Reform's biggest salesman

By Jim Hinter
web posted March 1998

In a week in which Paul Martin's balanced budget could have hurt Preston Manning and his Reform Party, Jean Charest and his federal Progressive Conservative Party have handed Preston Manning an excellent opportunity. Over the past few weeks, Mr. Charest, in what could be an attempt to polarize his party from Preston Manning's Reform Party, has made some quite startling moves that if capitalized on could possibly lead to great opportunities for Reform. First, Mr. Charest and his party voted with the Bloc Quebecois supporting Quebec's right to unilateral separation.

While this move is one that may end any chance, the federal PC has had of growing in western Canada; it may also not be well received in most other parts of Canada. Reform, armed with a Quebec policy more in line with the rest of Canada than the Tories, is in a good position to grow. At the same time, Reform strategists are working hard to encourage development of solid constituency associations in Quebec.

Efforts continue within some western Reform constituency associations to extend a hand to ridings in Quebec, the Maritimes and Ontario. This "twinning' of ridings allows a sharing of resources along with the moral support of a successful riding association. This practice, some believe will also bear fruit in Ontario, as the development of riding associations in Quebec will further illuminate Reform as a national political party rather than a western based party.

Second, Mr. Charest has announced he is "moving the party to the centre" of the political spectrum. Declaring in a February 28 speech that, "Reform is now the number one enemy", due to its extremist policies and exclusionary vision, Charest has entered dangerous territory. Claims that Reform is a party of extremists is not likely to bring Reform supporters back into the Tory fold. They are more likely, especially in the west, to expand the call for his replacement an effort apparently lead by Phillip Fisher from Calgary.

Jean Charest and his supporters have seemingly forgotten their real target should be the federal Liberals. In any battle between Reform and the Conservatives, the only real winner will be the Liberal Party of Canada.

Reform, fresh on the heels of a successful National Youth Convention nearing Assembly '98 in London, can only view these initiatives with hope. The possibilities are obvious; at the 1996 Progressive Conservative Convention, apparent differences in political ideology between the PC Youth and Mr. Charest became public. Mr. Charest deciding to lead his party further left will only cause growing numbers of right wing minded Tory Youth to take another look at Preston Manning and the Reform Party.

In Ontario, the right wing battleground between Reform and the Tories, many provincial Tories are already allied with Reform federally. With Ontario Premier Mike Harris calling for unity of the right, Charest moves must be causing concern.

Within Reform, some have joked that "Mr. Charest runs the risk of winning Reform's prestigious 'Reformer of the Year' award at it's London Assembly later this year" as many within Reform now "rank Jean Charest as Reform's biggest salesman".

Charest has made any grassroots hopes of a formal merger between Reform and the Progressive Conservatives virtually impossible. Reform however can now play more of a waiting game, on that front, allowing the Tories to self-destruct rather than compromising their own principles in merger talks. Reform now needs to focus efforts toward reaping the harvest of fellow conservatives in Ontario and the Maritime provinces who are likely to now be out shopping for a new political party after Jean Charest's latest decisions.

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