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For the love of God, will you guys just unite the right!
By Barton Wong
Warning: the following is a rant and as such it has nothing to do with either political practicality, rationality, or even with the writer's better judgement. Nevertheless, it does have the useful purpose of giving vent to certain feelings that have been building up within the writer's mind for some time now and as such serves the psychological service of relieving the aforesaid writer from having to commit wide-eyed acts of violence against his family, property, and/or cat from the sheer frustration of the political situation here in Canada. Having noted this, the reader may now feel free to poke holes in the author's at times seemingly incoherent arguments at his or her will. Enjoy.
Imagine if you will an experiment. There's cheese in the middle of a maze and two ways to get to it. One way is booby-trapped with electric shocks, while the other way is clear. A rat tries the booby-trapped way and gets zapped. The rat backs up, a bit frightened, and then tries again and gets zapped again. The rat is becoming frustrated. The cheese seems so close. He thinks. There's now way he's going to get zapped a third time, is there? He walks in and of course, get shocked once more. Sooner or later, you'd think the rat would get the point and realize that the other way is only way to go, but when the cheese is the Prime Ministership and the rat is the Reform/Canadian Alliance Party, getting zapped a fourth time by the Liberals is something you seem desperate to do.
But by this point, I don't care. I just don't care how it's done, through what sinister methods it's accomplished, which people need to be killed. I simply don't care. All I want for a Christmas present in 2002 here in Canada is an united right: one right-of-centre party serving as an effective Official Opposition led preferably by the only man it seems who could beat either a Paul Martin or a going-for-a-record-fourth- term Jean Chretien and the most-trusted political leader in Canada presently, Joe Clark, and even more preferable, a Joe Clark-led right-wing Official Opposition called the "Conservative Party," none of this "Progressive Conservative" crap, none of this "Canadian Alliance" crap, and definitely none of this "Reform" or "CRAP" crap. If that party name was good enough for the original drunken Scotsman and founder of this country, Sir John A. Macdonald himself, it's damn well good enough for the pygmy inheritors of his conservative legacy today. The leaders of the right-wing movement here in this country definitely give new meaning to the term "standing on the shoulders of giants," don't they?
For about five years now, ever since I developed a political consciousness and realized that Bob Rae was a socialist boob who couldn't run a toaster oven effectively, let alone Canada's richest and most populous province, I have counted myself among the political right. Not that I was ever an extremist. Oh no, I was always a Dalton Camp-Jean Charest-Joe Clark kind of Tory, one of the last "Red Tories," if you will. For our American readers out there, that would be the equivalent of being a Republican in the line of Eisenhower-Nixon-Rockefeller instead of Goldwater-Reagan. In fact, I've always prided myself on being a centrist, a moderate who could look down his nose at the foibles and ideological zealotry of both ends of the political spectrum. Of course, I hated Brian Mulroney and his administration, but then again, except for the 25 000 or so people Mulroney and his cronies paid off in kickbacks, so did every other Canadian. Now, oh god, I'm actually feeling a bit nostalgic for the Mulroney years, for Meech Lake, for the rampant corruption and cynicism, for even (horror of horrors!) the Reagans and the Mulroneys doing their starstruck and teary-eyed rendering of "When Irish Eyes Are Smilin'" Anything, absolutely anything to get us Canadians out us this perpetual Pax Liberalia, upon which the sun apparently will never, ever set.
Nineteen-ninety three was the year the chickens came home to roost for the Canadian Right. After that, to use another fowl metaphor, Canadian conservatism's goose was cooked. Everyone remembers that annus mirabilis here in Canada, the woebegone Brian Mulroney, perhaps realizing that he was less popular than O.J. Simpson at a battered women's shelter, deciding to resign for "the sake of the party," and then the bloody leadership run-off between the charismatic Jean Charest and full-time Mulroney stooge and Women's Institute dropout Kim Campbell. Campbell of course won that race, proceeded to run ads that made fun of Liberal leader Jean Chretian's facial disfigurement and then was forced to withdraw and apologize for them, and on top of all that, Campbell's reign of terror gave incompetence a good name and set back the Canadian feminist movement by oh say, 25 years.
Fast forward nine years: it's incredibly aggravating to be a conservative in Canada right now, particularly when the solution to all our problems is staring you right in the face. There are two courses open to the two right-wing Canadian parties now: stay disunited and face the prospect of a Liberal stranglehold ad infinitum, a scenario where even the best possible election results would merely reduce the Grits into a minority government allied with the NDP, an even worse situation than present, or else unite and give the right-wing in this country a fighting chance. It's as simple as that. Party strategists on both sides constantly bawl that "it's more complicated than that," but when you've had eight years and three elections to get your act together, patience is wearing very thin on the grassroots level.
Yet amazingly enough, only two out of the four candidates in the current Alliance leadership race seem to grasp this basic point. Steven Harper might be a very intelligent guy, but he seems to be as allergic to personal charisma as he is to uniting with the Tories. Stockwell Day, whose unconventional views on biology disqualify him for the top job in the eyes of our elites, drove eight of his own MPs out of the party and is currently viewed as political poison east of the Manitoba border. Grant Hill and Diane Ablonczy, in contrast, get it. Yet between the two of them, they threaten to split the "unite the right" vote.
What makes this even more aggravating is that when such conservative vote-splitting occurred in America, the problem fixed itself. In 1992, George Bush lost re-election because populist conservative Ross Perot siphoned off 19 per cent of his vote. American conservatives immediately realized that splitting the vote would be fatal. As a result, support for Perot and his Reform Party collapsed in the 1996 election and vanished in 2000 with Perot himself endorsing Bush Jr. when Pat Buchanan captured the Reform nomination. In Canada, the populist conservatives didn't vanish, but stubbornly stayed put.
Why do some people in the Alliance seem so hell-bent on keeping the two parties separate? There are many factors, but one has to be the underestimation of Jean Chretian. The contempt Chretian engenders among Alliance members is close to hysteria. He is viewed as an unworthy opponent, a corrupt do-nothing ditherer.
Unfortunately, this man has won three straight majority governments, proving himself a better politician than even his mentor, Trudeau. He faced off and outlasted such diverse antagonists as Preston Manning, Mike Harris, and Lucien Bouchard. And even at his advanced age, he's still a political streetfighter. The timing of the third election call and the subsequent campaign he ran against Day was masterful. For all his flaws, Chretian is the most cunning politician in Canada today. You cannot win against him with a split opposition. Those Alliance members who reject the "big tent" model would do well to take a page from their neighbors do south. Unlike their image in the Canadian media, the Republicans are in fact, a very diverse party, ranging from people like Arlen Specter and John McCain on the left to John Ashcroft and Jesse Helms on the right.
I'm afraid that if we are to unite the right, it's the Alliance, not the Tories who are going to have change their image. The Alliance's social conservatism just won't sell here in Ontario, where even if you combined last November 's Tory and Alliance votes, would have only added up to some 20 or so seats. Many in Canada simply won't vote for a hard-right party. And what can you say about a party which is so tone-deaf, that it blithely adapted CRAP as its acronym and thought that no one would notice?
Ideally, none of the current Alliance candidates would lead a united conservative party. Instead, it would be Joe Clark. The advantages of Clark are great. He's experienced, he's electable across the country not just in the West, and he's currently the most trusted of all the party leaders. Say what you will about Joe Clark, but you know he's honest. Clark also has the advantage of looking like everyone's favourite absent-minded uncle.
The problem between Clark and the Alliance is his moderateness, but that is precisely the quality that makes him so electable. Also, Alliance members regard anyone associated with the dreaded Mulroney years as anathema. Yet Clark acquitted himself well during his tenure in the tricky position of Minister for External Affairs and was one of the few bright spots during Mulroney's last, dismal years. Clark is also no stranger to fiscal conservatism. Lest we forget, it was John Crosbie's risky, but far-sighted budget of 1979 back in the tax-and-spend Trudeau era, which brought Clark down. And isn't it about time to get over Mulroney? I mean, how long can the Alliance hold a grudge? No, don't answer that question.
Whoever ends up winning the leadership race, uniting the right must be first on their list of priorities. The current situation is unacceptable. At present, Chretian could call an election every six months and he would win every one. Unless the right wants the endless Pax Liberalia to continue unabated, it must unite under a leader who is well-known, trusted, and has broad appeal across the country. And the only leader to match that criteria is Joe Clark.
Unless of course, we on the Canadian right want to fall on our swords for, and let me repeat the number for emphasis, the fourth time. We wouldn't be that stupid, would we? Well, would we?
Barton Wong is a regular commentator at the Texas Mercury and studies Literary Studies and Philosophy at the University of Toronto.
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