RM Issue #031212
December 10, 2003
Liberal-friendly media slam united right By BOB MACDONALD -- Toronto Wed Dec. 10 2003
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Throughout the campaigns to unite Canada's two conservative parties, the country's Liberal politicians and our heavily lib-left media have emphasized the negatives.
People like former Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark and failed leadership candidate David Orchard lambasted unification with the Canadian Alliance party at every instance. And their views were given almost daily play in the media - especially such pro-Liberal outlets as The Toronto Star, the Globe, CBC and even CTV.
Meanwhile, PC Leader Peter MacKay and Alliance Leader Stephen Harper had to absorb a lot of potshots.
MacKay was often portrayed as the guy who broke his word with Orchard regarding unification. And Harper was constantly described as too socially conservative.
In other words, not enthusiastic enough about such "progressive" Liberal government initiatives as decriminalizing pot and recognizing homosexual marriages.
To their credit, MacKay and Harper stuck to their guns. Both realized that if they remained divided in next spring's expected election, Paul Martin's Grits would have a sure chance of decimating them.
It would be no contest in such places as Ontario, where the combined votes of the PC and Alliance candidates in more than 30 ridings in the last federal election were greater than those of the winning Liberals. The result: the Jean Chretien-led Grits won 101 of Ontario's 103 ridings.
And Martin's well-financed Big Red Machine was already gearing up to grab more seats in the Atlantic provinces, where the Tories hold most of their meagre 15 seats.
Also, Martin was aiming to pick up seats in his home province of Quebec and to cut into some of the Alliance's 63 seats - almost all in Western Canada.
Before the Alliance and PC grassroots votes, the anti-unification forces and commentators suggested the Tories might not give the necessary two-thirds majority for unification. Well, the PC membership voted an overwhelming 90.4% in favour of joining with the Alliance to form a new Conservative Party of Canada.
The Alliance vote was even higher - a whopping 95.9%.
MacKay described the outcome best: "With this overwhelming vote, we have just become Paul Martin's worst nightmare. Finally, after 10 years, the Liberal party will be facing a united, strong, conservative family in the next election."
Harper called the merger "a bold new initiative" to build a strong, national party - a real alternative to the complacent, often arrogant Liberals. "This is truly an historic achievement and an overwhelming endorsement of our common desire for one conservative voice in Canada," he said.
For their part, both Clark and Orchard proved poor losers.
Clark said the merger would prove to be political "suicide" for the new party and vowed not to join it. With Clark's long record for bad political judgment, his dire prediction was probably the best indicator of the new party's future success.
Orchard, who has never been elected to Parliament, branded the merger "a fraud" and charged the Alliance was taking over the PCs.
Regardless, the long-needed merger of Canada's two conservative parties moves on to the next step - picking a leader. And, once more, the naysayers are quickly claiming that none of the possible candidates can do the job - that the Martin mob is an absolute sure thing.
What they fail to take into account is that such people as Mac-Kay and Harper have both grown in their leadership roles. They've gained invaluable on-the-job training and - especially MacKay - have shown real statesmanship in successfully negotiating the merger and gaining overwhelming support from their memberships.
Of course, there are other leadership possibilities - such as already declared Calgarian Jim Prentice, who has no Commons seat. And there are the shy flirtations of New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord - who keeps repeating, at least for public consumption, that he's not interested.
Plus, there are others, although former Ontario premier Mike Harris has ruled himself out, as has Alberta Premier Ralph Klein.
And so it goes. Of course, the Liberals and lib-left media will continue to pooh-pooh any and all leadership candidates.
But remember - as with the merger vote - it will be the members of the new, united Conservative party who will make the decision.