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Kitchener-Waterloo-Record, September 26, 2003

Unite-the-right is all wrong

by William Christian

At the Progressive Conservative leadership convention, Peter McKay made a deal with David Orchard that does not appear to have borne much fruit. The PC constitution requires the party to run candidates in all of Canada s ridings and McKay promised that he would honour that requirement. Politicians lie much less than most people think but it disgusts me that McKay would toss aside so lightly a seriously promise so publicly given.

He tarnished his integrity to pursue the current talks with the leadership of the Canadian Alliance. The eighteenth century writer Samuel Johnson said that the prospect of being hanged concentrates a man s mind wonderfully. In this case the terror that led to the negotiations has an effortlessly bilingual name: Paul Martin

If McKay had not made his promise, the bargaining would hae been no shame. The composition of the Conservative Party has never been fixed in stone. No matter how good Paul Martin is, MacKenzie King was better. When the great Liberal leader governed this land, most of the time from 1921 to 1948, he drew support from the Maritimes, Quebec, and the West. John Diefenbaker liked to say that the only thing that protected a Conservative on Prairies was the game laws. The Conservatives were a small regional party from Ontario.

Diefenbaker changed all that. He brought the West into the Conservative party and, with the support of the Maritimes, established the PC party as a truly national organization. When Brian Mulroney added a Quebec element, he won two consecutive majority governments.

Mulroney s government was not a monolith. It consisted of tories from rural Ontario and the Maritimes, business-oriented conservatives from Toronto, moderate Quebec nationalists and western populists. Although there was very strong Western representation in Mulroney s cabinet, many westerners did not trust the economic and political power of central Canada. When Mulroney s government awarded an imported fighter maintenance contract to a Montreal company over a Winnipeg bid that was cheaper and technically superior, many Westerners felt that Ottawa had showed its true colours once again. Preston Manning founded the Reform party in 1987 and ran candidates in the 1988 election.

In 1993 the Progressive Conservative party fell apart. The failure was partly Kim Campbell s fault. She was smug, self- absorbed and technically incompetent, but there was probably no one who could have come close to hold the party together.

So the grand historic party that traced its roots to 1854 splintered. The Western populists joined with the Christian right as the Reform party. The Quebec nationalist went off on their French-speaking own as the Bloc Québécois. The Toronto business-oriented conservatives took their Lear jets to Ottawa to urge Paul Martin to exercise financial restraint and later supported his leadership campaign.

The PC party still existed after 1993 but it was strung out across the country. It consisted of people who had chosen not to join Reform. They did not like Reform. They did not like what Reform stood for. When Reform became the Canadian Alliance, it did not much appeal to them then either. When Alliance MPs told them, time after time, that the CA was the Official Opposition and the PCs were only the fifth party it drove a further wedge between them. When Alliance MPs taunted them that they were keeping the Liberals in power by retaining their separate identity, most PC supporters just hated the Alliance a little bit more.

There is no Right to Unite. Most polls show that current PC supporters prefer the Liberals to the Alliance. Break up the PC party and you hand Paul Martin an even bigger victory. Can he get more than 100% of the seats?

If Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, Stephen Harper and their friends had been so keen to keep the Liberals out of power, why did they leave the Progressive Conservative party in the first place? The only party in the history of Canada that has ever managed to keep the Liberal party out of power federally has been the Progressive Conservative Party.


William Christian is a political science professor at the University of Guelph and the author of several books on the Canadian Conservative and nationalist philosopher George Grant. He is a regular columnist for the Kitchener-Waterloo-Record.

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