I have from time to time been asked why I call myself a Tory, but not a Conservative.
In part, it is because I have been animated, from a young age, by the dream of restoring integrity to public life.
Beyond that, though, there is another question I have ofttimes been asked: why aren’t I, if I am a Red Tory (and most who know me know that I am one in the tradition of a John Robarts, a Bill Davis, a David Crombie, or a Robert Stanfield), didn’t I at some point become a Liberal when, post-Mulroney & Kim Campbell, the PC Party fell onto the sword of its own breaking apart and became a very minority affection, indeed.
Well, even before I could vote, I had an anti-Liberal Party bias. Even as a child it was obvious to me that opportunism was an infection in the Liberal body politic — how else does one judge Lester Pearson’s destruction of our history other than a buying up of potential blocs of voters? — and partly it may have been that party’s incessant theft of others’ ideas to buy yet another day in office even when these ran against their rhetoric and reasoning of even a day or two earlier. (Dare we mention Trudeau’s lying in the 1974 election only to impose less well-thought out and harsher wage controls than the PCs had run on?).
It was clear even then, and from reading Canadian history, that the typical Liberal in office had no firm core save for to hold onto power, and, if out of power, to fabricate anything to reverse what, in their eyes, was an error on the part of the Canadian electorate. We have seen that in spades since January 2006, alongside endless acceptance of and voting for the Government’s agenda whenever “the timing wasn’t right”. That — from then to today’s “robocall scandal” present — is a motif “all about us”, not “all about you”. Treating Canadians as criminals because they own electronics (C-11)? A slew of new “crimes” and let the provinces pick up the tab (C-10)? A budget that ignores all the storm clouds on the global horizon coming shortly? Policy does not enter into the Liberal picture; there are no photo-ops in that.
This may explain why, in 2011, the New Democrats became the Official Opposition, as I do recall them spending time actually challenging the Government on issues.
There may well have been malfeasance done in the 2011 election — let Elections Canada investigate and tell us and then let’s make it right, and in the meantime let’s deny the parties access to the voters’ list, various databases, and the use of robocalls for any purpose. Cut the money they can spend during a campaign as well: I think we all know who they are, anyway. Limit their spending between elections, too. (Don’t forget to apply the same to unions, ad hoc organisations, pressure groups, corporations and any other pleaders.)
I do understand how now-Senator Hugh Segal, for instance, growing up in Montréal, could make the conscious choice to stand against a party that was all about today, the power held today, and the favours it could dispense, with no firm core of principle, direction or continued purpose other than that.
It should be no wonder, then, that the civil service has a Liberal flavour to it, for this is not merely the effect of years of Liberal Governments in power. It is, in fact, proof of what Thomas Langan wrote of in Tradition and Authenticity in the Search for Ecumenic Wisdom, that institutions are hypocritical as they take on a life of their own that departs from that of their tradition. This quest for power requires constant reform, and the honourable life of a professional civil servant has long since been changed into the quest to ensure that no programme, no office, no activity is ever given up. Everything must be held onto, for there lies power and spending authority. It is not that the Liberals corrupted a pure civil service, but rather than the twists and turns of the institution of bureaucracy (a necessary evil) have been allowed to fester for far too long, no doubt because of the integration of the civil service into the Liberal Party, for instance, when Lester Pearson moved from External Affairs into electoral politics, aided and abetted by Trudeau’s “rationalisation” that made the Privy Council Office a political extension of the Prime Minister’s Office.
So programmes linger, and multiply, and nothing is ever truly scrapped. Every departmental split never quite gets put back together again. No secretariat has any ambition other than promotion to a full department. Old programmes that do receive a stake through the heart are reborn — Participaction and Katimavik come immediately to mind!, restored by Chrétien after Mulroney had managed to finally drive a stake into them — and shrinking the Cabinet does no real good, for all these pieces still require a Minister, and thus the doubling up simply allows ever more power-seeking by Deputies and Assistant Deputy Ministers to emerge.
Now, most of the time, the Canadian people are properly apolitical. If asked about an issue, they will give a reaction, generally from self-interest and recent offences committed or assumed against them. This is why parties of some principle can hear their most extreme themes played back on talk radio between elections — and then the same electors add up a raft of promises of some money here and there and a healthy spreading of fear, uncertainty, doubt, guilt and emotion about the very positions they had recently taken “on air” laid out during the campaign and thus vote for what they’ve mostly known. Never having worked out what they themselves actually stand for, they bend in the wind for anyone who can make them feel good (and a significant minority of them have designed on the national till), and those who are in line for one programme’s money or another are often the same ones most likely to start whingeing again about high taxes and arrogant departments and their programme requirements. Morality and reasoning, in other words, have been bred out of the country in favour of “feeling good”, a standard manipulation used by any institution seeking repeated control on the levers of power.
This is why the natural alternative for a Tory — a true Tory — is far more with the NDP than anywhere else in today’s political spectrum. Not with the Liberals, and not with the Conservative Party, which is another form of the Liberal ethos.
Vice versa, too: a CCF-style social justice approach can slide easily over to the Red Tory benches (were there any).
Both Red Tories and Prairie Cooperative Federationists share a sense of principle that is worth defending a desired future even at the price of not gaining power today.
What needs doing — urgently — is a right royal house-cleaning in Ottawa. We should be seeing the Government take of a meat-axe to unnecessary empires, killing off agencies, secretariats, branches that have grown up as barnacles on the ship of state as a long overdue task of reform. The local economy in Ottawa-Gatineau may suffer as unemployment rises, but the nation will be better off for it.
We won’t, of course. Perhaps we will need an NDP Government to do that, on the observed situation that often, it is the party you least expect to do something that will do it. “Nixon to China”, “Blair axeing Clause IV in British Labour”, and the like. They, after all, out on the Prairies, actually did not only run fiscally prudent, tight ships of state, but fixed up ones left leaking and listing under Conservative and Liberal predecessors. (Even the much maligned BC NDP of the 1990s, or the Rae Government in Ontario, were not as spendthrift, sloppy, bordering in some cases on the criminal as today’s BC Liberal and Ontario Liberal offerings.)
The old Prairie social justice stream and the Red Tories of this country are also believers in community, in the local, in the sense that we build up this nation from its smaller parts rather than impose it from above. Not only do I believe this fervently, I think the twenty-first century will demand it of us.
I am a Tory in large measure because I dare to dream, and believe, that one day we will do the right things in this country. For a failure to tackle these issues will lead, as surely as night follows day, to the loss of our patrimony. This nation was built by Tory dreamers, Macdonald above all, who balanced interests; it has been held hostage for years by those who believe in taking from one area to subsidise and pay off others. I still believe in the possibility of reform and change, of principle and politics in tandem rather than as opposing ways of doing things.
Indeed, they are essential. That is why I do not turn my back on our politics. That this Dominion of Canada exists at all is a triumph of such dreams, and it will do us little good to devolve into an imagined pink blob on the map “officially” there but lost to time because we forgot to link our past, to our present, to our future. There is more — much more — to nationhood than borders, currencies, flags, being some sort of power, or pious statements. Let us, in the words of our national anthem, stand on guard to protégera nos foyers et nos droits (protect our hearths and our rights).