May 12, 2000 Halifax Herald

Has the federal Tory Party waited to long to renew?

On February 24, 1995, in the midst of the defeated provincial Tory Party's leadership search, I wrote a column entitled "Will Tories shirk reform path?" The following is a quote from that column:

"If the Tories hope to snatch victory from defeat, they need to find a party leader who is not tainted by past associations. They must see an influx into the party structure a considerable number of respected new faces, and 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 cleanup. If established parties refuse to provide the reforms desired, I can see the electors seeking out other alternatives - for instance, a new party.”

As now witnessed by history, the provincial Tories elected a leader largely untainted by past association, made commitments for reform, and now govern the province. This has to be said with some sympathy for them, because the fallout from the mess they've inherited may be making some wish that they had not.

The dismal picture faced by the federal Tories in 1993, after their poll defeat, was almost identical to what their provincial counterparts faced in 1994. However, instead of adopting a reform course, the federal party opted for recycling yesteryear's leftovers, including non-conservative policies acquired from decades of trying to “out left” the leftist practices of the Liberals and NDP. Such copying of ideas has resulted in all parties having policies that are almost indistinguishable.

As a result of its failure to renew, and to accept that people want a commitment from their political parties to provide them with good, sound, honest government, the Tory Party may be on the brink of extinction. Its possible fate is a message to all political parties that electors are fed up with parties that appear to be clones and are supporters of the status quo.

Some may try to dispute this assertion by pointing to the success that the federal Liberal regime enjoys, despite the image of corruption it suffers, caused by an addiction to passing out blatant political patronage. In this regard, they have to take into consideration that the Liberals have had the good fortune to have a major reformer, Paul Martin, at the wheel of Finance. Without his able leadership and competent management skills, the party would also be on the brink of extinction because of financial mismanagement. Martin's strong influence has prevented the left wing from going on a reckless spending binge that would have drastically depleted the party's credibility among voters.

Because of the lack of diversity among the old parties, a new conservative party, which has made commitments to pursue conservative ideals and to reform the system, has been organized. It’s conceivable that it can use its fresh ideas to persuade voters to give it a mandate in the next election. And if the Alliance chooses the right leader, I predict they will do so.

Preston Manning, because of his tendency to mix fundamentalist religious beliefs with his politics, coupled with past acceptance of some very intolerant people in the defunct Reform Party, is not the person for the Alliance to choose as leader. If the Party opts for him, the Liberals, even under Chretien, will retain power after the next election.

Such an eventuality would be a godsend for the Tories. It would present the party with a second chance to renew itself before the next election is called. With a through house-cleaning (window dressing won't be enough) they could conceivably form a government two ejections down the road.

The worst scenario for the Tories and the others is for the Alliance to opt for a new leader who has no tainted political baggage, especially a person such as Alliance MP Keith Martin. This candidate - a fiscal conservative and a social moderate, with a record of impeccable personal performance that marks him as a compassionate activist - talks the talk that most Canadians want to hear. He advocates “live and let live” as far as personal lifestyles are concerned. but commits to reform government.

Tom Long would be another good bet to unseat the Liberals. He has excellent Tory Party connections at both levels, organization skills, and is not a religious fundamentalist. Many will cite his inexperience with elected office when trying to put him down; however, among the electorate, this will be a plus not a negative.

Stockwell Day, like Manning, has a tendency to mix fundamentalist religious convictions into his politics. This could make him unacceptable to a majority of voters. The best I can envision for him after the next election, should he be successful in the leadership race, is leading a minority government.

However, if the Liberals replace Chretien with Paul Martin, and he commits to reform, they will probably win regardless who heads the Alliance. His performance and popularity as Finance Minister has proven that he is in tune with what Canadians want from government.

Daniel N. Paul


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