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Canadian conservatism needs relationship rescue: "How's that working for ya'?" Part 1 of 3

By J.L. Jackson and Lisa Snee
web posted March 17, 2003

Surely as Jean Chretien will not continue as Canada's lame duck Prime Minister for as long as he intends, conservatives can feel the impending doom of yet another round of unite-the-right talks beckoning in the near future. Finding a way to defeat Paul Martin -- Canada's crown prince -- remains Canadian conservatives' first and only priority.

Lack of past success at the ballot box following several other unite-the-right cycles never seems to deter Canadian conservative politicians from throwing back their heads in an altogether sad and pathetic battle-cry, "Just one more time?"

Just one more time and we will get it right. Just one more time with the right fancy number coalition. Just one more time with a new snazzy leader. And we will finally, magically, unite the right; we will finally be able to trick Ontario voters into voting for our team.

Before we potentially approach some sort of unite-the-right negotiations in the near future, it is time for conservatives within the Alliance and the Progressive Conservative parties, as well as conservatives with no partisan political affiliation, to scrutinize Canadian conservatism. No one needs relationship rescue more than Canadian conservatives. It's way past time to seek some professional help.

Oh yes, it's Dr. Phil time.

Dr. Phil: "Say it like it is"

Dr. Phil McGrawDr. Phil, the most popular therapist of our time; the man who is single-handedly leading North America back to age old conservative values like taking responsibility for your actions and physically changing your habits. Canadian conservatives need Dr. Phil's special brand of logic to guide us in our quest for power. Indeed, we need Dr' Phil's tough love and piercing logic to make sense of the confusing muddle Canadian conservatism has become.

"And how's that workin' for ya'?"

In looking at the costs and benefits of another Reunification of the Right ceremony, conservatives need to do some self-examination and ask themselves the hard questions. Canadian conservatives really need Dr. Phil to pointedly ask, "…and how's that workin' for ya'?"

In memoriam of the last time Progressive Conservatives ruled the roost, many central Canadian pundits are seeking a new Tory leader who will defeat Paul Martin. Surely this is possible as all of Canada watches the Liberals self-destruct before our very eyes.

But, if Canadian conservatives think their saviour will come in the form of a Tory leader, they will be gravely disappointed. Outside of a miracle, the Canadian Alliance, the Progressive Conservative party or some newly named party will not defeat the Liberals. The primary reason Paul Martin will cruise to victory in the next general election is because Canadian conservatism is totally confused.

Canadian conservatism has lost its common sense appeal because it has lost its identity. Some ask, "How can this be? The Alliance party, is presenting effective opposition." In Canadian conservative terms, this means there has been no controversy for almost six months. Recent Canadian polls show the Alliance party stalled between 10-17% of the popular vote nationally, with the Progressive Conservatives also steadily stalled at 15%. In spite of massive government corruption and a split Liberal caucus that could potentially erupt into a Parliamentary vote of non-confidence at any time, the Liberals remain between 43 to 47%. Even if another Reunification of the Right ceremony were to take place, Canadian conservative numbers combined don't even come close to unseating the current government.

The reason Paul Martin will win another tyrannical term for the Liberal party has nothing to do with the numbers. There is no alternative in Canada, because Canadian conservatism is no longer conservative.

Canadian conservatism has accepted both complimentary and conflicting ideologies with open arms, to the point where policy is now all over the map. Conservatism's clear voice of reason in a world gone mad has become diluted, lukewarm and stagnant.

Canadian conservatives have allowed politically correct dogma to divide and conquer by accepting hyphenated conservatism as the norm. The overuse of "social" or "economic" terminology has largely come into fashion in the last ten years. But, ask someone off the street what a "social" or an "economic" conservative is and they are likely to look at you askance. Conservatism is a complete package, not a smorgasbord where you can chose the gravy and avoid the meat: simply put you either are or you aren't.

Of course, some conservatives are more liberal than others. And this not necessarily a bad thing. Different shades of conservatism is healthy, providing overall balance, but if the absolute base upon which conservatism is founded is forgotten, that political party is bound to flounder. Conservatism in Canada has in fact deteriorated to the point that if conservatives are honest with themselves, they will be able to find Liberals who are more conservative both "socially" and "economically" than many in their own so-called conservative parties.

There is more to being a conservative than not liking Chretien. If dislike of Chretien is the base upon which conservatism is based, Paul Martin is the most popular bet to lead the fractured Canadian right.

The roots of over classification or division through hyphenation -- to the point of Canadian conservatism's extinction may be found in long term Liberal domination where non-conservative values like the "multi-cultural mosaic" and political correctness have been gradually accepted as the norm in Canadian conservative circles. The primary reason over classification exists, however, is it has allowed "economic-conservatives" to position themselves dominantly on top of the conservative food chain, because supposedly their message is an easier "sell."

But is it?

Because it is perceived that "economic-conservatism" is the better package, this gives "economic-conservatives" the excuse to kick their seemingly more radical and distant "social-conservative" cousins in the teeth; relegating "social-conservatives" to the back of the bus where they aren't as noticeable. "Economic-conservatives" justify being only half conservative by claiming they follow the libertarian school of thought. Very trendy, and easily accepted by top level conservatives. No one even realizes a radical mixology is taking place.

Throw in a bit of western populism that can be easily exchanged for central Canadian populism, and, voila, you have a new political party that resembles the current Liberal regime; that will look almost exactly like the Liberals under a more moderate Paul Martin. Yet, they continue to delude themselves, believing they are an alternative. Such is the state of affairs with the current Alliance party.

Being less conservative than the Alliance, the Progressive Conservative party has it even worse. No one could ever mistake Joe Clark, the current leader of the PCs, for a conservative: he is a full out Red Tory, and proud of it. In his own riding, it is widely accepted that he was elected through a left-wing alliance between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party, in a hold-your-nose-and-vote effort to block the Alliance candidate.

What continues to confuse Canadian conservatives and is holding back a coherent, united conservative message is the fact that all issues are social -- even less taxation, as the United States Democrats are now proving. "Liberal values" will only remain "Canadian values" as long as conservatives continue to let them get a way with it.

Big government, gun registration, out of control patronage, ministry overspending (only a billion or so dollars), massive corruption, excessive complicated taxation, the creation of discord between the federal and provincial governments, gutting the Canadian military, and giving criminal inmates the vote are all social "Canadian values" that Canadians could do without.

Late term and partial birth abortions, more hate law legislation heading in the definitive direction of censorship of ancient religious scriptures, child porn laws favouring the perpetrator rather than the victim, and decriminalizing marijuana are also all bad Liberal policies that have social and economic implications that Canadians don't need complicating their lives.

"How have you created the problem?"

In looking at "How have you created the problem?" Dr Phil would encourage Canadian conservatives to resist the victims' role. Conservatives need to take responsibility for their problems, by investigating the root of continued discord.

The background to Canadian conservatism's woes are a first past the post form of democracy, combined with what has, for all practical purposes, become a one House Parliamentary system, does present some unique challenges. Without an elected Senate, a winner-take-all strategy is promoted, with the province of Ontario being the prize.

This is demonstrated in Ottawa's current approach to implementing the Kyoto Protocol. While western Canada's oil and gas industries will be very hard hit, Ontario's auto industry has quietly been exempted from the package. This is considered par for the course and must be accepted because that's 'just the way it is' -- in Canada.

Conservative experts, who remain fixated on Ontario as the only prize lest Canada become a one party state, might blame Canadian conservatism's dismal state on Preston Manning. The historical Reform leader split Canadian conservatism definitively long ago. The experts, however, do not blame Manning because he repented and tried to re-connect what he put asunder. Manning was to ride a new "wave" of broad-based support all the way into the Prime Minister's residence. Theories, however, tend to work better on paper: in the much-celebrated United Alternative round of talks, and the following leadership race Manning lost it all.

Some believe it went wrong during the Alliance civil war that ensued after Manning was put out to pasture by the party he once created. The next leader to be tossed, due to the internal war, was Stockwell Day. His real sin: with similar results to Manning, he also didn't deliver Ontario at the ballot box.

A 'trap door syndrome' for the Canada's conservative leaders is developing. It seems to be spreading. The Progressive Conservative party has also caught the disease. Now that Joe Clark has offered to step down, nobody really wants the job. Hence true blue conservative leadership pickings in this party, remain dismally non-existent.

Exhausting commentary has covered the western regional dynamic that gave Manning's Reform party its political base. Forgotten is the national outrage and disgust toward the last nominally conservative government Canada elected. It was conservative outrage that brought the Mulroney federal PC party down in flames. Rampant patronage and moral corruption in the Mulroney PC government (1984-1993), was seemingly as great as its Liberal predecessors. It was these dashed conservative expectations that fuelled a western reformation movement, more conservative than it was regional. Focussed on democratic ideals, this conservative base became known as the Reform party, and currently with 63 seats, now called the Alliance party, is Canada's official opposition.

After Manning made the definitive break, the PC party, continued in a progressively liberal direction on all fronts. But they too ended up regional; the thirteen seats held by the PCs are mostly in the Maritimes. The PC Party remains very proud of its progressively liberal stance on most policy, and it is difficult to imagine that ever changing.

Both parties are now racing each other to see who can run away from full-out conservatism the fastest. Historically, it would seem, apart from the regional dynamic, the more left wing a conservative party drifts the less successful it is at the ballot box nationally.

Right now, experts will jump in and vigorously argue that the only way to win Ontario (the prize) is to bow down to central Canadian populism and present a moderate-conservative-economic message. They will explain that this is what is needed to defeat the Jean Chretien Liberals.

Wait a minute. That's exactly what Paul Martin appears to be offering.

"Now be honest, how's that workin' for ya'?

Next week: …and how's that working for Canada's neighbour?

J.L. Jackson, is a freelance writer and conservative activist from Calgary area. This is Lisa Snee's first appearance in Enter Stage Right.

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