Friday, October 17, 2008

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss...

Another Conservative minority government, JUST what we needed, eh?
The Conservatives have never won a majority in Canada. Maybe you'd like to challenge that assertion, but first remember that these Conservatives under Stephen Harper are not the true Progressive Conservatives of yesteryear - the likes of Diefenbaker or Mulroney. They are the former Reform Party, or Alliance, or Conservative Alliance remade and re-branded. And the idea of a real "alliance" died when old line Tory Progressive Conservatives refused to join during the transformation. This "new" Conservative Party claims that they are legally successors because they struck the deal with then PC leader Peter Mackay and assumed the assets and liabilities of the Progressive Conservative Party.

We still remember the machinations of the Reform Party of Canada, like an Albertan version of the Bloc Quebecois, and the polarization of the votes as they tried to re-invent themselves to defeat the Liberals and gain national parity with other parties. The Progressive Conservatives were ripe for the pickings, the Mulroney years were long gone, overshadowed by Jean Chretien's majority Liberal machine. The federal Progressive Conservative Party of Canada had almost faced extinction under the leadership of Prime Minister Kim Campbell, Canada's first woman Prime Minister. Just before the merger the PC's held only 15 of 301 seats in the Canadian House of Commons and never held more than 20 seats in Parliament between 1994 and 2003. The Reform Party selected an alliance with the PC's, a coalition of the right, supposedly to unite Canada's small "c" right wing conservative voters.

Canadian politics had become split by the creation of the new western-based protest party, Reform Party of Canada under Preston Manning. The party was very controversial in Canadian politics. It advocated deep decentralization of government power, abolishing official bilingualism and multiculturalism, democratization of the Canadian Senate, opposed abortion, opposed extending rights to homosexuals and suggested a potential return to capital punishment, and advocated significant privatization of public services. There were several news reports at the time of rabid racists within it's ranks and links to white supremacists and neo-nazis. So the vote in Canada became divided regionally. The Liberal Party took Ontario, the Maritimes and the territories, the separatist Bloc Québécois took Quebec, while the Reform Party took Western Canada and became the dominant right wing party in Canada.

The merger of Reform and PC was the culmination of the Canadian "Unite the Right" movement, driven by the desire to present an effective right-wing opposition to the Liberal Party of Canada, to create a new party that would draw support from all parts of Canada and would not split the right-wing vote (which was devastating to the PC's in Ontario especially). The splitting of the right-wing vote contributed to Liberal victories in the 1993 federal election(pc's only 2 of the 295 setas), 1997 federal election and the 2000 election. Chretien was able to undermine the Reform party's inroads with his remark that the Reform Party had a dangerous, "hidden agenda" for Canada.

The merger process was controversial. The federal PC Party under Joe Clark rebuffed the initiative to "unite the right". David Orchard had a written agreement from Peter MacKay at the 2003 Progressive Conservative Leadership convention excluding any such merger and led an unsuccessful legal challenge to it. At the time of the merger four sitting Progressive Conservative Members of Parliament — André Bachand, John Herron, former Tory leadership candidate Scott Brison, and former Prime Minister Joe Clark — decided not to join the new Conservative Party caucus, as did retiring PC Party president Bruck Easton. Clark and Brison argued that the party's merger with the Canadian Alliance drove it too far to the right, and away from its historical position in Canadian politics. Bachand and Clark both retired from Parliament at the end of the session. A Group of dissenting Tories were blocked from using the PC name and became the Progressive Canadian Party. However a rump caucus of true Progressive Conservatives still sits in the Canadian Senate.

As proof that the Reform hidden agenda survived under the new Conservative Party, recall these 2004 generall election news items: Early on in the campaign, Ontario MP Scott Reid indicated his feelings as Tory language critic that the policy of official bilingualism was unrealistic and needed to be reformed. Alberta MP Rob Merrifield suggested as Tory health critic that women ought to have mandatory family counseling before they choose to have an abortion. BC MP Randy White indicated his willingness near the end of the campaign to use the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Constitution to override the Charter of Rights on the issue of same-sex marriage, and Cheryl Gallant, another Ontario MP, compared abortion to terrorism. The party was also criticized for issuing press releases accusing both Paul Martin and Jack Layton of supporting child pornography, although both releases were recalled within a few hours.

So there you have it - history is a good teacher. Have you lost count of how many elections we've had in the last five years? I almost have. (perhaps that is the Conservative strategy to distance themselves from their Reform roots) And in each of them the Conservatives have yet to win a majority government - but continue to govern as a dysfunctional minority. The Bloc Quebecois' regional hold over Quebec continues to stymie any concerted effort by progressive voters who support the NDP, Liberals or any effort at reviving Red Tory politics in Canada.

The throne speech is upon us following the most recent election - now is the time for the opposition parties, including the Bloc to do their duty. The Conservatives have no mandate. The majority of Canadians actively voted against them. Defeat the throne speech now. Not to trigger another abortive election - but to form a true coalition which represents the majority of Canada and give us the government we deserve. The opposition has the right to approach the Governor General floowing a non-confidence vote and propose a majority representative coalition. Save us from the failure of our electoral process to support multiple political parties and end the stranglehold partisan politics has upon our lives, our country, our freedoms.