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Globe and Mail, 23 June, 2003

Don't do it, Peter
There is no good reason for Tories to climb into bed with the Alliance

by Senator Lowell Murray

Stephen Harper called last week for an "electoral coalition" between the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties. If our party's leader, Peter MacKay, goes down this road -- and he seems tempted to explore it -- he will waste precious time and political capital. And he will find it's a dead end.

With a general election likely in 2004, we Tories need to be concentrating on policy, constituency organization, recruitment and fundraising.

Surely, enough energy has been squandered over the past 10 years trying to imagine what Mr. Harper's hybrid would look like: two parties divvying up the ridings each will contest in the next election. No argument of principle or policy has ever been advanced to justify it -- only the notion, disproved by almost all public-opinion research on the subject, that the two parties could somehow pool their voters and thus rid the country of the Liberal government.

This does not even deserve to be called opportunism. It's political fantasy. Call it the Anti-Liberal Coalition. Canadians may be fed up with the Chr*tien government, but they want something more substantial, credible and attractive than this hybrid as an alternative.

Co-operation among opposition parties in the House of Commons is a different matter. Progressive Conservatives and disaffected members of the Canadian Alliance tried to formalize their co-operation into an opposition coalition in 2001-02. We even came up with a common position on democratic and parliamentary reforms produced by a committee I co-chaired with Alliance MP Deborah Grey. Outside Parliament, however, the hybrid had no legs.

The fact is that the two parties are fundamentally different. That they are incompatible would soon become clear to Tory candidates trying to defend Alliance policies, and vice versa, in the unstable electoral cohabitation proposed by Mr. Harper and others.

Reform conservatism, which is what the Alliance practises, relies on people's fear of moral and economic decline combined with nostalgia for a Canada that no longer exists. It spoils all the good arguments for the market economy by making a religion of it, pretending there are market criteria and market solutions to all our social and political problems.

(Perhaps this explains the merger/acquisition mentality that Alliance Reformers bring to the discussion of the country's current -- and temporarily -- fractured politics.) Government is seen as a necessary evil, and a strong Canadian government as an unnecessary evil.

The Canadian Alliance draws on largely regional sentiments of alienation and disgruntlement.

Their protest vote may provide a solid and even perpetual base of support, but it is not enough to elect, much less sustain, a governing coalition. The continued wooing of the Progressive Conservative Party by Stephen Harper and company is proof enough that the Tories have something the Alliance wants, and desperately so: widespread support. How ironic that after all the fire and brimstone, all their vituperative and destructive rhetoric of the past decade, we have now come full circle.

Tories are more realistic and, yes, more compassionate.

We believe that government's job is to provide stability and security against the excesses of the market. Democratic politics must define the public interest and ensure it always prevails over mere private ambitions. To that extent, the forces of technology and globalization need to be tamed. And as former Conservative leader Joe Clark remarked recently, such deadly current phenomena as SARS and terrorism underline the need for stronger, not weaker, public institutions.

Working out our future trade and security arrangements with the United States needs a steadier hand than the gung-ho, neoconservative approach of the Canadian Alliance, or of the Liberals whose pathetic 1960s anti-American wing just won't go away and seems to require constant appeasement by the party's leadership. Tories need not be afraid of negotiating further economic integration in our national interest. The starting point for Canada, as our country's former ambassador to Washington, Derek Burney, told a U.S. audience recently, is to "fix what's not working well" in the present trade relationship. Our new leader's blue-ribbon panel to review the North American Free Trade Agreement, so scorned by Mr. Harper and the Canadian Alliance, should give us a road map in this direction.

The Liberals' leading candidate, Paul Martin, certainly employs the right rhetoric when he talks of this country's "democratic deficit," but the way he and his followers seized control of the Liberal Party, and their ruthless exercise of their new authority, are more revealing of what is in store for parliamentary institutions on his hopefully brief watch.

Canadian democracy will need John Diefenbaker-like vigilance from Tory leader Peter MacKay and his MPs.

The pressure of responding to all these policy challenges is an opportunity for Mr. MacKay to articulate a Progressive Conservative vision of Canada's future and to translate it into an electoral program that appeals to people not only across geographic but across social and economic boundaries as well.

That is his clear duty to party and country. Our young leader has the talent to renew this respected old party and soon put it back into contention for government. But he will need to stay focused, stay in the public eye and stay away from the feckless search for shortcuts in Mr. Harper's back rooms.

Lowell Murray is a Progressive Conservative senator.

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