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Toronto Star, Sunday, March 27, 2005

Linda McQuaig says Tories are still same sheep in different clothing

By Linda McQuaig

The romance between Peter MacKay and Belinda Stronach is undoubtedly the hottest dating story to hit Ottawa since Art Eggleton resigned as defence minister after awarding an untendered contract to an old girlfriend.

Certainly the handsome couple presented a more fetching image for the Conservative party at its founding convention last week than did veteran MP Elsie Wayne, who did her best to keep alive the party's image as the home of screaming, anti-abortion extremists.

If media reaction is any guide, the party succeeded in casting itself as moderate and open — even while endorsing a platform sharply at odds with what Canadians consistently tell pollsters they want.

Commentators assume that Canadians fear the right only on so-called moral issues, such as abortion and gay marriage.

But on other key issues as well, Conservatives differ significantly from most Canadians. For instance, they favour tax cuts over social investment, they reject a national child-care program, they want less power for the federal government and more private health care, reject Kyoto and want Ottawa to join Washington's missile defence scheme.

Some of these positions are even at odds with traditional conservatism, which favoured progressive taxation and a strong federal government to protect what used to be called the Common Good.

Traditional conservatism was blown out of the water by a new, mean-spirited conservatism, championed by Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and most nakedly by George W. Bush, which is largely about further enriching the rich.

Cutting taxes ever lower, particularly for the rich, the new conservatism leaves government without resources to do much beyond maintaining a big military.

This conservatism found considerable resonance among members of the Canadian Alliance party, which merged in 2003 with the Progressive Conservative party.

Despite media hype about the new merged party being more open and tolerant than expected, in fact the party is closed to progressive ideas that most Canadians value and that even traditional Tories endorsed.

One indication is the party's decision to boot out David Orchard, even though Orchard recruited thousands of new party members during the 2003 Conservative leadership race and came into that convention with the second largest slate of delegates.

Orchard, a fourth-generation Saskatchewan farmer, vehemently opposed the PC-Alliance merger, fearing it would strengthen the new, nasty strain of conservatism.

He called for a return to progressive conservatism, protection of the environment and a revival of the nation-building of traditional Conservatives like Sir John A. Macdonald.

But the new party — now being praised for its moderation and openness — decided it has no room for Orchard, even refunding his $500 convention registration fee two days before the event.

Apparently Orchard was considered such a threat that he wasn't even allowed to attend as an observer.

The Conservatives may have a glitzy new first couple, but as long as they remain closed to ideas held dear by mainstream Canadians and even traditional Tories, their party isn't yet ready to govern — even for 15 minutes.

Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based author and commentator.

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