Globe and Mail, 23 June, 2003
Don't do it, Peter
There is no good reason for Tories to climb into bed with the Alliance
by Senator Lowell Murray
Stephen Harper called last week for an "electoral coalition" between the
Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties. If our party's
leader, Peter MacKay, goes down this road -- and he seems tempted to explore
it -- he will waste precious time and political capital. And he will find
it's a dead end.
With a general election likely in 2004, we Tories need to be concentrating
on policy, constituency organization, recruitment and fundraising.
Surely, enough energy has been squandered over the past 10 years trying to
imagine what Mr. Harper's hybrid would look like: two parties divvying up
the ridings each will contest in the next election. No argument of principle
or policy has ever been advanced to justify it -- only the notion, disproved
by almost all public-opinion research on the subject, that the two parties
could somehow pool their voters and thus rid the country of the Liberal
This does not even deserve to be called opportunism. It's political fantasy.
Call it the Anti-Liberal Coalition. Canadians may be fed up with the
Chr*tien government, but they want something more substantial, credible and
attractive than this hybrid as an alternative.
Co-operation among opposition parties in the House of Commons is a different
matter. Progressive Conservatives and disaffected members of the Canadian
Alliance tried to formalize their co-operation into an opposition coalition
in 2001-02. We even came up with a common position on democratic and
parliamentary reforms produced by a committee I co-chaired with Alliance MP
Deborah Grey. Outside Parliament, however, the hybrid had no legs.
The fact is that the two parties are fundamentally different. That they are
incompatible would soon become clear to Tory candidates trying to defend
Alliance policies, and vice versa, in the unstable electoral cohabitation
proposed by Mr. Harper and others.
Reform conservatism, which is what the Alliance practises, relies on
people's fear of moral and economic decline combined with nostalgia for a
Canada that no longer exists. It spoils all the good arguments for the
market economy by making a religion of it, pretending there are market
criteria and market solutions to all our social and political problems.
(Perhaps this explains the merger/acquisition mentality that Alliance
Reformers bring to the discussion of the country's current -- and
temporarily -- fractured politics.) Government is seen as a necessary evil,
and a strong Canadian government as an unnecessary evil.
The Canadian Alliance draws on largely regional sentiments of alienation and
Their protest vote may provide a solid and even perpetual base of support,
but it is not enough to elect, much less sustain, a governing coalition. The
continued wooing of the Progressive Conservative Party by Stephen Harper and
company is proof enough that the Tories have something the Alliance wants,
and desperately so: widespread support. How ironic that after all the fire
and brimstone, all their vituperative and destructive rhetoric of the past
decade, we have now come full circle.
Tories are more realistic and, yes, more compassionate.
We believe that government's job is to provide stability and security
against the excesses of the market. Democratic politics must define the public interest and ensure it always prevails over mere private ambitions. To that extent, the forces of technology and globalization need to be tamed. And as former Conservative leader Joe Clark
remarked recently, such deadly current phenomena as SARS and terrorism
underline the need for stronger, not weaker, public institutions.
Working out our future trade and security arrangements with the United
States needs a steadier hand than the gung-ho, neoconservative approach of
the Canadian Alliance, or of the Liberals whose pathetic 1960s anti-American
wing just won't go away and seems to require constant appeasement by the
party's leadership. Tories need not be afraid of negotiating further
economic integration in our national interest. The starting point for
Canada, as our country's former ambassador to Washington, Derek Burney, told
a U.S. audience recently, is to "fix what's not working well" in the present
trade relationship. Our new leader's blue-ribbon panel to review the North
American Free Trade Agreement, so scorned by Mr. Harper and the Canadian
Alliance, should give us a road map in this direction.
The Liberals' leading candidate, Paul Martin, certainly employs the right
rhetoric when he talks of this country's "democratic deficit," but the way
he and his followers seized control of the Liberal Party, and their ruthless
exercise of their new authority, are more revealing of what is in store for
parliamentary institutions on his hopefully brief watch.
Canadian democracy will need John Diefenbaker-like vigilance from Tory
leader Peter MacKay and his MPs.
The pressure of responding to all these policy challenges is an opportunity
for Mr. MacKay to articulate a Progressive Conservative vision of Canada's
future and to translate it into an electoral program that appeals to people
not only across geographic but across social and economic boundaries as
That is his clear duty to party and country. Our young leader has the talent to renew this respected old party and soon put it back into contention for government. But he will need to stay focused, stay in the public eye and stay away from the feckless search for
shortcuts in Mr. Harper's back rooms.
Lowell Murray is a Progressive Conservative senator.