Playing the Indian Card

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Reasons Canada is Not Ready for Self-Government #2: The Progressive Conservatives

Not a Conservative
In most democratic nations, since the French Revolution and all that, the people get an opportunity to vote for at least two clear alternatives: generally, a party of the left, and a party of the right.

In Canada, allowing the general population such troublesome choice has apparently always been seen as unnecessarily disruptive. It might lead to fisticuffs in the street, or something.

So, for the most part, there has been no conservative party.

Oh, sure, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that John Diefenbaker, recently cited here, was the leader of the “Conservative Party.” And you’re wrong. He led the “Progressive Conservative Party.” The name was chosen when John Bracken took over leadership of the Conservatives in 1942. The idea was that the former Conservative Party was to become instead a home for people of all ideological persuasions, like Bracken’s provincial government in Manitoba, which combined the Conservative, CCF (Socialist), and Social Credit (don’t ask) parties.

Improbable? They held on to the conceit, and the name, until 2003. For 60 years, nobody in Canada got to vote for a Conservative Party.

Now, silly you, you will counter that Sir John A. Macdonald, our first Prime Minister and founder of our mighty nation, was in fact a Conservative, and led a longstanding Conservative regime.

Wrong again. You could look it up. Macdonald led the Liberal-Conservative Party. In the US, they have elephants and donkeys as mascots. In Canada, we have oxymorons, or pushmi-pullyus. What’s your choice? Either Conservative Liberal, or Liberal-Conservative. The Liberal-Conservatives only finally faded out during the First World War. That covers another 40 years’ worth of elections.

But, you will say, what’s that you just said about the First World War? When that happened, Borden was prime minister. Then he was a Conservative prime minister, right?

Not a Conservative.

Nope. Borden’s government was officially “Unionist,” not Conservative. It was supposed to be a union, yet again, of liberals and conservatives. It was “Unionists,” not “Conservatives,” who contested the Liberals for every election from then until 1925.

Finally, given the chance, in 1925, Canadians actually voted for an honest-to-God Conservative party. And they won the election. But they were not allowed to govern. Instead, Mackenzie King, turning out to be even better at obscuring his ideology, pulled together a coalition of Liberals and Progressives, and stayed on. Roughly the same thing happened in 1926: the Conservatives ran as Conservatives, won the popular vote, and were not able to form a government.

After an awkward period of success under R.B. Bennett, in 1940 the Conservatives decided again not to run as Conservatives, but as a “National Government,” a coalition of left and right.

They held the Yukon.

And that brings us to the “Progressive Conservatives.”

Of course, some true conservatives became upset at lacking any good voting alternative. This, they say, was behind the rise of the “Reform” party in the late 1980s—eventually to second-party status.

But as soon as Reform had established itself as the main opposition to the Liberals, what did it do? It decided it needed to broaden its base. It renamed itself the “Canadian Alliance.”

Not a Conservative. Not even close.
Since 2003, the Conservative Party has re-emerged as just "The Conservative Party of Canada." And has promptly begun, at long last, winning elections.

So let’s see: the Conservative Party has only officially run as the Conservative Party in eight of Canada’s 45 federal elections to date. When it has, it has usually won the popular vote. When it has run cleverly disguised, it has usually lost.

Moral: Canadians want to vote for a Conservative Party, but their betters have decided this is not a good idea. Their betters will insist that the people must not have their way on this even when it is against their own interests. And Canadians in general are okay with that.

This is not how a grown-up democracy works.

No comments: