Toronto Star, Sunday, March 27, 2005
Linda McQuaig says Tories are still same sheep in different clothing
By Linda McQuaig
The romance between Peter MacKay and Belinda Stronach
is undoubtedly the hottest dating story to hit Ottawa
since Art Eggleton resigned as defence minister after
awarding an untendered contract to an old girlfriend.
Certainly the handsome couple presented a more
fetching image for the Conservative party at its
founding convention last week than did veteran MP Elsie
Wayne, who did her best to keep alive the party's image
as the home of screaming, anti-abortion extremists.
If media reaction is any guide, the party succeeded
in casting itself as moderate and open — even while
endorsing a platform sharply at odds with what Canadians
consistently tell pollsters they want.
Commentators assume that Canadians fear the right
only on so-called moral issues, such as abortion and gay
But on other key issues as well, Conservatives differ
significantly from most Canadians. For instance, they
favour tax cuts over social investment, they reject a
national child-care program, they want less power for
the federal government and more private health care,
reject Kyoto and want Ottawa to join Washington's
missile defence scheme.
Some of these positions are even at odds with
traditional conservatism, which favoured progressive
taxation and a strong federal government to protect what
used to be called the Common Good.
Traditional conservatism was blown out of the water
by a new, mean-spirited conservatism, championed by
Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and most nakedly by
George W. Bush, which is largely about further enriching
Cutting taxes ever lower, particularly for the rich,
the new conservatism leaves government without resources
to do much beyond maintaining a big military.
This conservatism found considerable resonance among
members of the Canadian Alliance party, which merged in
2003 with the Progressive Conservative party.
Despite media hype about the new merged party being
more open and tolerant than expected, in fact the party
is closed to progressive ideas that most Canadians value
and that even traditional Tories endorsed.
One indication is the party's decision to boot out
David Orchard, even though Orchard recruited thousands
of new party members during the 2003 Conservative
leadership race and came into that convention with the
second largest slate of delegates.
Orchard, a fourth-generation Saskatchewan farmer,
vehemently opposed the PC-Alliance merger, fearing it
would strengthen the new, nasty strain of conservatism.
He called for a return to progressive conservatism,
protection of the environment and a revival of the
nation-building of traditional Conservatives like Sir
John A. Macdonald.
But the new party — now being praised for its
moderation and openness — decided it has no room for
Orchard, even refunding his $500 convention registration
fee two days before the event.
Apparently Orchard was considered such a threat that
he wasn't even allowed to attend as an observer.
The Conservatives may have a glitzy new first couple,
but as long as they remain closed to ideas held dear by
mainstream Canadians and even traditional Tories, their
party isn't yet ready to govern — even for 15 minutes.
Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based author and