Friday, December 05, 2003

Politics: A Merger of Equals... and Maybe Ideas...

Assuming there are no antitrust issues (just teasing), Canada’s two right-of-center political parties will likely join forces this weekend. The Progressive Conservative Party, the party that formed Canada’s first government in 1867, will decide tomorrow whether to complete a merger with the Canadian Alliance, an insurgent group that started over a decade ago in response to western Canadian displeasure with eastern Canada’s political elite. The Alliance, originally called the Reform Party, supplanted the PCP during the 1990s as the chief national opposition party to the Liberal Party, which has governed Canada with an iron fist since 1993.

The PCP’s collapse is one of the great political tales of recent decades. Since Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau rose to power in the late 1960s, the PCP has been playing the sort of “me-too” politics we’re now seeing from President Bush and the Republicans in this country. In 1979, the PCP ousted Trudeau in an election, but the resulting government couldn’t pass a budget and dissolved less than a year later, returning Trudeau to power for a final term. The PCP did win elections in 1984 and 1988 under Brian Mulroney, but by then the Liberal ideology—national health care, resentment towards the United States, and high taxes—had taken hold. Mulroney would eventually become tripped up in a failed constitutional reform plan designed to placate always-insurgent Quebec secessionists. By the end, Mulroney’s popularity polled in single digits, and the PCP would be reduced to two seats in the 1993 election, possibly the worst showing for an incumbent parliamentary party in western history.

Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has governed Canada for a decade now as a pale impersonation of Trudeau. He will be principally remembered for being an arrogant prick who ran the country like his personal toy. There is no memorable foreign or domestic policy Chrétien will be remembered for, although the Quebec secessionists did fizzle politically under his watch, which I suppose is something.

The PCP-Alliance merger is an attempt to give the anti-Liberal electorate some hope of ousting Chrétien’s successor, Paul Martin. The merger does make sense. The Alliance brings a solid right-of-center agenda, while the PCP brings at least the vestige of national credibility. The Alliance has never made an electoral dent in Ontario, Canada’s largest province and still a PCP stronghold.

None of this means the newly christened Conservative Party will beat Martin in the next election. More likely, the Conservatives are one more election away from just being competitive. The question then becomes, how far will the Conservatives go to regain power? Will they become “compassionate” conservatives a la George W. Bush and offer a watered-down leftist agenda? Or will they try to build upon the free-market ideas that built the Alliance into a successful insurgent movement? The most important ideological objective for the Conservative Party will be to break the political malaise the Liberals have brought to Canada; Chrétien and company acquired their power by exploiting fear, envy, and class hatred. If not for the presence of the United States to the south, Canada could well be teetering on the brink of third-world status right now given their hostility to basic principles of individual rights. The Conservative Party must forcefully reject the Liberals’ exploitation by offering a positive, pro-capitalist message. That will not be popular at first—few revolutionary calls ever are—but over the long run, it will prove the first step into building a new political majority in Canada. Maybe then the Canadians can show America how it’s done.

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