Debates of the Senate (Hansard), Thursday, February 26, 2004
3rd Session, 37th Parliament,
Volume 141, Issue 17
The Honourable Dan Hays, Speaker,
Reasons for Sitting as Progressive Conservative
by Hon. Lowell Murray
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Atkins calling the attention of the Senate to the reasons for his decision to sit as a Progressive Conservative Senator.-(Honourable Senator Murray, P.C.).
Hon. Lowell Murray: Honourable senators, first, let me thank Senator Atkins for the speech with which he opened this debate on February 5, a speech resonant with the values and traditions of the Progressive Conservative Party. I thank him for having recalled what our party had meant to us and to many thousands of Canadians over a long period of time.
I have drawn essentially the same conclusions as my honourable friend has done from the events of the past few months in our former party and have come to the same decision. I will not join the new party of the united right and I shall continue to carry the designation Progressive Conservative as a senator, as I have done for going on to 25 years in this chamber.
I ask for your indulgence so that I may explain myself for the record.
First, I will say that the procedure that was used in the winding- up of the Progressive Conservative Party is both dishonourable and contemptuous of the very constitution of the party. In substance and policy, the Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party disagree and have always disagreed on the most fundamental issues, such as the role of the state in society and the nature of our country. The fact that they went through with such a merger without trying to resolve these differences seems to me absurd.
I shall speak first of process and then of policy. It must be noted that at two properly constituted national conventions, in Toronto in 1999 and Edmonton in 2002, the Progressive Conservative Party had resoundingly rejected merger or any electoral arrangement with another party. The process by which this policy was reversed last fall was sufficient in and of itself to alienate me definitively from the outcome and from the people who perpetrated it.
In June, shortly after the national convention in Toronto, our new leader, who during the leadership campaign had repeatedly declared his opposition to merger with another party, secretly appointed emissaries to conduct a process leading to just that result and to the dissolution of the party he had been elected to lead into the next election. He took that initiative without having consulted either the parliamentary caucus or the elected national executive of the party. We first heard of it when news leaked to the media on September 18.
As Senator Atkins said in his speech, the argument of the proponents from September 18 forward was "the train has left the station" and there could be no turning back. By October 15, a so- called "agreement in principle" had been arrived at with the emissaries of the Reform/Alliance. From that date, it was full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. The party's constitution was twisted and bent out of shape to achieve the purpose of the proponents. For them, the end justified the means.
A "virtual convention" by telephone link was held on December 6. A form of ratification of the fait accompli was agreed by more than 90 per cent. It was a coup, similar to what we have seen in some countries where the constitution is suspended and a new order ratified in a quick plebiscite. Thus was our former party, the party of Confederation, the party of Macdonald and Cartier, extinguished.
The merger of the Reform/Alliance and the Progressive Conservative parties purports to unify two parties whose core convictions were not only different but also fundamentally opposed and contradictory, one to another. The Reform/ Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives were fundamentally opposed in their respective views as to the role of politics and government and fundamentally opposed also with regard to the nature of this country.
To the Reform/Alliance, government is at best a necessary evil. To the extent that government is present in our lives, they believe market-economy criteria and market-economy solutions must be applied to social and political issues. In practice, this has led their party to advocate Darwinist and regressive policies on such national questions as the treatment of linguistic minorities, employment equity, the progressive tax system, employment insurance, human rights, regional development, equalization, multiculturalism and Aboriginal rights. Honourable senators can judge this for themselves by reading the policy resolutions, election platforms and interventions of Reform/Alliance MPs in the House of Commons.
Progressive Conservatives had always rejected this laissez-faire ideology. The market economy is a wonderful instrument in its proper domain. However, politics and government must address ends such as equity and justice, redistribution, social cohesion and national unity. We had demonstrated our commitment to these purposes throughout our history in office or in opposition, federally and provincially.
Whose approach will prevail in the new party of the united right, that of the Progressive Conservatives or that of the Reform/ Alliance? Two years ago, Stephen Harper gave us a penetrating glimpse into his party's social policy as well as its federal- provincial policy. "Providing for the poor," he said, "is a provincial, not a federal responsibility."
On the central issues of national unity - language rights, Quebec's place in Canada, the Constitution, equalization, regional development - either the former Progressive Conservatives in the new party will have to renounce their policy or the Reform/Alliance will have to abandon theirs. Whose policy will prevail?
The Reform Party, as we know, was founded with the aim of destroying the Progressive Conservative Party, which they have now achieved. However, one must acknowledge that there was a principled, substantive purpose behind this. That purpose was to reverse those very policies I have just mentioned, core policies that reflected our vision - a mainstream vision, if you like - of the country and to replace them with their own radically different concept of Canada.
I am incredulous that some former Progressive Conservatives would believe that these are matters of mere detail to be negotiated by reasonable people in the spirit of compromise or, as my friend Peter White implies in an article in The Globe and Mail recently, that the responsible people in the Reform/Alliance will be so easily separated from their principles.
Mr. Preston Manning, the founder of Reform, summed up their response to the historic mainstream policy in a few words. When you are asked to affirm the linguistic or cultural duality of Canada, he said, "they are asking you to affirm all the wrong things." Elsewhere, he referred to this as "the Plains of Abraham concept of Confederation" and allowed that it may have had some relevance in 1867 but has been overtaken by events.
As for Mr. Harper, he summed up his views on Quebec in his usual dogmatic style. "Quebec nationalism," he said, "can only be victorious or defeated. It cannot be accommodated."
From their inception as a political party, Reformers have advocated repeal of the Official Languages Act, reduction or cancellation of federal subsidies to provinces for second-language education, reductions in what they call "second-language broadcasting" by CBC and Radio-Canada, and other policies the effect of which would be a massive retreat from bilingualism by the federal government - and a total contradiction of the policy of the former Progressive Conservative Party.
The new party has issued a so-called "Areas of Agreement" statement affirming the principle of equality of status of English and French in all institutions of the Parliament and Government of Canada. This is an attempt to fudge the issue - and very thin fudge it is. It leaves untouched all the anti-bilingualism policies I have just mentioned and would also gut the new provisions of the Official Languages Act passed by Parliament in 1988 at the initiative of the Mulroney government.
Several weeks ago, Mr. Scott Reid, MP, was reappointed as the party's shadow cabinet critic and spokesman on official languages. Mr. Reid is an intelligent, articulate young man who represents the constituency of Lanark-Carleton, where I live. As his frequent parliamentary interventions on language matters attest, he completely rejects federal language policy as it has evolved over the past 35 years. Indeed, some years ago, he authored a book, Lament for a Notion, on the subject. Whose policy prevails, Progressive Conservative or Reform/Alliance? On language matters, Mr. Reid's appointment as spokesman answers that question.
The new party's "Areas of Agreement" document promises to "uphold the freedom of individuals and families to nurture aspects of culture that are important to them." How generous! It adds, however, that "institutionalized multiculturalism as a taxpayer-funded program has run its course." Say goodbye to the Mulroney government's Canadian Multiculturalism Act, the first such national legislation passed in any Western industrialized country.
On equalization, Reform's very first platform advocated a 10 per cent reduction as a deficit-fighting measure. With such a party in opposition, no wonder the Chrétien government got away with murder in fighting the deficit on the backs of the provinces.
Over the years, they have come to terms somewhat with equalization, although their support is hedged with qualifiers, including the condition that equalization must be the only federal- provincial redistributive mechanism. Say goodbye to such sectoral agreements as the New Brunswick highways initiative that Premier Lord and former Prime Minister Chrétien were celebrating a few months ago.
It is nothing short of astounding to me that the leading people in the Progressive Conservative Party would have abandoned a political tradition that was 150 years old, of which they were the trustees, and surrender to a party 15 years old without having overcome the fundamental contradictions between the two parties.
I invite honourable senators to read the areas of agreement of the new party. Look at their health care policy and wonder where they stand on the Canada Health Act. Reform/Alliance policy or Progressive Conservative?
Look at their policy on employment insurance. Note the tight, careful wording, and wonder what they have in store for fishermen and seasonal workers. Reform/Alliance policy or Progressive Conservative?
Look at their commitment to "an equal Senate" and wonder whether it is provincial equality or regional equality they are talking about. Listen to what some of them are saying.
If you believe it is the instinct of a Conservative in politics to try to preserve and promote respect for our national institutions, listen to them attacking the Governor General instead of the government which is responsible for her. Listen to John Williams, an MP since 1993, and chairman of a commons committee, referring to a judge of the Quebec superior court as "a Liberal hack." Listen to Tony Clement ventilating about the millions he will save by wielding an axe at CBC and Radio-Canada.
Listen and regret what has become of the Conservative tradition in Canadian politics. Senator Atkins expressed the hope that the new party would reflect the values and beliefs Progressive Conservatives hold so strongly. One shares his hope, but those values and beliefs are nowhere to be found in the policies of the new party, to date. The truth is that the new party seems neither progressive nor conservative in the Canadian tradition.
On motion of Senator Atkins, for Senator Spivak, debate adjourned.
Lowell Murray is Progressive Conservative Senator