Toronto Star, June 29, 1998 (The day David Orchard launched
his campaign for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative
Conservatives can win if they only remember their history
by David Orchard
In the current debate about the Conservative party's future virtually
the only question being asked is how far right the party should
move. The party's history is being ignored as is any serious analysis
of it's past success and recent failure.
John A. Macdonald created the Conservative party. Facing threat
of invasion from the U.S., the "pilot of Confederation" brought
together Canadian provinces which had existed separately for two-and-a-half
centuries before 1867.
In the next four tumultuous years, Macdonald cemented Confederation
and expanded it continent wide.
The Liberals fought against the terms of B.C.'s entry to Canada;
a railway was "too expensive" for the fledgling union, they said,
"all the resources in the British Empire" could not build such a
line and even if it could, what would it carry -- "buffaloes and
Macdonald, his eye on U.S. attempts to annex Manitoba, then B.C.,
drove the railroad through in half the promised ten years time.
He defeated his American adversaries and gave Canada the foundation
for greatness. The Liberals wanted American help to build an easier,
cheaper line south of the Great Lakes, through the U.S. "Never,"
replied George Cartier, Macdonald's French-Canadian co-leader, "will
a damned American company have control of the Pacific." Under Macdonald,
four million Canadians built one of the world's largest railway
systems, all Canadian.
Against the Liberals' support of "provincial rights," Macdonald
steadfastly insisted on a strong central government and economic
nationalism -- to secure Canada's independence. "Canada for Canadians"
was his slogan. In the 1880s the Liberals called for free trade
or commercial union with the U.S. Free trade, Macdonald replied,
was the prelude to annexation: "They have as many aliases for their
policy as a thief has excuses for his wrong doing," he thundered.
"It has been commercial union, unrestricted reciprocity and latterly
tariff reform: but there is another name by which it must be known,
and that is annexation -- which is treason."
In the 1891 election, the old Chieftain, 76, gave his all to defeat
free trade. That victory, which cost his life, caused the Liberals
to drop free trade and adopt completely Macdonald's National Policy,
and Canada entered its years of greatest prosperity.
In 1911, the Liberals again proposed free trade with the U.S.
The Conservatives forced an election and fought. Robert Borden called
free trade "the most momentous question ever submitted to the Canadian
electorate." Laurier was calling for a greater Canada, Borden noted,
but it seemed to be a greater United States that the Liberals had
achieved. The voters swept Borden to office in triumph.
Borden's successor, Arthur Meighen, advocated strong protection
against the Americans; "Not a single country in the world requires
a tariff so vitally as does this Dominion -- competing as we do
chiefly with the United States..."
In 1932, R. B. Bennett's Conservatives created the forerunner
of the CBC, now one of the world's major public broadcasters, the
Bank of Canada and the Canadian Wheat Board, the world's most powerful
and prestigious marketing board. Bennett declared, "to my mind reform
means government intervention. It means government control and regulation.
It means the end of laissez-faire.... If you want no changes in
the capitalist system declare for the Liberals."
John Diefenbaker refused to support U.S. bullying of Cuba. In
1963, standing almost alone against the American government, he
also refused to accept Bomarc nuclear missiles. "We are a power,
not a puppet.... I want Canada to be in control of Canadian soil.
Now if that's an offence I want the people of Canada to say so."
Newsweek magazine launched a cover story attack calling Diefenbaker
a "sick and maniacal" character uttering "shrill cries of anti-Americanism."
Constitutionally Diefenbaker resisted the premiers' demands for
more power; "provincial nabobs" he called them.
In 1983, control of the Conservative party was seized by the president
of an American mining corporation. Turning the party against its
historical roots, Brian Mulroney signed a sweeping continental integration
agreement and attempted to weaken the central government.
The party's reward was annihilation at the polls in 1993.
Those advocating further Americanization of the party, as David
Frum, the darling of Wall Street, and his friends are currently
doing, will ensure the party's demise.
The hope for the Conservative party, and for the country, lies
in realizing that Brian Mulroney's policies were an aberration and
correcting them. This means a return to the historic and successful
Conservative position of fostering a Canadian economy, Canadian
independence and a Canadian spirit. This means reversing the unmandated
(NA)FTA. Mulroney rammed the FTA through Parliament by the unprecedented
use of closure, even though it was opposed in 1988 by the largest
majority in any free trade election in Canadian history. His NAFTA
was ratified by the Liberals after their express 1993 electoral
commitment to "renegotiate or abrogate" it.
The Chretien Liberals' greatest fervour to date has been in cutting
and slashing the Canada which already exists, while extending and
promoting the promoting the FTA, which they, in opposition, called
"the Sale of Canada Act."
The Liberals, however, cannot be defeated by trying to out-Reform,
out-Mulroney, or out-Gingrich them. They can be defeated by outflanking
them, not on the right, but on the centre left, ground which the
Liberals have fatally abandoned in their pellmell rush to embrace
Mulroney's agenda -- so thoroughly rejected by the voters.
This is not a task for Jean Charest, who supported Mulroney's
continentalism, even less can it be achieved by the new Republicans
and Reformers gathered at the Conservative party's sickbed. It can
only come from new leadership which understands the lessons of history
and is prepared to act with Macdonald's courage to reclaim Canada
David Orchard is the author
of The Fight for Canada - Four Centuries of Resistance to American
Expansionism and was runner-up to Joe Clark in the 1998 federal
Progressive Conservative leadership contest. He farms in Borden,
SK and can be reached at tel (306) 664-8443 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org