Good Luck, Dave - Party On, Garth!

By:  Rachel Marsden

Free speech isn't a pick-and-choose buffet item at Red Lobster. You can't sit on the couch, laughing and blowing Pepsi out your nostrils while watching Jesus being one-upped by magician David Blaine in a South Park cartoon, and then call the cops or torch an embassy when your homeboy Mohammed gets the same treatment.

Likewise, if you're a conservative who values free speech and are in favour of publishing those "offensive" cartoons, then you can't tell Conservative MP Garth Turner to shut up, simply because he's saying something that you mistakenly think is damaging to the party.

When Turner criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper for playing Red Rover with Liberal David Emerson and bringing him into the new Conservative cabinet, several Tories felt he should have bitten his tongue. They argued the Liberals retained power for so long because MPs stood in solidarity with their leader.

Wrong. The Liberals under Jean Chretien stayed in 24 Sussex because the constant power struggle within his caucus mimicked real checks and balances -- in the same way that it made Paul Martin mimic a conservative.

For years, this glorified homecoming-king battle between Martin and Chretien raged on. It was only when Chretien voluntarily stumbled into retirement that Martin took over as Captain Canada and relegated the few critics still left inside the tent to the nosebleed benches, so they wouldn't get in his way while he was busy accomplishing nothing. And we all know how well that played out.

From Stalin to Castro, lefties have never been big fans of dissent -- unless it means screwing each other over for the top job. Libs do more whipping in Parliament than a dominatrix on frat-house discount night. Stiff your comrades on that solidarity thing and you'll be political roadkill -- as union leader Buzz Hargrove recently learned when he was tossed by the NDP for backing the Liberals. Similarly, not a single U.S. Senate Democrat dared break party lines to vote in favour of impeaching then-president Bill Clinton in 1999.

But conservatives will spar with each other over any issue -- the death penalty, abortion, stem cell research, the Patriot Act, George Bush's nomination of buddy Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, or Stockwell Day's wetsuit fashion disaster. U.S. conservatives get such little competition in the ideas department from liberals nowadays that, last year, they set up an online "presidential March Madness" so they could pretend to square off exclusively against other in anticipation of the 2008 presidential race.

If Prime Minister Steve (PMS) values free speech and debate, then he'll let Garth unleash the fury. And I'm not saying this because I agree with what Turner is saying about Emerson -- I don't. I view PMS's appointment of the successful businessman and experienced executive as a smart outside hire. I mean, come on -- I've seen PMS's B.C. talent pool, and there's exactly zero danger of anyone drowning in it. And Emerson will still have to prove himself a conservative, all while representing a liberal district in which he will likely want to be re-elected. Good luck with that, pal.

But it's refreshing to see a politician like Turner placing his constituents' interests before his own career. If more Liberals had done the same, particularly during the AdScam years, they might still be at the wheel.

Party on, Garth!

PUBLISHED:  TORONTO SUN (February 15/06)