John A. Macdonald, John Diefenbaker, Robert Stanfield, Brian Mulroney and in the foreground Joe Clark


A Tory's Point of View

White Rock B.C. - Friday, September 19, 2003 - by: Brian Marlatt

skill in

A great deal of energy and goodwill - and no doubt energy motivated by partisan self-interest has been expended in pursuit of a coalition since Mont Tremblant. For all of that, the Leader's integrity and skill in parliament remained our greatest assets during the leadership of Mr. Clark, perhaps even more than did our very solid policy base and perhaps no less than does our identity as Progressive Conservatives.


Mont Tremblant came at a great cost to our confidence and credibility as a national party, and this will very likely be reflected in the results of the next election just as it seems to be in results reported by virtually every polling agency. It is distance from the Reform Party, or the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance as it now prefers to call itself, that is needed. Failing that, Canadians nationally may well abandon our party and Canadian conservatism permanently.

heap scorn on

It is ten years since1993. We have had time to absorb the lessons that had to be learned. Persistent talk of coalition with those who heap scorn on Confederation at every turn suggests that at some level we have not done so.


We should not be surprised, for example, that the practice of devolution of power to the provinces has only fed the appetite of those who rightly or wrongly have claimed grievance and alienation, and so the Bloc and Reform Parties were born and prospered regionally for a season.


The coalition with the DRC came to its natural end some time ago; yet talk of coalition with the Canadian Alliance continues and is still proving to be divisive. Were we more confident and credible or more effective in parliament the cost to our party and to Canadians on issues as important as the very nature of Confederation itself might not be so clear. Instead, our credibility and effectiveness in parliament are judged consistently according to the coalition's prospective success or failure in "uniting the Right" by those whose borrowed ideology has less to do with Canada than with appeasing the worldview of our neighbours. Few outside their small circle will take pleasure in this.

and goals

The ability to reach beyond party, to work with others for the public good, issue by issue collegially in pursuit of the public good rather than in partisan coalition, should be the standard of success. Coalitions work when shared values or shared goals are paramount. They fail when values are at odds or where goals are window-dressing for other agendas.


In the case of the Reform progeny, the values are libertarian, populist and frankly the American Right's idea of conservative. Their goals, their agenda, are opposed to parliamentary democracy, Canadian federalism, representative democracy and responsible government, and conservatism with a social conscience. They speak of themselves as a populist movement governing the government and with the voice of militant provincialism.


Ours is the party of Sir John A. Macdonald, Confederation and National Unity. Sir John A. himself approved of coalitions to achieve common goals based on common values. The coalition he led to bring about Confederation was a coalition of Tories, Grits, Bleu and Rouge, and, yes, a party which called itself Reform. What united these parties and distinguishes them from Preston Manning's Reform, now the Canadian Alliance, was their shared belief in parliamentary democracy and in the typically Canadian compromise between legislative and federal union that is Canadian federalism. Sir John A., who pointedly spoke of progressive conservatism, spoke with clarity about the definition of Confederation:
"Canada is not a half dozen provinces, Canada is one Great Dominion".


Where, then, are the shared values or shared goals necessary to a coalition?


Coalition between the regionally obsessed Progressives and the national Conservative Party is pointed to by some as key to Mr. Diefenbaker's 1950s Tory victory. But the Progressives were an empty shell after their flash in the pan 1920s day of protest. Mr. Diefenbaker's success was more profound and inclusive.


John Diefenbaker was inspired to reach beyond the acknowledged French-English dialogue to bring other, indeed all, of our cultural, ethnic and regional personalities into one Canadian family. This was his coalition. His vision of one unhyphenated Canadian identity was respectful of individual distinctiveness; it also eschewed the notion that good walls make good neighbours.


Militant individualism, whether of person or province, is difficult to reconcile with this vision.


Where, again, are the shared values or shared goals necessary to a coalition?


The social conscience of John Diefenbaker and Robert Stanfield, conscious of minority voices and the disadvantaged, of Joe Clark, who has spoken eloquently of Canada's community of communities, and of Brian Mulroney, who knew that respect for distinctiveness, diversity and condition are central to conservatism's balance of continuity and change, are well-marked signposts on the High Road of Progressive Conservatives.


Just as in our sense of the nation, which speaks constitutionally of the interest of the nation and the welfare of the provinces, the social contract of conservatism in Canada is commonly said to be concerned with the individual in the community.


It is pointed out, just as commonly, that ideological neoconservatives have turned to 19th century laissez-faire liberalism. Individual interest is paramount. This is a view that appeals to the American Right and to the former members of the old Reform Party who are the core constituency of the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance.


Where, yet again, are the shared values and goals necessary to a coalition?


The shared values and shared goals necessary to a coalition are not to be found in the window-dressing of an imposed partisan agenda or an agenda plied by sly means. Reason, compromise, integrity and goodwill will be rewarded instead, because they appeal to the higher instincts of the wider, national audience whose interests are ultimately concerned.


Tories must continue to look to the interest of all Canadians, respectfully, even of unreconstructed neoconservatives. The political challenge is to address the issues which gave rise to the party of, in the majority view, reactionary neoconservativism and regionalism while avoiding its unprofitable and self-destructive path.


The challenge for our Mont Tremblant coalition partners, a coalition formed on the basis of the principles of responsible government practiced across party lines as a healthy parliamentary democracy allows, was greater. They discovered that a political culture of populist libertarian isolation isolates even further. Those who returned to the Canadian Alliance failed to overcome the fragile intolerance and regionalism of the Reform Party political culture. They returned whence they came at the earliest opportunity.


Principle is not a line in the sand. Progressive Conservatives must continue to approach parliamentary democracy by embracing the conservative's balance of continuity and change and discard regionalism in favour of national vision. Mr. Harper and those who claim to be in touch with the grassroots of his party take pleasure in a view of themselves as a voice of regional grievance. This is not the stuff of political coalition much less the coalition out of which Confederation emerged.


A coalition that reaches beyond party, which works with others for the public good, issue by issue or in coalition in pursuit of the public good, can be achieved and is the standard of success. But it will work only if shared values and shared goals are paramount. To do less is to pursue a coalition that is irrelevant to parliament and good government. It will be short-lived, steeped in suspicion and acrimony, and will end in bitter charges of betrayal.
  We can do better.


We can do so as Progressive Conservatives committed to Canada and a Canadian vision of conservatism that speaks of one nation, respecting individual diversity in our community, and through our commitment to the principles of parliamentary democracy. This a genuine basis for coalition, a coalition not of political parties but of the people of Canada.

Brian Marlatt


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