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Progressive Conservative or Reactionary?: An interview with Joe Hueglin of the Progressive Canadian Party

By Pete Vere
web posted May 17, 2004

Not everyone is happy with the recent merger of the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance. In a recent attempt to salvage the old Progressive Conservative party from the merger, some of its former members banded together to found the Progressive Canadian Party. ESR correspondent Pete Vere had the opportunity to interview Joe Hueglin, a former Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament from the Niagara region, and a founder of the Progressive Canadian Party.

Vere: Given that the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance have now united to provide Canadians with a credible alternative to the Liberals, why the need for the Progressive Canadian Party?

Hueglin: The "alternative" was created through the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and his collaborators creating the mechanisms for circumventing the will of the membership as it was prior to the Ides of October. The Agreement in Principle was presented as a fait accompli to be either accepted or rejected in toto . The pre-existing membership was overwhelmed by enabling those who did not adhere to the Aims of the Party to become members though this was a constitutional condition of membership, by having winner take all rather than proportional voting to accept or reject in the Ridings and by pre organized YES Committees acting to ensure their supporters attended Riding meetings.

The credibility of the "alternative" is yet to be decided. Its activists are bound together by the expectation of success.

The Liberals are adept at creating negative aura in the minds of the non-partisan electorate about their primary opponent. Should they succeed in doing so in regards to the CP of C it will be viewed as the far right just as the NDP is viewed as the far left.

The PCP as a registered party can provide a foundation for rebuilding a centrist opposition.

Vere: Some members of the Progressive Canadian Party have expressed distaste over what they see as a neo-conservative takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party prior to the merger. Given that the libertarians and the social conservatives had already jumped onto the Reform/Alliance bandwagon, to which conservative constituencies does the Progressive Canadian Party appeal?

Hueglin: The neo-conservative elements as you phrase it failed to take over the party. They were rebuffed in their attempts to bring the Progressive Conservative Party into any arrangement with the Reform/Alliance at two National General Meetings. They failed as well in the Leadership convention. MacKay was elected as the anti-merger candidate not by Orchard supporters alone but traditional Tories as well. He was either subverted to participate in or a part of from the beginning of the putsch that took place on October 15th. The neo-cons were organized and ready to roll and did so with the acquiescence of the Management Committee and the active assistance of National Headquarters staff.

Neoconservativism is a US phenomenon. It is not homogeneous. Its adherents have firmly fixed beliefs they would have those with decision making power in government act upon.

Traditional conservatism's nature is as described below. Use of the term "conservative movement" is foreign to conservatives of this nature but widely used by neo-cons.

There is a different in temper and methodology in approaching the role of government and societal problems. With the assimilation of the Progressive Conservative Party there is at present no political party espousing what follows. Those holding to this approach are the constituency of the PSP.

"Conservatism - a political philosophy that tends to support the status quo and advocates change only in moderation. Conservatism upholds the value of tradition, and seeks to preserve all that is good about the past. The classic statement of conservatism was by the Irishman Edmund Burke, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), in which he attacked the French Revolution. He compared society to a living organism that has taken time to grow and mature, so it should not be violently uprooted. Innovation, when necessary, should be grafted onto the strong stem of traditional institutions and ways of doing things: "it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purposes of society." [http://www.fast-times.com/politicaldictionary.html]

Vere: Why not simply vote Conservative or Liberal?

Hueglin: The Liberals have one principle, power at any cost. Those who founded the CP of C share this in the methods employed to circumvent the directions expressed at two National General meetings.

To vote for either is repugnant.

Vere: How will the Progressive Canadian Party address Western alienation, particularly in Alberta?

Hueglin: Western alienation, Quebec separatism are conditions that will always exist. They ebb and flow. It is optimistic in the extreme to believe they can be ended by structural change. A clearer delineation of roles and clarification of responsibilities would be of value. Structural change to enable provinces to build firewalls around themselves would not be. Establishing positive realizable national goals the provinces commit to rather than goals they do not would be a most efficacious direction to take.

Vere: Is there any room in the Progressive Canadian Party for social conservatives? Where does your party stand vis-à-vis abortion and the traditional definition of marriage?

Hueglin: There must be depending upon what attributes are attached to the term. I opposed the abolition of capital punishment, favour linking those wishing to adopt to those pregnant, accept civil union with attendant acceptance of responsibilities but not marriage otherwise than in the traditional sense.

As a Party individual Parliamentarians have voted according to their conscience on such matters.

Vere: Some folks within the Progressive Canadian Party fear that the Conservative Party of Canada will Americanize politics in Canada. Yet like many young Canadians, I found myself unemployed after completing my graduate studies. Basically, there were no jobs in my area of studies, Burger King and other service-sector employers considered me over-qualified and government regulation made it next to impossible to start my own business. My wife, also a college graduate, was on welfare for similar reasons. So I accepted a job in the United States where I now earn a comfortable middle-class living working in a field related to my educational background, pay substantially less tax, and enjoy greater civil liberty as well as a more business-friendly atmosphere. Waving the maple leaf is nice, but I've got children who need food, shelter and clothing. How does the Progressive Canadian Party propose to lure me and other young Canadians like me back to Canada?

Hueglin: Lure? Such decisions are made primarily on economic opportunities and degree of comfort with the overall societal milieu. There are those who come to Ontario from Atlantic Canada for the economic benefits, but return due to the different pace of life and loss of family and community. Some shuttle back and forth.

There has always been a flow both ways and it will continue to be so. The best any political party can do is , once in power, to foster opportunities through policies that encourage expansion of the private sector.

Once roots are put down there is little government does that affects decision making by individuals.

Vere: Another advantage to living in the United States is joint income tax filing that allows my wife and I to file as a married couple. In short, our family is not penalized in the United States if my wife only works outside the home part-time, or if she stays home full-time with the kids. What, if anything, will the Progressive Canadian Party do to fix the bias against one-income families in the current Canadian tax system?

Hueglin: In this area I am ignorant in largest measure and so can make no comment.

Vere: In the case of a minority government, would the Progressive Canadian Party be more likely to enter into a coalition with Paul Martin's Liberals or Stephen Harper's Conservatives?

Hueglin: Hypothetical at this time. The focus is coming into existence as a registered party. Coalitions are not a general pattern in Canadian politics but rather the rare exception.

Vere: Do you agree with David Orchard's claim that the only way for a conservative political party to beat the liberals in a federal election is to run a campaign to the left of the Liberals?

Hueglin: The Liberals are shape shifters morphing into what is the most advantageous at the time for them. To suggest being to the left of them ties one's self to them.

Presenting approaches to the concerns of the voters deemed by them to be workable for their personal and collective well being is the best approach. One precondition for success is there being general dissatisfaction with the Liberals, and through this widespread concerns to be addressed.

In closing, ESR wishes to thank Mr. Hueglin for taking time out of his busy schedule to conduct this interview. Additionally, Mr. Hueglin invites ESR's politically conservative audience to subscribe to his Daily Digest, which will keep them up to date on events in Canada and offers a range of opinion among conservatives of both the neo-con and traditional conservative persuasion. One can subscribe by emailing Mr. Hueglin at hueglinj@cogeco.ca

Pete Vere, JCL is a canon lawyer and a Catholic social and religious commentator from Sudbury, Ontario. He now writes from Florida, where he and his family enjoy no state income tax along with life within walking distance of the Gulf of Mexico. His work has been published in numerous Canadian and American Catholic publications.

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