David Orchard
Media Coverage
  Contacts Schedule What You Can Do ! Home Français

Toronto Star (Metro), Sunday, June 15th, 2003

Davis scores one for Red Tories

by Linda McQuaig

I have long assumed that the unite-the-right movement was pretty much finished in Canada - ever since its leading advocate and spiritual leader, David Frum, took a high-level job in the Bush administration.

Some political movements would find it awkward, if not downright embarrassing, to have their spiritual leader in the pay of a foreign government. Not, apparently, the unite-the-righters, many of whom seem like they'd be more at home in U.S. Republican circles- which helps explain why they often appear to be ducks out of water here in Canada.

Still, the movement apparently clings to the notion that Canadians are yearning for a united right, and that only a series of blunders by leaders of the Canadian Alliance and the Conservative party keep this dream marriage from being consummated.

Hence, the recent furor when Peter MacKay won the Conservative leadership through a late-night deal with rival David Orchard whose agenda, among other things, is to thwart a Tory-Alliance wedding.

But pundits upset by the failed conservative romance would be better to stop blaming treachery in convention backrooms, and deal with more obvious obstacles. They could start by checking out the impassioned defence of public education delivered earlier this month by former Conservative premier Bill Davis.

Even as the fur flew over MacKay's alleged treachery, the long-serving Davis unleashed a thinly-veiled attack on the Tories now running Ontario for their abuse of the province's education system and its teachers. Public education is a touchstone for traditional Tories like Davis, who have almost nothing in common with Frum-style rightwingers. Their basic incompatibility would barely get them through the first loveless nights of the honeymoon.

Canada's Progressive Conservative party was, not surprisingly, influenced by the Progressive movement, whose ideas infiltrated all the major North American political parties in the early 20th century.

Originally a U.S.-based challenge to the oligarchic power of the ultra-wealthy elite of the late 19th century, the Progressives came up with a novel concept - government shouldn't just serve the rich, it should serve the broader community.

Through their influence in both the Democratic and Republican parties, Progressives achieved significant reforms- forcing governments to break up monopolistic trusts, impose progressive taxation, set up public education and publicly-owned utilities and regulate the purity of water, food and medicine. Sounds basic, but it's all under attack today, as spending cuts leave governments unable to properly regulate much of anything - as Walkerton residents discovered.

Although Progressive ideas were mostly accepted across the political spectrum right through the Eisenhower era of the 1950s, all that changed on the right with the emergence of an aggressive slash-and-grab Republicanism, which furiously attacked the concept of government and the broader public interest.

Its ultimate expression is the Bush administration, whose deep tax cuts, aimed almost exclusively at the ultra-rich, will leave future governments so fiscally strapped they'll be unable to provide even the most basic public services.

The staid Financial Times of London recently suggested this is a deliberate strategy by "more extreme Republicans" to cut what's left of U.S. social programs, without having to actually propose such unpopular cuts to the electorate. Noted the Times: "A fiscal crisis offers the tantalizing prospect of forcing such cuts through the back door."

If the Bush presidency resembles anything, it's that of William McKinley, who occupied the White House in the late 1890s at the height of the era of unchecked corporate power. Bush strategist Karl Rove has been likened to McKinley strategist Mark Hanna, who believed government should be run by, and for, big business.

In Canada, the Progressive movement fit particularly well with Canada's Red Tory tradition, with its focus on good government, social justice and nationalism, long associated with names like Donald Creighton, George Grant, Robert Stanfield, David Crombie and Dalton Camp. I'd add David Orchard- source of the current hand-wringing in unite-the-right circles.

Of course, the plundering conservatism of the Republican right has made inroads here too, particularly at the provincial level. Polls suggest its appeal may be waning in Ontario; we'll find out when Premier Ernie Eves gets up the nerve to call an election. But there's little prospect for future growth at the federal level, perhaps because Canadians look to Ottawa to set the tone for the country, to uphold and reinforce certain values. All that mean-spirited plundering doesn't fit with our concept of Canada.

The revitalized NDP may well score some gains. Otherwise, Canadians can expect many more years of unchallenged one-party Liberal rule. It's not Orchard, but Frum and his Republican-style wrecking crew, that has Paul Martin smiling.

Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based author and political commentator. Her Column appears every Sunday

Back Top