Winnipeg Free Press,Sunday 16 November 2003
A Red Tory's Creed
by Dale Swirsky
WHY not support the merger? We're all conservatives, aren't we? Don't we need an alternative to the Liberals? The PC party is as good as dead due to the infighting created by the merger, so why fight it? Ah, the noble "if you can't beat them, join them" pitch.
I am glad that Winston Churchill ignored that pitch in 1940, and let me tell you why I -- and most of those I respect within the PC party -- are also ignoring these seductions. Simply put, it's about ethics and policies.
The Chretien Liberals have taken corruption to dizzying heights, and I doubt it will lessen with "secret-donor" and "offshore-tax-shelter" Paul Martin at the helm. But the very founding of this merged party is an example of the same kind of business-brokered, backroom corruption and broken promises that we are supposedly fighting against.
Should this have consequences? If I find Tory Leader Peter MacKay's dealings to be unscrupulous, but of secondary importance to the illusion of the new party's "winnability", should I be surprised if the unscrupulous seem always to win?
I use the term "illusion of winnability" because this new party will not have the ability to beat the Liberals unless it miraculously morphs into what is currently being destroyed -- a moderate right-wing party. The dogma that the Liberals have stayed in power because of a split right is simply not true. Much of Alliance and PC support comes from voters with very different values -- not a single poll has indicated they are interchangeable. Poll after poll has shown that the second choice for most PC voters is the Liberals, and that most Canadians are opposed to the Alliance. Based on this empirical evidence, do the Liberals win majorities because of vote-splitting on the right, or do they win because a sufficient number of voters see them as the only bulwark against the party they least want to see in power?
Do I want to see a far-right party in power? Eliminate the broken promises and the lack of real "winnability", and I would still not join the far right. I did not join the Alliance, and I will not join this new party. I will not work to replace the Liberals, who are damaging Canada, with a party that I fear will destroy it.
People support one political party over another because they feel its values and policies approximate their own. To understand why I, and many others who are called Red Tories, refuse to support the merger, one needs to understand a Red Tory's values.
What follows is a Red Tory's creed. It is based less on the 1960s academic view of what a Red Tory is, and more on the contemporary policies advocated by those who would self-identify with and/or have been labelled as Red Tories.
I am a Red Tory.
I believe in a sphere for free enterprise and a sphere for an activist government. I believe that the Liberals have muddled the two together while the NDP and far-right proponents place too much emphasis on one over the other.
I believe that the free market, individual initiative and self-reliance should be encouraged as the keys to prosperity. I want government to collaborate with businesses, not work against them, to reduce needless red tape and taxes that hurt competitiveness. However, I do not adhere to the American Republicanism that is manifest in the Canadian Alliance. I do not agree with the neo-conservative belief that individuals should be entitled to follow self-interest for its own sake, magically leading to some "public good" through the invisible hand of the market with no government role beyond protection of property rights. I believe that faith in the law of the jungle will produce a jungle.
I believe that faith in the public good will lead to the public good. I believe that the invisible hand of the market is important, but it must be steadied by the hand of public responsibility. I believe that a conscious and direct consideration of an individual's free-market activity should be the public good, and government involvement is an integral part of this.
I believe that the greatest financial gains in the world do not make a society better if they are accrued through environmental destruction, creating an underclass of the working poor, or the starvation of key public goods. The free market has shown itself to be a poor provider of universal education, health care, a clean environment and public infrastructure, such as water systems, which exist for the benefit of all and which, ultimately, make us more economically competitive.
I respect the marketplace, but I do not worship it as the solution to all problems. As part of this, I oppose flat taxes, the privatization of core services and the far-right dogma of massive tax cuts trumping all other policy considerations -- a dogma which unite-the-righters such as Mike Harris and Preston Manning have already espoused as a main policy of the new party.
I embrace multiculturalism and biculturalism as important Canadian values. In a world bled by intolerance, these values make Canada "a light unto the nations." If these are important, then government involvement in their promotion is not a waste, but a virtue.
I believe that immigrants add to our prosperity and immigration to Canada should be increased. Immigrants do not increase our crime rates or steal our jobs or take our university spots. Those who exploit isolated crimes by immigrants for political gain do not deserve public office. Those who fan the flames of fear of rising crime, when Canada's homicide rate has steadily declined from its 1976 peak, also do not deserve public office.
I believe that aboriginal self-government, which is both an inherent and a constitutional right, is the key to aboriginals growing in self-reliance and harmonious relations with Canadians as a whole.
I believe asymmetrical federalism is the genius of Canadian confederation and the reason our diverse regions have worked together to create the best country on earth. I believe that the provinces are inherently different, and their jurisdictions should reflect this. I believe devolving more powers to the provinces would weaken our nation. We need fewer provincial barriers, not more. We need more ties that bind us, not fewer.
I believe that Canada's existence requires a constant treasuring of the above values. Canada has been woven together by threads of accommodation, both powerful and fragile -- powerful in what they support, fragile in that the passions of division are a constant threat. Never believe that Canada has a right to eternally exist. It exists because we as Canadians will it to exist. This existence is easily endangered by those who stoke the divisions of region versus region, immigrant versus non-immigrant, aboriginal versus non-aboriginal, and rich versus poor.
I know that Red Toryism is not dead. We will fight to preserve our traditional party as a viable option. If we fail, we will still be a decisive factor in Canadian politics. Red Toryism is more than a party; it is a Canadian idea, and good ideas never die.
Dale Swirsky is a Winnipeg high school teacher and a member of the Winnipeg North Centre PC Riding Executive. He and the other four members of the executive strongly oppose the merger of the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties.