The Toronto Star, Mon 01 December 2003
All out of principle here
It is becoming clear the proposed merger deal between the PCs and the Alliance honours nothing but power for its own sake
by Jessie Chauhan
Much is said and written about the cynicism with which Canadians hold politicians, the political process and public institutions. The proposed merger of the Progressive Conservatives and the Alliance only contributes to this trend.
Since members and the caucus of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada learned via media leaks of secret merger negotiations between their leader Peter MacKay and Alliance leader Stephen Harper, the good old boy practitioners of cynicism have preached that promises are made to be broken.
The promise they refer to is MacKay's claim to Tories that he was "not the merger candidate" when he launched his bid for the leadership of the PC party — not just the deal he signed with David Orchard vowing not to merge in order to win that leadership.
As a now thirtysomething who had the privilege of working for the two leaders of the Progressive Conservative party pre-MacKay, I can say from experience that promises and deals in politics may come and go, but dishonour remains.
Supporters of the deal with Harper gush about the "agreement-in-principle" to merge. The only obvious principle behind the deal is opportunism.
In a recent issue of the Canadian Alliance electronic newsletter (renamed "Conservative Voice" from "Alliance Advocate," in early celebration of the proposed union of the PC party and the Canadian Alliance), Harper says this:
"Our new Conservative party does not start life with a blank page. It starts with the common philosophy the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives already share: Our common commitment to free enterprise, free trade and fiscal responsibility."
But that's not the problem.
Paul Martin's Liberals would argue they, too, share that philosophy. The problem is this: What else is on that not-so-blank page?
In the same newsletter, Harper cautions readers not to "fall for the spin" of critics of the proposed "civil union" (Harper's term for the merger). He would have Canadians bow to his spin, instead.
The fact is, no attempt has been made by MacKay or Harper to address key differences between the two parties on important economic and social issues like bilingualism, reproductive freedom for women, employment equity, and regional development.
On Nov. 20 on CBC Newsworld, spokespeople for MacKay and Harper gave themselves away when they stumbled over the position of the proposed Conservative party on the creation of a national health council.
Health care is clearly a priority for Canadians. Yet those who are madly spinning this merger as a "greater good" have not paused to catch their collective breaths and consider what their position will be on a key question related to healthcare accountability and delivery.
Supporters of the merger — political partisans and some members of the media — would paint as old-school and living in the past anyone who questions MacKay's latest deal, arguing Harper and MacKay are about the future.
But there is nothing modern or forward-looking about a party run by social conservatives who want to refight a 30-year-old battle on capital punishment and would deny Canada's diversity and linguistic duality are an economic advantage in the world.
It could be said that Canada's social conservatives are preaching a politics of the 1950s.
Anybody who has understood what the Progressive Conservative party has truly stood for will understand that Canada is a radically different country today from what it was in 1957.
And amen to that.
Electoral success for any national political alternative to the Liberals does not lie in moving to the extreme right, but in addressing the values and priorities of mainstream Canada.
This is where most Canadians live, whether the Republicans of the North like it or not.
Research has repeatedly shown the Alliance to be out of touch with core supporters of the Progressive Conservative party as well as the majority of Canadians.
From health care to same-sex marriage, supporters of the lip-service political union continue to duck, weave and run from the differences that led Preston Manning and Harper to create the regionally-based Reform party/Canadian Alliance in the first place.
With each passing day, it is clear the merger deal honours nothing but political power without principle. Its only purpose is power for its own sake.
Its proponents use words like principle, good faith and nation building. But they have only a passing acquaintance with the meaning of these words and less with their practise.
In a recent fundraising speech in Toronto, MacKay said he believes "time is the ally of leaders who placed the defence of principle ahead of the pursuit of popularity."
People of principle are recognized as such; they need not spin so on their own behalf.
No doubt Canadian voters will remind us all of that when Harper completes his takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.
Jessie Chauhan was policy adviser and legislative assistant to Progressive Conservative leaders Jean Charest and Joe Clark.