Parties and Ideologies 

Parties and Ideologies

I've actually registered with the Toronto Star to get some of this. Some former Progressive Conservatives continue to feel disenfranchised by the new party, the Conservative Party of Canada. Generally they are left-leaning, at least on some issues. Even if they lost an argument within the old party, they felt they were at home there, and the argument was still alive. In the new party, their views simply don't get a hearing.

The high-profile Tory defectors are well known. Flora MacDonald, a cabinet minister in the federal Tory governments of Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney, voted for the New Democrats in 2004. Former Newfoundland premier Brian Peckford says he just didn't vote at all.

Scott Brison, a former Progressive Conservative leadership contender, is now a Liberal cabinet minister.

Sinclair Stevens, another former Mulroney minister, is so irked by the December 2003 merger that he's been challenging it in court ever since.


It was 1980 when Toronto businesswoman Annette Snel, then Annette Borger, became an active Progressive Conservative. She was 16.

As a teenager, she knocked on doors in her home riding of Leeds-Grenville in Eastern Ontario. Later, she worked as Queen's Park aide to then-Tory MPP Don Cousens.

During the 1993 election campaign, she laboured long and hard for former prime minister Kim Campbell. Four years later, she worked to elect then-Tory leader (and now Quebec Liberal Premier) Jean Charest.

"I always thought this was the party for me," she says.

Like many Ontario Tories, Snel had no time for the Canadian Alliance or for its leader, Harper.

She was pleased in May 2003 when her party's new leader, Peter MacKay, vowed not to merge with the Alliance. She was horrified when MacKay went back on his word and quietly authorized unity negotiations.

When both sides ratified this merger, she ripped up her party membership card.

She can't bear to vote Liberal. On most issues, she doesn't agree with the New Democratic Party. But in the 2004 federal election, she voted for it because she liked the local candidate.

"I'm the sorriest Tory that ever lived," laments Snel. "I'm an orphan. I'm so disenfranchised I don't know who to vote for."

She's not unique.

Take Bruck Easton. The Windsor lawyer had been a Progressive Conservative since 1974. In late 2003, he was the party's national president.


"The Liberals used to be the party of big spenders and big deficits," he says. "Now, everything has flipped. With people like (U.S. President George W.) Bush and Harper, it's the right that is the party of deficits."

So, Easton supported Martin's Liberals in 2004. And when the next election is called, he's thinking of running as a Liberal.

If the Conservatives dump Harper, would he go back? "I think the leader is representative of the party, unfortunately," Easton says. "It's not a place I'm comfortable in any more."

Other former Tory activists echo this same refrain.

"My party disappeared," says Toronto corporate communications consultant Kiloran German. She joined the Tories when she was 14 and until the merger laboured as a party organizer. Now, she supports the NDP.

This may all end up being a minor footnote if Harper or his successor actually become Prime Minister on a relatively right-wing platform. It still looks, however, as if Canada is simply not as far to the right as the U.S. on gay marriage, guns, capital punishment, abortion, evolution--or even cuts in government spending, which Republicans in the U.S., like Conservatives in Canada, are more likely to promise than deliver.

This reminds me of a recent piece by Nick Gillespie on Hit and Run about shifts in the U.S. Only a few years ago, the abortion issue did not define Democrats or Republicans; there were pro-lifers and pro-choicers in both parties. Gradually, militants established a mentality of "if you're not with us, you're against us" on both sides, and now the Democrats are all more or less pro-choice, the Republicans pro-life.

Apart from consideration of abortion itself, it's useful to remember that even the hottest of hot-button culture war issues are rarely set in stone. Rather, they exist as a means to an end--and the end is to define yourself as the antithesis of your opponent. This helps explain why Dems and Reps, or liberals and conservatives, can flop on issues ranging from federalism to overseas intervention without missing a beat. The point for partisans is not to maintain allegiance to particular ideals; it's to identify in opposition to your enemy.

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Comment Interesting. All interviewed are from eastern Canada. Could their critique of the new Conservative Party veil their anger that easterners don't control it?

Fri Nov 18, 2005 8:58 am MST by Tom

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