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
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
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
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