Saturday, October 4, 2008

Know Your Fringe Parties VIII -- The Progressive Canadian Party

Hmm. The logo looks vaguely familiar, doesn't it? No, couldn't be. Surely that's where the similarities end. Let's have a look at the internest site. OMG, isn't that Sinclair Stevens? It is.

It appears that the Honourable Sinclair Stevens, former cabinet minister in the government of Brian Mulroney, is the leader (or perhaps leader emeritus?) of the latest, gasping incarnation of the old, and once proud, PC party.

The Progressive Canadian (PC) Party was officially registered with Elections Canada on May 29, 2004 by those devoted to continuing the progressive-conservative philosophy in Canadian politics. The philosophy was first articulated by Edmund Burke in the 18th Century, applied in Canada in the 19th by Sir John A. Macdonald and in the 20th by John George Diefenbaker and Robert Stanfield. It is based on "a disposition to preserve" what is good in the existing order, combined with "an ability to improve."

A little background may be in order. Sinclair Stevens became a member of parliament for the Progressive Conservatives under Robert Stanfield in 1972, representing the riding of York Simcoe. He ran for the party leadership in 1976, finishing a disappointing seventh place. At the convention, he threw his support behind Joe Clark, who eventually went on to defeat the two favourites, Brian Mulroney and Claude Wagner. Stevens was rewarded in 1979 with a cabinet portfolio (President of the Treasury Board) in Joe Clark's nine-month government (1979-80). In the 1983, PC leadership convention, Stevens switched his loyalties to Brian Mulroney, presciently backing the right horse. He rode the Mulroney landslide of 1984 all the way back to a seat at the cabinet table (Minister of Regional Industrial Expansion). He was forced to resign from cabinet in 1986 over alleged conflict of interest. In 1987, a special commission of inquiry ruled that Stevens had violated conflict of interest rules on 14 counts. [In 2004, however, a federal court judge overturned this finding, in effect vindicating Stevens.] Mulroney refused to sign Stevens' nomination papers in 1988, forcing his riding to select another candidate.

Outside of the parliamentary loop after the 1988 election, Sinclair Stevens still took a keen interest. What particularly caught his eye -- and his ire -- were two portentous developments. The first was the ascendancy of the upstart populist western movement, the Reform party under Preston Manning. The second was the backstabbing treachery of Lucien Bouchard and the arrival of the Bloc Quebecois. By syphoning off Progressive Conservative support on two fronts, and breaching the 'two citadels' of Mulroney's artfully-constructed realm, Preston Manning and Lucien Bouchard combined in a political drawing and quartering -- slowly and painfully tearing the limbs from the battered corpus of the once mighty party.

Through the 1990s, as one political blog (Max's Mewsings ... one cat's take on the events of the day) put it: "Mr. Stevens detested the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance, waged a (sometimes dirty) war to prevent the merger of the CA and the Progressive Conservatives and has a massive hate-on for Stephen Harper, the Leader of the united Conservative Party." In 2005, thanks to the sleuthing (in the true spirit of citizen journalism) of some intrepid bloggers, including Small Dead Animals, Sinclair Stevens was tied to the website, via a shell web site he apparently created called "Freedom International."

And so we arrive at the Progressive Canadian party. A new venture or an old score to settle?

Well, the new PC party is running eleven candidates in three provinces (Newfoundland, Ontario, and British Columbia), including a candidate in Stevens' old riding of York Simcoe. The party's statement of principles is not unfamiliar -- federalism, constitutional monarchy, and the rule of law; competition, free enterprise, and the right to own private property; fiscal conservatism, self-reliance, but government assistance where needed; prudent environmentalism; international integrity; and domestic accountability. This is fundamentally a set of conservative principles --nay, even progressive conservative. Consider this run-down of the PC party's policy platform:

  • economic growth and a sustainable economy
  • support for small business
  • "the 100-mile" challenge (buy locally when possible)
  • support for family farms (hence, the 100-mile challenge)
  • support for the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB)
  • stimulate housing starts through government mortgage guarantees
  • "a well-equipped, highly-motivated military" as "the key to our sovereignty"
  • withdrawal from Afghanistan soon, but "with dignity" and return to the (fabled) role of peacekeepers
  • increased funding for post-secondary education
  • single-payer health care system with private sector participation in delivery of services
  • environmental protection
  • support for local municipalities.

While this is a truncated list, it conveys the essence of the platform. This is in all respects a small "c" conservative, almost a "red Tory" progressive conservative, platform. The party makes no bones about distinguishing itself from, and distancing itself from, the Conservative Party of Canada under Stephen Harper. In most respects, the PC party is a tacit 'red Tory' rejection of the newer populist, fiscal conservative, neo-conservative, social conservative, and libertarian coalition that animates of CPC. But it is also a tacit rejection of the sudden shift to the left that the Liberal party has undertaken under Stephane Dion. Instead, the PC party tugs at a wisp of nostalgia, and hearkens back to the Arcadian images of bygone, halcyon days:

    • Are you as proud of being Canadian in 2007 as we all were in 1967 when (we)launched confidently onto the world stage? How about in 1987, when we were fighting acid rain and working to free Nelson Mandela? How about in 1997 when we led the world into the historic Kyoto Accord?
    • Do you feel more secure now or less? There is nowhere to hide from terror except freedom. Terror grows in poverty, failed wars and greed. You can’t beat terror in a war – you beat terror with the firm stance of a peacemaker. With fairness and justice. And with compassion and assistance.
    • What are Canadian values? What is the essence of Canada? Is it found in the historic compromise of private and public enterprise? In the diversity we all share and admire? In the natural beauty and wonderful environment we have been blessed with. Or is it as simple as keeping your promises? Do you really feel that any political party represents those values?

There's a little bit of Don Quixote about all of this. Just saying. Anyway, all the best to the eleven candidates -- the eleven brave campaign soldiers (er, um, peacekeepers?) -- of "the pummelling PCs." We'll be keeping a eye out for you on the 14th.

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