Well, it has finally happened--and none too soon. Canada's two right-of-center parties have reached an agreement in principle to merge. All I can say is that it's about bloody time. Now that we've moved beyond the silly, futile idea of having a different party for each type of conservative voter, and have proposed to gather everyone under the same big tent, it's time to get down to business and focus on fixing the problem of why neither right-wing party was able to get enough votes on its own in the first place. As I've said in previous columns--each party's lack of success has less to do with vote-splitting on the Right than it does with the fact that if either party had a decent enough policy platform to begin with, all right-leaning voters would have gravitated to it naturally.
A merger and effective dissolution of both parties and their respective policies and principles is something that's long overdue. When members of both parties began referring, months ago, to the inevitable ascension to the Prime Minister's Office of a man (former Liberal Finance Minister, Paul Martin) who was months away from even winning his own party's leadership bid (let alone a general federal election), it should have set off some alarm bells inside more than a few right-wing brains. Instead, the endless navel-gazing continued on the Right, with parliamentarians and members from both parties using each other's backs for knife-throwing practice. That is, until the shock of a possible 2/3 majority Liberal government managed to sink in sufficiently.
It's unfortunate that it has taken this long for self-serving egos and lack of strategic and analytical savvy to give way to desperation. If an agreement had been reached earlier, the new party would have had the time required prior to the next federal election--slated for the Spring--to come up with some attractive and badly-needed new policies, elect a viable leader, bring aboard new members (particularly in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, which are capable of single-handedly electing a government into power), and sell the existing membership base on the new policy ideas.
Instead, here's the situation as it now stands: The Liberals have a stable team, a steady fan base, a new captain who knows both the game and his own team very well, and a complete playbook that they have ample of time to fine tune. By contrast, the Conservatives haven't finalized their team yet, are bickering over who is going to be their new captain, are unsure about their level of fan support, have no official play book, and only have a few months to get their act together.
The merger is not only a good thing, but absolutely essential--both for the future of conservatism in Canada, and for democracy. But now the proper amount of time and care must be taken to do things properly. Throwing things together too quickly in an attempt to offer up and sell a final version of the new party to Canadians in time for a Spring election will only spell disaster. Conservatives need to face up to the unfortunate reality that the merger was left far too late, and that the new party needs to basically write-off the next election and focus instead on taking the time to PROPERLY construct the foundation that will carry the party into the future.
The new party should not be holding a leadership race before the next election. From what I understand, Canadian Alliance House Leader--John Reynolds--will act as the interim leader of the new party. As such, he should remain in place until after the election. This will convey to the voting public the honest and accurate message that the new party is still in a state of transition and development. It will also give the party a chance to ferret out and/or draft some decent leadership candidates. The names that have been bantered around thus far range from the sad to the downright pathetic--from former Ontario Premier Mike Harris (a fiscal conservative who leans liberal on social issues) to former hockey goalie and onetime Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager, Ken Dryden. Surely in a country of 30 million people, we can come up with a few more decent candidates for the job. If being rich, having some knowledge of business, and name recognition are the only qualifications required to be a leadership contender in the new Conservative Party, then why don't we just draft Canadian hockey great Wayne Gretzky and get it over with? Why fool around with these other B-Listers? Speaking of B-Lists, Gretzky's actress wife could even score us some points with fans of the "Police Academy" movie franchise! Or better yet--if we're going to go down that road, why not draft prominent Canadian Mike Myers (a.k.a. Austin Powers)! He's rich and knows how to manage money--which makes him about "conservative" as Mike Harris and the others.
Let's stop looking so desperate, and start searching for a real conservative leader who can carry the party well into the future. This party badly needs a TRUE conservative at its helm--right from the outset. So let's take the time we need to find one. Fiscal conservatives like Mike Harris and other pro-business types aren't going to cut it. We're already looking at a fiscal conservative taking over the Liberal Party (and hence the Prime Ministership)--so the Conservative Party of Canada needs to offer voters far more. Would George W. Bush, or Ronald Reagan (or any other modern-day conservative US President) ever have won his party's nomination--let alone the support of voters in a general election--if he had run strictly on a platform of fiscal conservatism? Absolutely not. Bill Clinton by-and-large covered the bases when it came to fiscal conservatism--and the Republicans weren't exactly welcoming him with open arms into their party. They demanded far more, and so should Canadians.
My endorsement for leadership of the new party--should he choose to seek it (and I certainly hope that he does)--goes to former Canadian Alliance leader and current Senior Foreign Affairs Critic, Stockwell Day (www.stockwellday.com). Day is Canada's George W. Bush: a principled, honest, hard-working Christian man who has relentlessly held the government's feet to the fire on issues relating to terrorism and the funding of terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. He's the former Treasurer of Alberta, has an extensive knowledge of business and foreign affairs, is a proven coalition builder, a true leader, and a proud conservative in every sense of the word. Under Day's leadership, the Canadian Alliance increased its parliamentary seat count from 58 to 66 members, saw its popular vote rise by over 1 million votes, elected two new MPs in Ontario, placed second in over 80 Ontario ridings and drastically increased its support in Quebec. And all this without ever wavering from his conservative principles and standards.
So what happened? Unfortunately, Day became the target of political backstabbing--both by the Liberals to whom he posed an ever-increasing threat, and by the members of his own party. His only real mistake appears to consist of pulling up to a lakeside press conference looking a little too cool, wearing a wetsuit and riding a jet-ski. If Day would have put on a flight suit and landed a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier a la George W. Bush, members of his own party would have tried to shoot his plane down. Americans tend to like their leaders to look news anchor-ish; Canadians seem to prefer the "Rain Man" image--with a little drool here, and a little mangling of the English language there.
Canadian conservatives need to get over the fact that Day's a real, true conservative, and that he actually has some charisma--and draft him for the job that he should have been left to do all along.
As for the new party's policies--they need to start addressing issues that the average Canadian Joe Six-Pack really, truly cares about. Going through the Liberal play book, taking the opposite position on everything, and adopting these points as party policy isn't going to cut it. Nor is it going to garner any votes.
I've spent the last couple of weeks cringing at what some conservative Members of Parliament actually consider to be the important issues to fight for on behalf of Canadians. One MP is on an endless crusade to classify the "date-rape pill" as a weapon! The pill itself is so rare in Canada that the chance of being abducted by alien beings is greater than the likelihood of having the date rape pill used against you. In the vast majority of instances were women are drugged and raped, common over-the-counter drugs and sedatives (such as Gravol) are used.
Then, in a truly stunning development that suggests Canada doesn't have enough laws to deal with offenses such as speeding or the various results thereof, conservative MPs were speaking out last week in support of a bill put forward by their party that would literally throw the book at speeders who are deemed by the "oh-so-trusty police authorities" (often the only formal witnesses to excessive speeding) to have been engaged in "street racing" at the time of the offense. If you guys think that cracking down hard on citizens for things like speeding is going to win you the support of Canadians (let alone that of the conservatives who ALREADY back you), I strongly suggest you do an Internet search for the words, "Recording Industry Association of America" and "music downloading crackdown." There's no better way to alienate your customer/fan base than to really put the screws to 'em. Please, please stop with the insanity already!
Here's a freebie, boys, to help get you on the right track: It's time to dismantle the Liberal government's beloved CRTC (the Canadian equivalent of America's FCC). This bloated, expensive, censorship-crazy bureaucracy is infringing on freedom of speech and expression by dictating to Canadians what they can and can't be exposed to entertainment-wise to the point of turning the country into a "Cuba North." The CRTC is responsible for making it illegal in Canada to obtain a live broadcast of Fox News, or to have HBO pumped in to your home--and is the reason why wildly popular radio programs such as the Howard Stern Show and the Tom Leykis Show have been unceremoniously yanked from the airwaves in recent years. If this new conservative party stands for free enterprise, they can start with this campaign slogan: "Vote Conservative, get HBO." It's an idea that would win the hearts and minds of Canadians--and is something the Liberals would never offer. Now that wasn't so hard, was it?