Febuary 24, 1995 Halifax Herald

Will Tories shirk reform path?

Opinion polls have consistently indicated that the vast majority of Canadians have become thoroughly disenchanted with politicians who have viewed, and to some extent still view, their offices as vehicles for passing out favours to themselves, friends and party faithful.

Also, most of us have come to appreciate that the playing out of these political games, along with the desire to hold onto power by the party in office, has cost us a bundle. For example, the historical practice of a setting government attempting to buy votes at election time by catering to every conceivable whim of Canada's multitude of special interest groups has cost billions and has been very instrumental in bringing the country to the doorstep of financial ruin.

The citizen's legacy from this waste of resources is a national debt of mind-boggling proportions.

Stemming from the public's disenchantment with their antics, political parties of all stripes have undertaken to initiate some degree of reform. However, electors should keep in mind that although some parties have made the move voluntarily, others have done so only because of political expediency and quickly slide backward if presented with the opportunity to do so.

Under the stewardship of Donald Cameron, the Tories were the first of the two traditional provincial political parties to adopt major reforms. During his short stint in office, Cameron instigated measures that severely restricted party patronage practices and made in-roads towards curtailing some of the other self-serving activities of the party faithful.

These measures were implemented in spite of the fact that, upon assuming the leadership, Cameron was faced with an element in the party that was dedicated to making patronage reforms very difficult. The party was then populated, and maybe still is, by many who dreamed and drooled about the wonders that could be provided by the pork barrel. These people thought Cameron's attack upon patronage practices was a treasonable transgression against scared privileges and thus needed to be impeded every inch of the way. The support Cameron received from this quarter during the last election, if any, was grudging and in many ways counterproductive to an election win.

With their defeat in 1993, the Tories were presented with a golden opportunity to rebuild the party's credibility and reputation. However, by its inaction, it appears that the party is still in a state of shock from the experience or maybe off in a land of dreams. To date, they have given no indication of an awareness of the fact that rebuilding cannot be accomplished by putting forward a pack of old faces -- who are mostly discredited in the electorate's mind by past association with the misadventures of previous Tory governments.

When asked, people will quickly tell you that it stretches credibility to see Tory members with past connections to those governments getting up in the House to pontificate about patronage sins. This is especially so when it involves a member whose history of pork barreling is well-known.

Two things highlight the inertia and dreaming mentioned. Since Cameron's departure, the Party elite have been disturbingly silent about how they will continue with building upon the reforms he started. There are many old school Tories making noises about fashioning a political comeback, even to the extent of becoming leader.

This turn of event must be starting the tickers in the breasts of disgruntled Tory patronage buffs to thump erratically with dreams about the possibility of good things to come. As a person who one day hopes to see (if we do not abolish them) political parties establish for themselves credibility and respect among citizens, I hope that the buffs continue to anticipate, but never realize, their ambitions.

If the Tories hope to snatch victory from defeat, they need to find a leader who is not tainted by past associations. They must also see an influx into the party structure of a considerable number of respected new faces and they must start articulating for the people's consideration their plans for future reforms and a doable agenda with which to govern.

In this regard, the party faithful - if they hope to be a credible part of future political activities in this province - have to accept that continued reform and renewal is not an option they can ignore. People want a political clean-up. If established parties refuse to provide the reforms desired, I can see them seeking out other alternatives, for instance a new party.

Also, the Tories should not hope that the voters will, because of dissatisfaction with the Liberals, pass the next election to them on a silver platter. In support of this statement, all one has to do is read the latest opinion polls to find that the party, in the public's esteem, is in a neck-and-neck race for last place.

This state of affairs has not changed measurably since the last election. A Tory hope for a rebound in their popularity rating will come hand in hand, as stated, with reform and renewal.

Daniel N. Paul


Home   Column Index 1995   Web Site Map