DROPPING THE ‘P’ IN ‘PC’, HOW THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY LOST ITS SOUL.
Many people in Canada have been shaking their heads in recent years about our federal government’s increasing U.S. neo-conservative shift to the right. How did this come about? Didn’t the Conservative Party used to be called the Progressive Conservative Party? The current Conservative Party logo, with its stylelized capital ‘C’, looks somewhat like a big Zero, which is what, in my mind, the party’s policies add up to.
So where did this whole ‘Progressive’ moniker come from? Basically, the Progressive Party was formed when Ontario and prairie farmers on the Canadian Council of Agriculture united with dissident Liberals led by Thomas Crerar, who resigned from the federal cabinet in 1919, opposing high tariffs.
So essentially, the Progressives were a mixture of people, such as dissident Liberals, who wanted Canada to break its system of east-west protectionist trade policy, with high tariffs, which kept out goods from the U.S. and forced Westerners to buy things from Québec and Ontario, as well as compelling them to ship their grain and livestock back to Québec and Ontario at prices fixed by merchants and bankers back there, when they would’ve preferred to do business on a free trade basis with the U.S.
The other people who were part of the Progressive Party, were even more radical, and espoused essentially Social Democratic policies such as nationalization of railways. In the 1921 election, it won 65 seats in the west, Ontario, and NB., and formed the second largest party in Parliament, thereby permanently breaking the two-party system, which had heretofore dominated Canada.
So you could say that this was one of the earliest expressions of what is now known as Western Alienation, which, as you have just read, has essentially an economic origin to it. Eventually, the Party collapsed, with the more radical elements joining the CCF in1932 (the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, which was the predecessor of the NDP, or New Democratic Party), and the dissident Liberal element rallying to the Conservative Party in 1942.
The Conservatives, therefore, became the Progressive Conservative party essentially because they had, in 1942 attracted Manitoba Premier John Bracken, a Progressive, to seek out the leadership, which he did and won. As a condition of running the Party, Bracken demanded that the word ‘Progressive’ be added to ‘Conservative’, since some of his supporters had followed him into the Party.
And so the PC Party became a sort of Royal mish mash/pastiche of prairie populist/Progressives, who espoused more group-centred policies, hardcore individualistic free enterprise right wing types from Bay street, so-called Red-Tories, such as Joe Clark, who almost resembled a Liberal in their espousal of state interventionist policies, as well as old guard ‘Tories’ from Ontario and the Maritimes, who were descendants from the Loyalists, and who had originally believed in a traditional, group centred, organic, preindustrial social order based on rank and privilege, with each group having responsibilities and rights towards themselves and each other.
It’s no wonder that the PC Party spent most of its time bickering amongst itself, what with all of those seemingly divergent factions existing within the bosom of one Party. However, throughout Canadian history, the saving grace of the PC Party was that usually, at a time of Liberal Party decay, the party managed to attract a leader of remarkable quality, such as John Diefenbaker, and later, Brian Mulroney, who, through shear dint of their personalities, ideas, and convictions, and/or organizational ability, were able to cobble all of these bickering factions together for a long enough time to govern this fractious country.
Inevitably, however, the ideological fault lines would eventually tear the party and country apart again, and the Party would disintegrate around its leader, which is what happened to Mr. Mulroney at the time of the Meech and Charlottetown Accords. Since that time, the old economic and socio/linguistic divisions which have dogged this country, and which were at the original source of the emergence of the Progressive party in the first place back in 1921, have been haunting us.
So to get back to Stephen Harper, what’s he doing to try and heal those divisions? Not much as far as I’m concerned. He’s done nothing but exacerbate the east-west tensions based on economic disparities, linguistic world views, and so on. His Party, which purports to be a so-called ‘National’ Party, is little more than a reincarnation of the Reform Party, which was a right wing prairie populist version of the same kind of regional economic and social discontent which created the Progressive party to begin with!!!
Only this time, the particular form of regional discontent has taken on a particularly virulent form of neo-conservatism, based mainly on the west’s newfound economic clout in the field of petroleum, minerals, and their increasingly strident desire to break the hold of the Canadian Wheat Board on the east-west shipment of grain, which they see as a continuing form of eastern Canadian imperialism. They’d prefer to sell their wheat to Cargill, or the other major grain corporation which holds an oligopoly on the U.S. grain market, and would dictate much less favourable terms to western farmers, based on whether or not the U.S. needs surplus supply of wheat, corn or canola to run its agribusiness machine than on any true Canadian interest.
Stephen Harper has gone so far as to burn virtually every bridge he has in Québec, alienating the nationalist intellectual/artistic elite of Montréal and Quebec city over the arts funding issue, and the list just goes on, as described in my article last week.
Which begs the question: if the Conservative party of Canada can’t even be progressive enough to cobble together enough support to form a majority to govern for six to eight years before inevitably self-destructing, why not just put the patient out of its misery and let someone else have a kick at the can?
Those ‘Progressives’ may be gone from our Parliament, and from the Conservative party’s name and logo, but their ideas live on in the hearts and minds, and especially, in the will of the average Canadian. So if your ideas happen to start with a ‘P’, well maybe you shouldn’t park them with a Party whose logo is shaped like a big ‘Zero’.