Unite the right?

By Steven Martinovich
web posted June 1999

Canadians might be forgiven if they wondered what happened to the so-called unite the right movement spearheaded by Reform Party Leader Preston Manning. After a high profile United Alternative convention which drew hundreds of conservatives from across the country, the drive to forge an alliance between Reform and the venerable Progressive Conservative Party disappeared from the national radar almost immediately.

Even Manning seemed to disappear in the period between the end of the convention and last week's announcement that his own party apathetically voted for pursuing the idea (60 per cent). Despite its slight success at the ballot box, with only slightly less than 30 per cent of the party actually voting in favour, the long term ramifications of the vote could mean an end to Manning's leadership, the price perhaps of promoting a venture which few saw any gains for anyone.

Although Manning is considered the chief architect of the United Alternative movement, thanks should perhaps go to the governing Liberal Party. With the right wing vote fractured among Reform and the Progressive Conservatives (itself the product of a 1943 merger between the Conservative Party and the Progressive Party), Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's Liberals seem to have a firm grasp on the throne for the foreseeable future. That dim vision for Canada prompted Manning in hoping that an alliance of rightwing votes could break that hold.

Said Manning back in 1998, "this realignment is particularly necessary since the old political paradigm which still frames the Canadian political discourse no longer reflects the way Canadians perceive themselves in relation to the political process" and the only thing necessary was an alliance of politicians who believed in "fiscal responsibility, social responsibility, democratic accountability, and a strengthened federation characterized by equality and rebalanced powers."

Old political paradigms and alliances aside, I believe the idea of a United Alternative was a poor to begin with since you have to ask yourself if there is even a right wing to unite. The movement is the attempted wedding of two very different political forces. On one hand we have the Reform Party, a political movement clearly different from all others on the federal scene. Adopting U.S.-style rhetoric about free markets and morality, Reform became popular in Western Canada thanks to its largely populist approach.

On the other hand we have a mainstream Progressive Conservative party which these days is much more "progressive" than conservative. During the last federal election I wrote about the amazing similarities between the Tory platform and that of the Liberals. In some cases the Tories were to the left of the governing Liberals, calling for -- as an example -- a regulation to force banks to loan money to communities they operate in, something not found even in the Liberal platform.

Simply put, if there are any conservatives outside of the Reform Party, they aren't among the Progressive Conservatives. They have already made the switch to Reform.

The idea of the united alternative to the governing Liberals has also had an air of impatience about it, as if Reformers were tired of waiting outside after only two federal elections, the number it has contested since becoming a political party just over ten years ago. That impatience has seen Manning undertake a very dangerous course which may ultimately hand the Liberals the throne even if voters are tired of them. Across the Canadian political spectrum, only the Reform Party can be clearly differentiated from the Liberal Party, and by seeking an alliance with the-to-the left Progressive Conservatives, Reform risks diluting their ideology and moving closer to the center. Why vote for an unknown with a Liberal platform when you can vote for the real thing?

While he can be credited from taking a party which was created just over a decade ago from near obscurity to official Opposition Party status, the real politick truth of the matter is that Manning is not leadership material and the United Alternative movement is no solution to bringing to an end Liberal rule.

What will bring an end to the Liberals will be time. Free market and conservative ideas in general are continuing to gain acceptance in Canada as people realize that the policies championed in the past by federal Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments have been utter and complete failures. As Mike Harris in Ontario and Ralph Klein in Alberta have proven, ideas which were once considered radical are now being supported at the ballot box by people of all political stripes. All the Chicken Little warnings by the left have been proven wrong, giving credence to Reform and free market ideas.

The best thing that could happen to the United Alternative movement would be for the process to be quietly killed and allow the Reform Party officials to continue gaining experience at their jobs. It will give Canada time to come around to the party's ideals while will alone put an end to Liberal rule and the faux conservatism of the Progressive Conservatives.

Steve Martinovich is a journalist and the editor in chief of Enter Stage Right.


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