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Debates of the Senate (Hansard), Thursday, February 5, 2004
3rd Session, 37th Parliament,
Volume 141, Issue 4
The Honourable Dan Hays, Speaker

Reasons for Sitting as Progressive Conservative

by Hon. Norman Atkins

Hon. Norman K. Atkins rose pursuant to notice of February 3, 2004:

That he will call the attention of the Senate to the reasons for his decision to sit as a Progressive Conservative Senator.

He said: Honourable senators, I shall try to be brief. I do not put down this inquiry on the Order Paper lightly. I wanted an opportunity to speak about my decision to continue to sit as a Progressive Conservative senator, to speak about how my views evolved and the people who most influenced them, and then to put on the record in this place the thinking that led me to my decision, while most of my Senate colleagues declared themselves to represent the Conservative Party of Canada.

I want to set out my thoughts on how I feel about the party - the Progressive Conservative Party - and the decision that it be dissolved. I have been a Progressive Conservative from the time I was 18 years old, beginning as a gopher in 1952 during the provincial election in New Brunswick. In the last 52 years, I have been involved in 38 election campaigns in one way or another. Some of them have been leadership campaigns, some provincial and others federal. All have been under the banner of the Progressive Conservative Party.

The party has changed its name a number of times since 1850. However, for me, the name "Progressive Conservative" came to mean much more than the title of a political party. For me, it came to mean what the party stood for. The name signified the joining together of not two parties but two sets of values, the values represented by those who espoused fiscal economic responsibility - living within one's income, a balanced budget, little or no debt, and government intervention in the economy only when truly necessary. These are the "Conservative" values.

Combined with that, the "Progressive" name for me means social policy directed at the less fortunate in our society - which means accessible, adequate health care paid by the government, an education system where all who are academically qualified can access post-secondary training and education, policies that recognize that both people and even provinces are not created equal and that we must from time to time recognize a need for a hand up, be it through social welfare or equalization payments.

This is what I have fought for since my first campaign in the 1952 New Brunswick election, an election which saw Hugh John Flemming's party take 36 of 52 seats after being in the wilderness for 17 years, an election that impressed upon me, a young student, the importance of leadership, policy and democracy at work.

Through campaigns for the Right Honourable Robert Stanfield, both federal and provincial in Nova Scotia, Duff Roblin in Manitoba, Walter Shaw in Prince Edward Island, Bill Davis in Ontario, Richard Hatfield in New Brunswick, the Right Honourable Joe Clark and the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, I have always believed in the cause, and was fighting for the cause, of the Progressive Conservative Party and its leadership, a party which believed in self-reliance but also in wealth distribution.

I am a moderate Tory, in the same way my friend Dalton Camp saw himself as a moderate Tory. As he said in an interview with Pamela Wallin in 1995:

I am in favour of people, and I am in favour of trying to alleviate the problems people have, and I think that is one of the functions of government, and I just don't want to see us abandon that role.

I do not want to see that happen either. I would rather carry on the fight for what I believe in than to join with others who may not share that philosophy. To me, Robert Stanfield set the bar very high, and it is that standard that I wish to uphold.

The people I have known in politics, the people I admire, never compromised. They never gave up the fight for the country and its people. To mention a few, Peter Lougheed fought back against enormous odds to form a government and introduce a bill of rights as his first piece of legislation. Richard Hatfield stood for equal opportunity. Duff Roblin had the courage and showed the leadership to build the floodway against great opposition, as did Bill Davis when he stopped the extension of the Spadina Expressway. Robert Stanfield, whose life we celebrated most recently, did not compromise his principles in the 1974 "wage and price controls" general election. Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark, following in the footsteps of John Diefenbaker, stood against the governments of Britain and the United States in taking an anti- apartheid stance on behalf of Canada in support of Nelson Mandela. At home, the federal Progressive Conservative Party has been a champion of national unity and, in particular, of Quebec's place in Canada. It was under the prime ministership of Joe Clark in 1979 that Canada reached out its hand to take the Vietnamese boat people fleeing oppression to safety in Canada.

All this has been done by those who believe that the party name, Progressive Conservative, actually had evolved into a common set of values or a common centre, if you will, not just the joining together of political party labels.

The leaders I have known, the leaders I have been close to, did not give up when faced with great challenges or odds that seemed impossible to overcome. They stayed to fight for what they believed in.

It is my firm belief that this is what we who called ourselves Progressive Conservatives should have done. Yes, there may be a possibility of electoral success, but at what costs? What is the cost to Canadians if a group of political leaders abandon the core beliefs of the party they represent to achieve electoral gain? Are we right in sacrificing the cause of the less fortunate on the altar of political expediency? This is my concern.

We have inherited a legacy from the past leaders of the Progressive Conservative Party. This is a legacy to be cherished, a legacy of never giving up, of succeeding against all odds. Stanfield, Lougheed, Hatfield, Clark and Mulroney did that. Theirs was a legacy of common fiscal thinking combined with social compassion. It is a legacy I cannot shrug off, a legacy I will not abandon.

The Progressive Conservative Party had a history and a tradition that I believed would last forever, whatever the circumstances. If there is to be some form of cooperation between parties, it must be based on principle, not expediency.

Therefore, I will continue to support and advocate my beliefs as a Progressive Conservative senator in Question Period, in debate and in committee. I will continue to speak out to defend the values I believe are emblematic of a Progressive Conservative. I will be watching with interest both the leadership and the policies of the new party to see whether they address my concerns. It is my hope that they will reflect the values and beliefs Progressive Conservatives hold so strongly.

I thank honourable senators for giving me the opportunity to put my thoughts and reasoning for continuing as a Progressive Conservative senator on the public record.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

On motion of Senator Murray, debate adjourned.

Norman Atkins is a Progressive Conservataive Senator.

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