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Winnipeg Free Press, 21 October, 2003

One plus one does not make two

by Frances Russell

"The Conservative Party of Canada will combine the institutional history and expertise of the PC Party with the grassroots democracy and energy of the Canadian Alliance," Progressive Conservative Party Leader Peter MacKay proclaimed at his news conference with Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper last week.

Now, that would be a party that would offer a real alternative to the Liberals. But what is far more likely is that the new "united right" will be just the opposite, exhibiting the institutional history and expertise of the Canadian Alliance and the grassroots democracy and energy of the PC Party.

Canadians will see it for what it is, an unethical, illegal, unconstitutional -- and clearly desperate -- gambit by Brian Mulroney, Belinda Stronach, Toronto's Bay Street and Calgary's Oil Patch to try to force Canadians into a narrow, far-right social and economic ideology for which they repeatedly and emphatically say they have no taste.

The unscrupulousness and gall are staggering. Mr. MacKay launched the secret merger talks within days of winning the federal Tory leadership by signing an agreement with rival David Orchard. In it, he pledged not to merge with the Canadian Alliance and to uphold the 90 per cent-plus vote of PC delegates at the party's 2002 convention to run candidates in every riding in the next federal election.

To get its way, a tiny elite is unabashedly determined to rip up the PC Party constitution. And not just on any ordinary matter. To kill it.

Amendments to the PC constitution require a two-thirds vote at a convention of delegates elected by every riding association. The party brass is preparing to allow a one-member, one-vote system to decide whether the party of Canadian Confederation should be consigned to history's scrap heap. Worse, in a barely-concealed plot to ensure its own membership is swamped, this brass is refusing to cut off membership sales to facilitate the party's effective takeover by the Canadian Alliance.

Nor is it just the Tories that have trashed their principles. Preston Manning's Reform Party was supposedly about introducing genuine grassroots, bottom-up democracy to Canada's political culture. Now its successor, the Alliance, has swallowed old-style brokerage politics' entire smorgasbord of unaccountable bigwigs, secret deals, stinky tradeoffs and smelly, smoke-filled backrooms in one gulp without even so much as a polite burp.

Then this fearless foe of Canada's "democratic deficit" will blithely go on to allow the new party's constitution and policy to be drafted by a small, hand-picked committee with no pre-election accountability to its membership.

Far from being frightened, the Liberals must be beside themselves with glee. The new Conservative Party will certainly end vote-splitting. All those not part of the loony right or the filthy rich will flock to the only slightly centrist option still standing.

The ancient but venerable vote-splitting dog never did hunt anyway. Certainly, the idea that you can add Tory and Alliance votes together and get the sum of the support for the Conservative Party is fallacious, as innumerable polls over the last decade have consistently demonstrated. Not only will one and one not make two, what is more likely is that they will add up to minus one: the vast majority of current Tory voters, based as they are in Atlantic Canada, urban Canada and Ontario, will simply move en masse to the Liberals. Just as the last attempt to unite Canada's Tories with Reform produced this country's version of U.S. Republicans, the Conservative Party will amount to nothing more than the Canadian Alliance in drag.

As if intent on making that a certainty, not just a probability, it appears the entire defeated and discredited gang from Ontario's Common Sense Revolution intends to metamorphose into the new party's Ontario wing. Former premier Mike Harris is the clear front-runner to be leader and will be joined on the hustings by a swath of recently defeated provincial ministers. Recall that the last provincial Tory budget before this month's Liberal landslide was unveiled in Belinda Stronach's daddy's boardroom at Magna International -- another clearly illegal and unconstitutional gambit. But, hey, who's counting?

It's puzzling to know how much further right Canada needs to go than it has already travelled under the Liberals. Our social safety net is gutted, more and fatter tax cuts to corporations and the rich plus greater assaults on government are promised by Paul Martin, the gap between rich and poor is steadily widening and the number of homeless people on the streets of every city is burgeoning.

What Canada needs isn't a united right. It needs re-engagement at the centre. After all, that's where the values of Canadians are. And this is still -- nominally -- a democracy. Isn't it?


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