By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 3, 2013 - 0 Comments
The Current talks to the Conservative backbencher, the former Reform leader and the Postmedia columnist about Mark Warawa and everything after.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 10:51 AM - 0 Comments
He mentioned (though not by name) Wildrose candidate and evangelical pastor Allan Hunsperger, whose “derogatory reference to homosexuals” was “dredged up during the recent [Alberta] provincial election,” and “a questionable comment by a prominent libertarian and a good friend of mine, which seemed to imply that the freedom of an individual to view child pornography had no serious consequences for others.” That would be Mr. Flanagan.
And he took some of the blame for this state of affairs. “In the early days of the Reform Party, we were so anxious to allow our members the freedom to express contrary views that we virtually let them do and say as they pleased,” he said. “But in later years I have come to see the wisdom of Edmund Burke’s observation that before we encourage people to do as they please, we ought first to inquire what it may please them to do.”
That’s the founder of the Reform Party and the principled conscience of the Canadian conservative movement telling people to shut their yaps on controversial subjects for the good of the tribe. First and foremost, it’s depressing.
It is at least cynical. Consider these two paragraphs from the prepared text.
For the sake of the movement and the maintenance of public trust, conservative organizations should be prepared to swiftly and publicly disassociate themselves from those individuals who cross the line.
This does not mean that we as individual conservatives on a personal level ostracize or disassociate ourselves from those who cross the line. Everyone makes honest mistakes, conservatives believe in second chances, and we need to rally around those who have been lured across the line by opponents rather than “piling on.”
So the line-crosser should be publicly scorned, even if also privately comforted. Perhaps it’s only odd to hear someone acknowledge that much out loud—perhaps this is only the political equivalent of breaking the fourth wall—but it does raise all sorts of interesting questions for further discussion.
Consider the case of Mr. Hunsperger. What was his “mistake”? Holding those views? Expressing them publicly? Expressing them publicly if he ever hoped to run for political office? Or, rather, was it the Wild Rose party’s “mistake”? Should it have barred him from running as a candidate given that he had expressed such views?
Is this anything more than a public relations exercise? Or does a party make a philosophical point when it condemns such “mistakes”? (More broadly, how should a modern conservative party reconcile its social conservative members and supporters with the increasing acceptance of gay rights? I actually think that should be the topic of a panel discussion at next year’s Manning conference.)
How generally should this idea of putting the team before the individual be applied? Could it be applied to Stephen Woodworth, Mark Warawa or Brad Trost? They certainly seem to contradict their party leader’s line on abortion, but they also speak to a sizeable constituency within the party. Does determining whether a line has been crossed and how the party should respond become a purely mathematical matter of determining how many votes are won or lost as a result? And at what point does this focus on the team limit the independence of the MP and contribute to the disempowerment of the legislature?
All of which perhaps sidesteps the fact that, as political advice for conservative parties who aspire to government, Mr. Manning’s advice is probably very sound.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 6:03 PM - 0 Comments
Ezra Levant, the carnival barker of the conservative movement in Canada and the foremost heel to Canadian progressives, was trying to explain the problem with environmentalism.
“I have no problem with treating the environment on an issue by issue basis: we’ve got to fix this or solve that,” he said. “But environmentalism is a philosophy, like most words ending with ism. Socialism, communism… hinduism, it’s a faith. And so the question is if your true ideology is conservatism or libertarianism, and you also think you can be an environmentalism person, you may have a conflict there.” Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 1:36 PM - 0 Comments
I’ll have a longer piece about the Manning conference tomorrow, but for now, here is the prepared text of Preston Manning’s state of the conservative movement speech. Mr. Manning addresses environmental conservatism and the phenomenon of “intemperate and ill considered remarks” by conservatives (including a reference to Tom Flanagan).
When I first got into the management consulting business many years ago, my first client was a scrap metal dealer in Edmonton. He had his heart set on buying one of those big machines that crush old car bodies into bales for sale to a steel mill. I did all the analysis and came to the sad conclusion that he would go broke if he bought that machine – news my client did not want to hear. This raised the question that every political candidate and leader must also address: “Do you tell them what they want to hear, or do you tell them what they need to hear?”
Of course, the Canadian answer to such questions is, “Do both.”
By Preston Manning - Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 11:33 AM - 0 Comments
Preston Manning on the new Spielberg film, ‘Lincoln’—and what Obama could learn from it
Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s new film, tells the story of a dramatic period in the life of Abraham Lincoln near the end of the American Civil War. It is the period between Lincoln’s re-election to a second term as president of the United States on Nov. 8, 1864, and the passage, several months later, of the constitutional amendment that permanently abolished slavery throughout the U.S.
President Barack Obama has been re-elected to his second term at a time when America is again seriously divided racially and politically—racked by what CNN commentator John King described on election night as “an ideological civil war.” This conflict currently prevents a divided U.S. government from averting the fiscal crisis that threatens to plunge the American economy into recession.
So what were the principles and tactics employed by Lincoln to bring together a Congress divided over abolition? And how might they apply to bringing together a U.S. government divided over the fiscal issue and hasten the end of America’s ideological civil war? Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 9:54 AM - 0 Comments
In September, Preston Manning was linked vaguely to a new call for a carbon tax—he was said to support the idea of full-cost pricing “in principle.”
For the sake of clarification, I passed along a question to him through his office: “Do you support establishing a price on carbon, either through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system?”
Here is the response I received via email yesterday.
“I support the concept of moving towards full cost accounting with respect to energy production – which means determining the negative environmental impacts associated with any energy project, adopting measures to avoid or mitigate those effects, and ultimately integrating the costs of those measures into the price of the product.
As you know, the two principal approaches to accomplishing this, with respect to the production of energy from hydrocarbons, are through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system. I believe that the carbon tax involves less interference by governments in the marketplace than the cap-and-trade approach.
However I also believe that the carbon tax is misnamed, as the public’s idea of a tax is a levy on income or the sale of a good or asset, the proceeds of which go to the government to pay for public services – which is fundamentally different from the economist’s idea of using a tax to internalize an externality. It is the communication of the carbon tax concept to the public which I feel was hopelessly bungled.
I also believe that if you are going to apply full cost accounting to the production of energy from petroleum sources, then the same concept should be applied to every other energy source, since none is environmentally neutral. For example when the oil sands producers tear up several hundred square kilometers of forests in northern Alberta, the cost of mitigating that activity are incorporated into the cost of the operations through reclamation bonds. But where then is the reservoir tax on the hydro producers of this country who have flooded forest areas in Canada the size of lake Ontario? And similarly, where is the radiation tax on nuclear power producers, and where are the environmental levies on wind and solar producers?
In my view the application of full cost accounting and pricing to hydrocarbon producers should be conditional upon the simultaneous application of this concept to all other energy producers.”
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
A few footnotes to the Trudeau imbroglio.
In 2006, the Bloc Quebecois produced a newspaper ad that read “Don’t let Calgary decide for Quebec.” (Note the cowboy hat over the “r” in Calgary.)
Nine years before that, as Kevin Libin notes in that Western Standard blog post, the Reform party produced a television ad that called for a “voice for all Canadians, not just Quebec politicians.” This drew a bit of criticism. Here is how the Canadian Press reported the story at the time. (Note the former Reform MP who was consulted for analysis.) Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 2:14 PM - 0 Comments
Whatever the impact of the attack ads run against him, one historical note on the challenge facing Thomas Mulcair. He will be attempting in 2015 to do something that most leaders of the opposition fail to do: lead their parties to a general election victory on their first try.
By my count, between 1921 and 2011, 15 opposition leaders* who had not previously been prime minister led their parties into elections. Ten of those leaders failed to lead their parties to government on that first try: Michael Ignatieff, Stephane Dion, Stephen Harper, Stockwell Day, Preston Manning, Robert Stanfield, Lester B. Pearson, George Drew, John Bracken and Robert Manion. Only two of those ten went on to become prime minister after losing the first time: Messrs Harper and Pearson.
On the other hand, the five who won were Jean Chretien (1993), Brian Mulroney (1984), Joe Clark (1979), John Diefenbaker (1957) and Mackenzie King (1921) and all of those five defeated governments that had been in power for at least two terms.
When Mr. Chretien become prime minister, the Progressive Conservatives had been in power for nine years. When Mr. Mulroney became prime minister, the Liberals had been in power for 20 of the previous 21 years and won six of the previous seven elections. When Mr. Clark became prime minister, the Liberals had been in power for 16 years covering five elections. When Mr. Diefenbaker became prime minister, the Liberals had been in power for 22 years covering five elections. When Mr. King became prime minister, the Conservatives (on their own and then as a coalition) had been in power for 10 years covering two elections.
When Mr. Mulcair faces the Conservatives in 2015, the Conservatives will be at the end of their third mandate and been in power for nine years.
*Preston Manning was not technically the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in 1997. Officially that title belonged to Gilles Duceppe, but the Bloc Quebecois had no chance of forming government and at dissolution the Bloc and Reform Party had the same number of seats.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
The New Democrats have called a news conference for this morning to explain the “next steps” in their fight against C-38. Elizabeth May and the Liberals have already vowed to table 200 amendments when the bill returns to the House from committee.
The standard in this regard might be the 471 amendments to the Nisa’ga Treaty that the Reform Party proposed in 1999. From December 7 to December 9 of that year, the amendments resulted in nearly 43 consecutive hours of voting. When it was over, Reform MP Gurmant Grewal celebrated his accomplishment as the only MP to record a vote on each of those amendments.
The delay failed to win a concession from the government, but opposition leader Preston Manning was apparently satisfied nonetheless. “Thanks partly to the coverage you people gave to this issue, you’ve got millions of Canadians asking what is this Nisga’a treaty thing all about anyway,” he told reporters afterwards. Mr. Manning said the Reform party had “chalked up a win for Canadians by holding the government to account.” “Two years down the road, five years down the road, 10 years down the road somebody is going to say how on Earth did we get committed to a treaty like this,” he said. “I want to be able to say we did everything conceivable within the rules of Parliament to try to change it and to try to stop it.” Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 17, 2012 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
Brian Topp tells the CBC that, if he’s elected leader of the NDP, he’ll ask an NDP MP in Quebec to step aside so that he can run in a by-election.
Fun fact: the last three leaders of the opposition who went on to become prime minister weren’t MPs when they won their party leaderships.
Stephen Harper was elected leader of the Canadian Alliance in March 20, 2002 and then ran in a by-election to fill the seat for Calgary Southwest that was left vacant when Preston Manning resigned in January of that year. Not until May 21, 2002 did Mr. Harper make his first appearance in the House as the leader of the opposition.
Jean Chretien was elected leader of the Liberal party on June 23, 1990. Fernand Robichaud, the Liberal MP for Beausejour, resigned, so that Mr. Chretien could run in a by-election there. Mr. Chretien then took his seat as the leader of the opposition on Dec. 21, 1990.
Brian Mulroney was elected leader of the Progressive Conservatives on June 11, 1983. Elmer MacKay (father of Peter) then stepped down, allowing Mr. Mulroney to run in Central Nova. Mr. Mulroney then took his seat as the leader of the opposition on August 29, 1993.
By Paul Wells - Friday, September 23, 2011 at 9:15 AM - 24 Comments
Paul Wells on how Ted Byfield helped pave the way for Harper’s majority win
Stephen Harper sent his regrets and a note, which was read to the 300-odd revellers the other night at the Coast Edmonton Plaza Hotel. “Special greetings to Ted Byfield and Preston Manning, who have done so much to inspire, inform and lead the conservative movement in Canada,” the Prime Minister’s note said.
The occasion was a “victory celebration” for a defunct magazine that never made anyone rich. The magazine was Alberta Report. Well, sometimes it had other titles, but we’ll stick with that one. Its founder was Ted Byfield, an irascible right-wing coot—I do not believe his friends would disagree with that description—and a mentor to dozens of journalists who went on to other roles, including this magazine’s Ken Whyte, Mark Stevenson and Colby Cosh.
But as I’ve said, the Report shut down in 2003. So what’s to celebrate? Power. “The West Is In,” the party invitations read. The reference was to the Harper Conservatives’ majority government. The dinner’s souvenir program promised a “national gala to reunite the original authors of Harper’s historic victory.”
By Mitchel Raphael - Monday, July 11, 2011 at 9:50 AM - 0 Comments
Politicians with bad hips…
At Toronto’s 31st annual Pride Parade it was all about
Politicians with bad hips
At Toronto’s 31st annual Pride Parade it was all about party leaders in rickshaws. Green Leader Elizabeth May rode in one as she has in every parade since having a hip replaced in 2007. This time, NDP Leader Jack Layton, who still walks with a cane after hip surgery, was pulled in one covered in rainbow flags. His team was prepared for all the people who insist on spraying politicians with huge water guns—a nightmare for anyone with a BlackBerry. At one point Layton’s wife, MP Olivia Chow, took a water cannon shot in the back to protect him. Chow then opened a rainbow umbrella to deflect further H20 assaults from Layton’s left flank; a volunteer opened a huge orange umbrella to protect him on the right. May is waiting to have surgery on her other hip and says after that she will be able to walk in the Pride Parade. The Liberal MP presence was diminished this year. Interim leader Bob Rae and Carolyn Bennett were the only two elected Grit MPs. Rob Oliphant, who was defeated in the last election, was also in attendance. Rae’s wife, Arlene Perly Rae, demonstrated powerful arm strength as she tossed bead necklaces into the crowd. One shot accidentally hit a photographer and she quickly went over and apologized.
‘Screw the cottage’
There was much anger and campy commentary over Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s snub of all Pride festivities. (Ford said he always goes to his cottage for Canada Day weekend and would not be attending Pride.) Former Toronto mayors were well represented. David Miller and Barbara Hall marched and Mel Lastman sent a letter that was read at the Metropolitan Community Church service before the parade began. Ford mockers were out in force. One man dressed as Ford held a sign saying “Screw the cottage.” Many wore Ford masks. “More people wore them on their ass than their face, which sums it up,” noted Fab magazine associate editor Drew Rowsome.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, February 3, 2011 at 7:35 PM - 103 Comments
Some of you will be reading my column on the resignation of Ed Stelmach as Alberta premier as early as today; some of you will have to wait until next week. In the meantime, I’ll give you some principles you can use to filter the hypotheses of other observers.
First of all, don’t believe anyone who tells you that Alberta politics is governed by some mystical tidal pattern of stagnation punctuated by revolution. Anybody who’s been here for the past 20 or 30 years should have learned to tune out the “massive change is just around the corner!” refrain by now, if only because advancing age has made him half-deaf. Preston Manning alone has been guilty of a dozen or so end-times prophecies of this sort (though, in fairness, prophecy is sort of a family tradition with him). News flash: pretty much everybody who voted here in 1935 is underground, and not because a basement suite was all they could afford. The Alberta electorate of 2011 in no way resembles that even of 1981; not ethnically, not culturally, not spiritually, not ideologically.
And the political spectrum itself has changed. As much as there might be a casual longing for a revival of “Peter Lougheed Conservatism”, Lougheed’s style of state corporatism, which led to budget disaster in the 1980s after his suspiciously timely exit, would probably now put any candidate who embraced it on the left wing of the federal NDP. Don’t believe anyone who tells you there is some unexploited, powerful hidden welter of Red Toryism in Alberta, waiting to spew forth into an appropriate channel. Even the reds aren’t that Red anymore.
There is no particular reason for Alberta politics to seek the same equilibrium in which our federal government is trapped, so don’t believe anyone who argues for realignment as some kind of cosmic axiom. Yes, I’m looking at Jeffrey Simpson here. Simpson is described endearingly by his employer as “a regular visitor to Alberta”, which seems like a deliberate invitation to scorn, but the man obviously is well-informed about the place. His characterization of the Alberta Liberal Party can only have come from someone familiar with it.
Simpson, however, believes Alberta politics is reverting to a “normal” shape (one it has never had) because the province no longer has any reason for hostility and suspicion toward a federal government led by a Calgarian. (With the bonus, one presumes, of a chief justice from Pincher Creek.) I think our visitor underestimates the ease of Ottawa-bashing in a world where Alberta farmers can still be jailed for defying the Wheat Board; where Alberta still pays toll upon toll for its presence in Confederation, layering pension and employment-insurance outflows on top of explicit fiscal equalization; where, as finance minister Ted Morton recently pointed out, Albertans are being billed specifically for the provincial sales tax liabilities of Ontarians and British Columbians. Morton’s a smart guy! He can find reasons to be upset with Ottawa almost as fast as Ottawa can come up with ways to screw Alberta!
I would tell you not to believe anyone who sees no difference between Ted Morton and Danielle Smith, but then, you barely have any choice aside from me. My column anticipating a personal tilt between Morton and Smith in the Calgary exurbs has been superseded with embarrassing speed by events, but at least it was written by somebody who can distinguish between various species of “right-winger” if given a pair of field glasses and sent out into the bush. The Morton-Smith personal combat, which already started when Smith announced a candidacy smack-dab in the middle of Morton Country, is more than superficial. Morton, by trifling with property rights as resource minister, has attacked the very principles Smith built her career around. She is physically moving to the rural south because Morton painted a target on himself; his core organizers and financial backers are gone, many directly to her, and they are not coming back. The Globe‘s Josh Wingrove is all over this, and understands it better than most writers for Alberta organs do; he, at least, is no mere visitor.
But, really, is there any realistic doubt that Morton and Smith could stage a pretty interesting political battle? Forget even the intriguing stylistic contrast: one of them has been a rights advocate for her entire career and the other is the country’s leading intellectual opponent of liberal “rights” rhetoric. One of them is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage; the other made his reputation blowing raspberries at the Morgentaler and Vriend decisions. It’s literally not possible that any reasonable person could be equally comfortable with either of the two as premier.
Other myths to be wary of? Don’t believe anybody who talks up the Alberta Party, at least until it has a leader, some policies, and a history of contesting elections. The idea that an Alberta political movement can go from zero to government in 6.8 seconds, just because Social Credit did it 76 years ago, is just a variant of the “every X years Y happens” myth. (Hasn’t anybody in this province read The Poverty of Historicism?) Don’t believe anything you are told about low Alberta voter turnout unless the province’s young-skewing demographics are factored in; young people don’t vote anywhere in the Western world, and we have more of them than you do.
And don’t put too much stock in the election of Naheed Nenshi as mayor of Calgary. What he accomplished was remarkable, but it also required less than 40% of the vote in a race where the establishment favourite, Barb Higgins, turned out to have a bad case of China Syndrome. The people who got giddy over big bad Calgary electing a relatively liberal mayor apparently haven’t heard that the last time Calgary elected a non-Liberal was 1977.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 4:39 PM - 10 Comments
The current president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and a former aide to Reform leader Preston Manning, laments the use of taxpayer dollars to promote the candidacy of the former president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who was a former aide to Stephen Harper, who was formerly the chief policy officer of Preston Manning’s Reform party.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 1:18 PM - 0 Comments
Michael Ignatieff’s relating yesterday of a question from a young man named Derek harkens somewhat to a program the Reform party attempted upon arriving in Ottawa in 1994.
In ye olden days, during those dreary days before electronic mail, Preston Manning’s side set up phone and fax lines to receive questions from average Canadians that could then be put to the government of the day during QP. Manning’s second question of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, in fact, was asked on behalf of Dr. Dean P. Eyre of Ottawa.
A week later, Reform MP Randy White attempted to relate a question from Raymond Watts of Surrey, but was admonished by the speaker of the day, Gilbert Parent, on procedural grounds. It’s unclear, at least to me, how much longer the program lasted. Its existence was still being boasted about a month later, but by the end of that year, the Reform side had more or less abandoned its larger goal of turning QP into a genteel exchange of relevant information.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 21, 2010 at 2:19 PM - 11 Comments
Most House leaders and Question Period co-ordinators I know feel that no matter what reforms are made, they are likely to be met with skepticism, ridicule and opposition from the media. This is because from a news-generating standpoint, a Question Period characterized by negative, antagonistic, exaggerated and emotional exchanges is much more newsworthy than one characterized by positive, co-operative, moderate and rational exchanges.
Parliamentary and legislative committees addressing Question Period reform should therefore tackle this obstacle head-on by specifically soliciting input and suggestions from their respective press galleries. There must be some way of making Question Period more civil, productive and newsworthy, and the sooner we find it, the better it will be for Canadian democracy.
Most of what happens in QP at present is actively ignored by the press gallery. I can think of one major media outlet that regularly and specifically attends in person. Most of those reporters and columnists who don’t attend would, I suspect, blame the tone and tenor of the proceedings (well, that and the fact that the proceedings are televised, making the arduous journey up to the House not absolutely necessary). So it would seem completely ridiculous for the press gallery, in this imagined world of reform, to equally shun a more substantive and reasonable QP.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 1:31 PM - 18 Comments
The Mark asks various thinkers for viceregal nominations and ends up with a shortlist that includes Preston Manning, Wayne Gretzky, Leonard Cohen, William Shatner, Mary Simon, Rick Hansen, Phil Fontaine, Marcia McClung, Jean Vanier and Mike Harcourt.
Relatedly, here is a piece I wrote for the magazine a couple weeks ago, in which there is an attempt to point out that the Governor General is invested with extraordinary powers and so, perhaps, the selection of one should be taken somewhat seriously. And in that regard it might be difficult to present a candidate who can compete with the preferred candidate of our John Geddes.
By Paul Wells - Friday, March 19, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 465 Comments
Social conservatism is on the rise in Ottawa, and across Canada
It says in all the papers the well has run dry. The commentators keep writing that Canadian conservatism has died on the vine, that four years into his reign of tactical obsession and fiscal profligacy, Stephen Harper has forgotten why he ever went into politics.
“Where’s the big, strategic agenda for the next election?” John Ivison quoted a senior Conservative in the National Post. “I haven’t found one yet.” In the same paper, Terence Corcoran ran a string of columns identifying programs the feds should cut, because Harper seems unwilling to do the work himself. And Andrew Coyne delivered his annual post-budget verdict of despair and mourning. “Those Conservative faithfuls who have been hanging on all these years, in the hopes that, eventually, someday, with one of these budgets, this government would start to act like conservatives, must now understand that that is not going to happen. Conservatism is not just dead but, it appears, forgotten.”
But it’s a funny thing. If Canadian conservatism is dead, somebody forgot to tell Canadian conservatives.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 15, 2010 at 8:09 AM - 45 Comments
Maxime Bernier delivered a speech to the Manning conference this weekend on conservatism and Quebec. The prepared text is here.
Conservative policies don’t need to be watered down to appeal to a substantial portion of Quebec voters. On the contrary, as I said to a Calgary audience recently, I believe that to succeed, we have to be consistent, to defend our principles openly, with passion and with conviction.
What conservative principles need in Quebec is to be sold with a particular attention to Quebec’s specific political culture, just as they are tailored to be attractive to an English-speaking audience. They have to be crafted as a way to solve the problems of all of Canada, including Quebec, and not as a reaction from one region against another. If we succeed in doing this, conservatism has a brilliant future in this country.
Rob Silver considers the implications.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 4:41 AM - 15 Comments
Preston Manning holds a two-day beauty contest for Alberta’s governing Progressive Conservatives and the surging right-wing alternative, the Wildrose Alliance. PC minister Thomas Lukaszuk agrees to attend, but suddenly discovers a “family commitment” and “other work” that make it impossible for him to show up either day. Calgary backbench MLA Kyle Fawcett is sent in his place, but is stricken with illness after the Friday session. By all accounts, the root cause of the illness may well have been the beating he received in his head-to-head debate with Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 25, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 57 Comments
The Globe editorial board has another go at explaining its disappointment.
The democratic ethos that gave rise to the Reform Party was instrumental in its 1993 breakthrough, leading to the ultimate demise of the Progressive Conservatives. It was carried by Reformers in Parliament; for a time, Preston Manning even sat in the second row in the House chamber to illustrate that he was an elected MP on a par with all others. It was maintained in subsequent party platforms. It catalyzed grassroots interest in the party, inspiring Canadians to get involved in politics. To this day, the membership of the successor Conservative Party of Canada is the largest of any party in Canada…
Today, Parliament is closed, while Canadians hang on to the notion that they live under a parliamentary system of government. We don’t elect our prime minister, we elect our MPs to form a government, and then to hold the prime minister and his ministers to account. But the present reality is one in which the executive increasingly directs the activities of the legislature. That’s something at odds with the ideals on which the country, and the Reform-Conservative tradition, were built. Canadians have taken notice.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 9:23 AM - 18 Comments
When I saw that Preston Manning had written an op-ed about Alberta for the Globe, I started a little stopwatch in my skull. Ah, let’s see how long it takes him this time to get to it. One paragraph, two paragraphs…
Is the pattern of Alberta politics about to reassert itself – a pattern characterized by long periods of one-party governance during which the governing party remakes itself several times, periods of political upheaval as Albertans become seized with a new idea and/or the need for change, and periodic replacement of the governing party (if it fails to renew itself), not by its traditional opposition but by something and someone new?
Yup, there it is. When it comes to Alberta, Manning always says the same thing in the same way. We may, in fact, be coming up on the 20th anniversary of his use of this evergreen. Here’s how it looked in an unsigned Reform Party commentary on/warning to Alberta’s Getty government, circulated in February 1990 and described in the Calgary Herald:
The document briefly outlines the history of politics in Alberta noting that it has been characterized by “long periods of one-party government” and “periodic replacement of the governing party, not by its traditional opposition, but by a new party. The governing party in Alberta must periodically renew itself from within if it hopes to continue in office,” it says.
So I guess we know who wrote that. The comic aspect of this, of course, is that lots of Albertans believe in the Explosive Change Hypothesis, and have spent those two decades looking to none other than Mr. E.P. Manning to either coach or quarterback the replacement squad.
The ECH is indisputably true—in retrospect. Every change of party identity in Alberta government, ever, has been brutally thorough in a Long Knives sort of way, has followed a long period of governing-party dominance, and has been executed by a party that never governed Alberta before. (One could add that Alberta governments have all seen their destruction coming in advance and tried to negotiate behind the scenes with the approaching revolutionaries, as Preston’s father is said to have done.) Things have reached the point at which the ECH may be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Wildrose Alliance, the new right-wing alternative party led by Danielle Smith, was organized by malcontent ideologues and regime victims because everybody believes that an all-new brand is, on historicist grounds, the only possible means of putting the fear of God into an Alberta government.
The question is whether the ECH really has any predictive value. The last explosive change happened in 1971, and that Alberta doesn’t resemble the existing one very closely. (Just for starters, the Athabasca tar sands were still what engineers call vaporware.) Since then the province has occasionally had strong oppositions in the Legislative Assembly, and it almost witnessed a Liberal takeover in 1993. Show of hands: who knew that the Liberals got 40% of the vote in an Alberta election not all that long ago?
History doesn’t follow inexorable laws, although it has a rhythm. The ECH–an inherently unfalsifiable claim right up until the moment it is falsified–is starting to take on the character of the evangelical Christian’s wait for the Rapture. But then, come to think of it, Preston probably believes in that too.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 20, 2009 at 3:30 PM - 84 Comments
Don Newman posits his theory as to where everything went sideways.
The fraying was not — it might surprise some I’m sure — the fault of the Bloc Québécois who, while preaching their own view of both history and the future, always treated Parliament with respect.
Rather it came from the Reform party led by Preston Manning. Reformers came to Ottawa with the argument that everything in the Nation’s Capital was corrupt. In fact, Reform MPs were ordered at one point not to stay in Ottawa over the weekends in case they became corrupted by this latter day Babylon…
Manning, of course, is long gone. Replaced first by Stockwell Day, then by one of the original Reformers, Stephen Harper, the current prime minister. But while Harper lives at 24 Sussex and seems to enjoy all the trappings of the prime minister’s office, as indeed he should, he seems to maintain the Reformer’s deep suspicion of Ottawa and all other political parties.
I arrived too late in Ottawa to witness the Reform party in its original form. And aside from interviewing Chuck Strahl and having pleasant phone conversations with Monte Solberg and Deb Grey, I’ve had little interaction with its founding figures. But it seems to me to be the most intriguing Canadian political phenomenon of the last decade. And the University of Calgary’s archive of related documents is probably worth a long look through.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, September 14, 2009 at 1:01 PM - 22 Comments
Excerpts from a 1988 pamphlet advertising Reform principles and policies.
Reformers believe that many of our most serious problems as a country can be traced to the apathy and non-involvement of Canadians in public affairs, and to decisions that too frequently ignore the popular will. Governments today assume far too large a role in our lives for us to allow decisions to be made solely by bureaucrats, pressure groups, and political professionals. The vast majority of citizens and taxpayers have a right to be involved. The system must provide the opportunity and the responsibility for us to do so.