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Globe and Mail, Monday, June 14, 2004

Why I won't vote Conservative

by David Oechard

The new Conservative Party under Stephen Harper declares itself a moderate alternative to the Liberals, ready to govern Canada. In reality, the party has never had a convention or a meeting of its members. It has no constitution. Policies are set with no control by, direction from or accountability to a membership - whoever those members may be. (The party is mailing out unsolicited membership cards informing surprised recipients they are party members. Mine arrived last week.)

The new party is actually the old Reform-Alliance, which took over the Progressive Conservative Party, its colours and half its name. The word progressive was purged (along with its progressive wing). As Stephen Harper explained last June: "We may not have some of the old conservatives, red Tories like the David Orchards or the Joe Clarks. This is not all bad. A more coherent coalition can take strong positions it wouldn't otherwise be able to take - as the Alliance alone was able to do during the Iraq war."

To accomplish the takeover, the Progressive Conservative constitution may well have been trampled. There has been more than one charge that about 20,000 Alliance members were allowed to join, in Trojan-horse fashion, increasing the PC membership by 50 per cent. These Alliance members, the accusation goes, then voted twice - in both the PC and Alliance ratification votes - producing the farcical figure of more than 90 per cent support for the takeover/merger. Senator Lowell Murray described the takeover of the PC party as a "coup, similar to what we have seen in some countries where the constitution is suspended and a new order ratified in a quick plebiscite."

Now Mr. Harper's party has set up a truth squad to challenge Liberal "lies," headed by none other than Peter MacKay, the man who broke his word - including that given in writing to win the leadership of his party - not to merge with the Alliance, and who now refuses to reveal the source of the large donation he subsequently received to erase his campaign debts.

This is the party that attacks the Liberals for lacking ethics and accountability. A vote for the Conservative Party will legitimize the actions of the clique that destroyed the party that created Canada, and that now openly spurns basic elements of democracy. As Mr. Harper has admitted, policy for the new Conservatives will be essentially what he says it is.

For years, Mr. Harper headed the National Citizens Coalition (NCC) whose motto is "More freedom through less government." Speaking to the NCC in 1994 as a Reform MP, Mr. Harper boasted: "What has happened in the past five years? Let me start with the positive side. Universality has been severely reduced; it is virtually dead as a concept in most areas of public policy. The family-allowance program has been eliminated, and unemployment insurance has been seriously cut back. These achievements are due in part to the Reform Party of Canada and the National Citizens Coalition."

As Alliance leader in Parliament, Stephen Harper set out his views on health care: "Several provinces are involved in pushing for alternative private delivery, even on a profit basis. This is a natural development. In a properly functioning system, profit is the reward that businesses obtain for making substantial, long-term capital investments. The federal government must support this initiative."

The Canadian Wheat Board, established in 1935 by Conservative prime minister R..B. Bennett, has, in spite of fierce U.S. opposition, become Canada's largest net earner of foreign currency. It has played a crucial role in keeping the grain industry in Canadian hands and provides one of the few defences left for Western farmers. Mr. Harper and his colleagues, co-operating fully with the U.S. grain industry, call repeatedly for its destruction.

Mr. Harper has promised to scrap Canada's commitment to Kyoto, joining the United States in its opposition to the only international agreement to reduce harmful carbon-dioxide emissions. He plans to privatize major parts of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and to gut the nation's broadcast regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, opening the broadcast industry to foreign takeover.

There is more: Since coming from the United States, Tom Flanagan, a key founder of the Reform Party and now Mr. Harper's chief adviser and the party's campaign manager, has made his career calling for the deliberate assimilation of native people. In his book First Nations? Second Thoughts, Mr. Flanagan writes: "European civilization was several thousand years more advanced than the aboriginal cultures of North America." He dismisses aboriginal treaty rights: "Sovereignty is an attribute of statehood, and aboriginal peoples in Canada had not arrived at the state level of political organization prior to contact with Europeans." With Mr. Flanagan's man in power, native people are offered one choice: to cease to be a distinct people with fundamental rights.

On June 29, a minority Conservative government can expect Bloc support - for a price. Both parties agree on dismantling the central government and national institutions in favour of greater provincial powers. As constitutional-affairs critic for the Reform Party in the lead-up to the 1995 Quebec referendum, Mr. Harper stated: "Whether Canada ends up with one national government, or some other kind of arrangement, is, quite frankly, secondary in my opinion."

His essay in 2001 defending Alliance MP Jim Pankiw's private member's bill to emasculate the Official Languages Act - "Bilingualism: the God that failed" - is equally revealing. Bloc MP Yves Rocheleau prefers a Conservative victory, he said, because it would "demonstrate what René Lévesque called 'the impossible Canada.' Canada is a madhouse. It's a country that cannot be administered."

A unilingual, French-speaking Quebec, a unilingual English-speaking rest of Canada, and no need for the twain to meet: this is the meeting ground for the Bloc and the Conservatives, and a graveyard for the dreams of all who have fought for a tolerant bilingual nation that is stronger for our efforts to learn from, and be protective of, the other's culture and language.

During the U.S. war on Iraq, Stephen Harper and Stockwell Day repeatedly advocated Canadian participation, including attacking the Canadian government in The Wall Street Journal on March 28: "A coalition of countries under the leadership of the U.K. and the U.S. is leading a military intervention to disarm Saddam Hussein. Yet, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has left Canada outside this multilateral coalition of nations. This is a serious mistake. The Canadian Alliance - the Official Opposition in Parliament - supports the American and British position. Make no mistake; the Canadian Alliance won't be neutral. In our hearts and minds we will be with our allies and friends. But we will not be with the Canadian government."

Peter MacKay, now Mr. Harper's deputy leader, excoriated Mr. Chrétien for refusing to join that invasion. Today, apparently hoping Canadians and the media have lost their memories, Mr. Harper and Mr. Day try to fudge their words.

For those who want to protect Canada's culture, its environment, its institutions and its sovereignty, Mr. Harper and his inner circle seem to have little but contempt. They march to a different drummer, to the beat of Mr. Mulroney and George W. Bush.

David Orchard, author of The Fight for Canada - Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism, ran for the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative Party in 1998 and 2003. E-mail:

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