What Went Wrong with the Right?
Brandon Sun, July 29, 2013 - David McConkey
Let’s step back a bit and remember what the Reform party was about. Bursting onto the political scene in 1987, it became the Official Opposition in just 10 years.
“The West Wants In” was Reform’s motto. This was about more than better regional representation. It was about the culture of Western Canada, which has less corruption and more civic participation than Eastern Canada.
A Reform government would be smaller and live within its means; citizens would be freer and more self-reliant. MPs would be more independent in the House of Commons; Senators would be elected and more accountable.
Reform was not just a new political party. It was a new way of doing politics. Like the leader Preston Manning and Reform MPs refusing to take the gold-plated pensions, cars, and other parliamentary perks.
But there was also a dark side of Reform: social conservatives who were against progress and science. That side of Reform also had roots in Western Canada. Recall Prohibition. Or the "Back to the Bible Hour" radio program of Ernest Manning, who was Preston’s father.
(The elder Manning was Premier of Alberta from 1943 to 1968. In those days, alcohol could not be served on airplanes while flying over the province.)
The Progressive Conservative party also had two sides. One side was the progressive “Red Tory” part. Think of Rick Borotsik supporting gay marriage in parliament.
But the Tories also had a dark side. Think of old-time big government sleazy politics, backroom deals, even payoffs.
We saw the tension between the two halves of that party with Brian Mulroney. Despite some good Red Tory intentions, sleaziness won out in the end.
The Reform party (by then the Canadian Alliance) merged with the Progressive Conservatives in 2004. We got the worst of both parties. We ended up with the social conservatism of Reform and the sleaziness of the Tories.
This is why the Harper government is so bad.
So we now have the Reform social conservative impulse to downplay science and discard facts from “university types.” And the Tory sleaziness impulse to shut down debate in the House of Commons and appoint hacks to the Senate.
The Reform ideal of limited government is overwhelmed by the Tory old-time politics urge to spend more and more. Instead of cutting, the Harper government expanded the government. (Even before the financial meltdown, Harper had blown through the surplus left by the Liberals).
Reform encouraged self-reliance among the citizenry. But now, Harper’s ubiquitous “Economic Action Plan” brags about how big the government has become. Harper says, in effect, “Don’t worry about who is going to pay for it, look at how much the government is doing for you today!”
Or look at the ramping up of the War on Drugs. Of course it will be a big failure, and the Red Tories could have told them so. But the social conservatives can’t resist this new form of Prohibition. The result of more people in prison means not only more big government, but also a great human cost.
Thinking back to the Reform years, I remember an election sign in a business window on Princess Avenue. It summed up the dedication, the volunteer spirit, and the frugality of Reform supporters back then. I remember the sign saying, “We will run our campaign as we will run Canada – debt free.”
How far the Harper government has strayed from that ideal! Now we have Senator Mike Duffy as the sleazy star of the election campaign. And Canada’s debt gets bigger and bigger.
Could we ever have a Reform-inspired government that really kept to the goals of smaller government, a better parliament, and individual freedom and self-reliance? Could we alternate that with a government led by a distillation of the Greens, Liberals, and NDP? Could we ever have the best of all parties?
Anyone for a new Reform party?
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The War on Drugs:
A Failed Experiment
Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now
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The Greatest Show on Earth:
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