David Orchard
Opposition to the PC-CA Merger
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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 credibility.

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 forums.

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 the deal.

Lowell Murray is a Progressive Conservative senator.

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