did" after the leadership race, but wanted to "keep some of his
supporters." Frank Stronach, perhaps.
Since Orchard could not be marginalized, the next effort by the party's
leadership was to pick up Clark's line that Orchard was a "tourist" in the party
and would not stay a day longer than his "15 minutes" fame earned by his running
for the leadership. This banality had a deeper meaning: in the riding of
Matapédia-Matane, the voter turnout was 101 per cent -- 114 eligible voters and
177 votes cast. Ninety-five per cent of all votes were for Hugh Segal.
In all cases, every phone number given for those who produced membership
certificates proved to be false. Is Clark saying these mysterious Segal
supporters were real Tories -- or were they real "tourists"?
Of course, Orchard got it wrong. the party was indeed open for all to vote
for the new leader, but certainly not for just anyone to run. the managers of
this human comedy never envisioned a David Orchard when he appeared as a
candidate, and was not a Peter Pocklington (greeted with open arms at the
Mulroney convention), and was too bright for the media, and too well informed to
intimidate in debate. The Tory upper crust lost its cool and its class.
It has been, meanwhile, a delight to read the corporate media. The day the
voting improprieties surfaced in print, the new National Post carried the story
on its front page. The old Globe, drawing its skirts about its ankles, ignored
the story and printed its own version of reality, reporting that Orchard's
organization was made up of Green Party supporters.
The Clark people put out the line that after Orchard lost the leadership
contest, he would disappear. The irony of this is that Clark has said exactly
the same thing about himself. Orchard has not said that, but if he heard Clark
telling Wallin of his huge indifference towards Orchard's political future, he
would have less reason to stay around.
At the end of the day, the mantra was that Orchard was not a conservative,
this accusation repeated by many who know more about transcendentalism that
about conservatism. And they also know much more about relativism. A
conservative is what they say a conservative is -- a conservative is, well, a
Peter White, or a Gerry St. Germain, or that caucus of castrated conservatives
at Queen's Park -- part Tory, part federal Reform, part eunuch. A conservative
is also Joe Clark, but not David Orchard. Joe Clark says so.