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The Star-Phoenix, Thursday, November 13, 2003

Effort to undermine true conservatives devious

by Anthony Hall

The taint of the failed Meech Lake Accord permeated the Harper-MacKay accord the moment the two political leaders shook hands. Canadian politics had come full circle from the days between 1987 and 1990 when Preston Manning exploited anti-Meech angst in the West to found the party that Stephen Harper now commands.

Manning kick-started the Reform party by exploiting western hostility towards the kind of backroom elitism that Meech epitomized. In October, the MacKay-Harper accord smacked of precisely the same style of secretive cronyism that reduced the PC party in 1993 to a mere two seats in a regionally balkanized House of Commons.

With his attempt to tie his political ship simultaneously to those of both Harper and former PC leadership candidate David Orchard, Peter MacKay seems to have outdone even Brian Mulroney in extending the imagery of politics as the art of the deal, no matter how duplicitous or unprincipled.

The indigenous Green and Red Toryism of Orchard could hardly be further from the pro-Bush cheerleading of Harper. And yet there was MacKay embracing Orchard and Joe Clark's anti-Alliance platform to gain power at the recent PC convention. And there was MacKay again, this jumping under the sheets of Alliance's "Unite the Right" bed-in.

The imagery of MacKay's dual deals will almost certainly earn an entry of its own in the Guiness Book of Records on biggest Canadian flip-flop. So stunning is MacKay's switch in political positioning that it will inevitably add to the public's growing cynicism, based on the dangerous perception that constancy and adherence to one's word are foreign to both politics and to public service.

This dangerous perception has led a growing array of citizens simply to opt out of voting altogether, a collective decision that represents the most carcinogenic of all threats to the health of our ailing democracies.

As with the Meech lake accord, the MacKay-Harper accord was presented to Canadians in such a way as to give the impression that nothing can be done to stop its implementation. By far the most cynical part of the bargain, put together by the likes of Ray Speaker and don Mazankowski, has to do with the ratification process within the PC party.

Until Nov. 30, Alliance members are free to purchase PC memberships to participate in the vote on whether to accept the terms of the MacKay-Harper deal. This feature was clearly included to put the nail in the coffin of the old PC party before the ratification protest even formally begins.

It creates what amounts to an insurmountable hurdle to block any bid to fold the PC party into the Alliance's western bastion of anti-French, anti-Quebec, anti-aboriginal, anti-multicultural, anti-immigration, anti-gay and lesbian, anti-Kyoto, anti-gun registry, anti-secular humanism, anti-abortion, pro-Bush, pro-Stars and Stripes, pro-war, pro-capital punishment sentiment.

Orchard quickly emerged as the Elijah Harper of this new Meech-like accord. In arguing against this "illegitimate creation," which Orchard says was "conceived in deception and born of betrayal," the Saskatchewan farmer points to the deal-makers' intent to kill the old PC party, the polity that once created the Dominion of Canada in order to prevent the northern portion of North America from being swallowed up into the United States.

In the place of our own indigenous conservatism, rooted in Tory opposition to the revolutionaries who incited civil war in British North America in 1776, we get a carbon copy of the U.S. version of right-wing politics.

This tendency is well embodied in the politics of consummate "Unite the Right" booster Ralph Klein. Alberta's premier shares nearly identical policies with U.S. President George Bush on virtually all the larger issues of the day.

Klein's own recent suggestion that Canadian farmers might consider shooting, shoveling and shutting up to cover up future cases of mad cow disease speaks volumes about the sense of short-term political expediency that has blinded the proponents of the Harper-MacKay accord to the long-term consequences of their plan.

How interesting to see Orchard emerge as such a compelling voice of cautious conservatism in Canada, a conservatism much truer to the heritage of John A. Macdonald than the roll-of-the-dice Mulroneyism behind this devious effort to move Canada's entire political culture yet further to the right, yet deeper into the commercial, political and military embrace of the U.S. of Bush.

Tony Hall is Founding Coordinator and Associate Professor of Globalization Studies at the University of Lethbridge, AB. His volume, The American Empire and the Fourth World (McGill-Queen's University Press), is being published in mid-November.

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