Globe and Mail, October 23, 2003
Tories: Block this deal before it's too late
by Lowell Murray
Progressive Conservatives who imagine they can make
moderate, centrist policy prevail in the proposed
new Conservative Party of Canada anytime soon are
dreaming in Technicolor. In reality, they will face
many years struggling with issues we resolved in our
P.C. caucus and party during the past 30 years.
It didn't have to be this way. Canadian Alliance and
Progressive Conservative MPs could have created joint
panels to try to find common ground on some of our
most divisive issues, such as social policy and bilingualism.
If they succeeded, the creation of a unified party
would be stamped with principle, integrity and political
As it is, the political kingmakers who bankrolled Tom
Long, Stockwell Day and Stephen Harper are attempting
to buy the Progressive Conservative Party, shut it
down, grab its remaining assets and goodwill, and
replace it with their own political party, whose role
in our Parliamentary system will be to ensure that
the pressure on a Paul Martin government comes from
the hard right.
So far, it's been easy pickings for them.
Just days after a leadership campaign in which he repeatedly
denied any intent to merge, and without consulting
either caucus colleagues or the party executive, Peter
MacKay secretly undertook to negotiate the dissolution
of the PC Party. Now, an agreement in principle, signed
by Mr. MacKay and Alliance Leader Stephen Harper,
comes as a fait accompli. The message is that there's
no turning back, no alternative; the Tory farm has
been sold and Dec. 12 is merely the closing day.
For the masters of merger and acquisition who orchestrated
this coup, democratic politics is not a contest of
ideas, or of alternative visions of Canada's future.
Rather, it's primarily a matter of money and organization.
The ethical standards involved are dodgy.
The agreement promises an interim Conservative Fund
Trust to retire party debts and fund "activities
related to the establishment and ratification of the
Conservative Party." The paymasters will have
to stuff their money into this and other political
trusts before Dec. 31 when a new federal law takes
effect, outlawing corporate political donations. This
is the real explanation for the big rush to create
and fund a new party that has no policy, no leader,
and no discernible body of support.
Following ratification, the affairs of the new party
are to be arranged by an Interim Joint Council, rather
like the Iraqi Governing Council, with equal membership
from both the PCs and CA. Party membership will be
open to "anyone who meets the criteria established
by the Interim Joint Council."
Policy will be guided by 19 "founding principles"
-- many of them so trite as to give motherhood a bad
name. Others are hackneyed pieties, such as "the
freedom of individual Canadians to enjoy the fruits
of their labour to the greatest possible extent."
The complex challenge facing social policy in an age
of economic globalization is covered off with a 1940s-style
recognition that "government must respond to
those who require assistance and compassion."
It's ludicrous to suggest that such banalities could
form the basis of a distinctive, vote-winning platform
in a national general election.
The authors of these principles did try to stake out
agreement in two key policy areas: health care and
bilingualism. The result of their attempt to square
the PC-CA circles on these issues indicates that PCs
face a bitter, uphill struggle to try to hang on to
our hard-won and long-held values and policies in
the proposed new party.
On health care (all Canadians should have reasonable
access to quality health care, regardless of their
ability to pay), the authors endorse only one of the
five principles of medicare. PCs, under then-opposition
leader Brian Mulroney, grappled with this issue in
early 1984 when Liberal health minister Monique Bégin
brought in the Canada Health Act. During nine years
in government, we never wavered in our full commitment
to health care. PCs beware: in the proposed new party,
we would be back fighting for fundamentals on health
care and much else.
On language policy, the authors adopted the most narrow,
minimalist approach available -- equality of English
and French in "all institutions of the Parliament
and Government of Canada." This offers much less
to linguistic minorities than the Mulroney government's
1988 Official Languages Act, which was opposed both
by some Quebec nationalists and some anglophone MPs.
It's also light years removed from the courageous
position taken by Mr. Mulroney as neophyte PC leader
in 1983, when the government of Pierre Trudeau laid
a trap for him on the issue of rights for Manitoba's
francophone minority. Mr. Mulroney not only brought
our caucus around to his more generous interpretation,
but also, in one of his finest hours, went to Winnipeg
to confront the opposition and argue his case in public
These were defining moments in the continuing task
of a great national party to come to grips with issues
of transcendent importance to Canada's future.
The P.C. National Management Committee meets this weekend.
With its authority usurped by Mr. MacKay in launching
the negotiation process, it is now expected to rubber-stamp
the outcome and recommend it to the party membership
for ratification. Under the circumstances, one would
think that as a matter of honour -- their own, as
well as the party's -- committee members would reject
Lowell Murray is a Progressive