Last Friday's Toronto Star featured an op-ed lamentation by Arthur Haberman, an emeritus history prof at York University. The subject of his sadness is the demise of progressive conservatism in Canada. Haberman catalogues the policy roster of PC(ism) from its roots in Burke and Disraeli through to its demise in the early part of this decade. He extols the virtues of Joe Clark and Bill Davis and denounces the shortcomings of Mike Harris and Stephen Harper, all in an effort to point out what's been lost.
In progressive conservatism there is a belief in acknowledging the importance of tradition in organizing politics and society. This used to translate into an anglophile posture and a loyalty to the monarchy. But since the 1980s, Clark and others have not only acknowledged the role of diversity in Canadian society, they have repositioned progressive conservatism on the side of multiculturalism and bilingualism.
... Progressive Conservatives like to make a series of small adjustments that over time turn out to be large but do not create chaos. As Edmund Burke said: "At once to preserve and reform" is the way to proceed.
They are unashamedly international and involved in the world. Canada is not only a sovereign nation, it can be a force for good in a nasty world. Hence the support for peacekeeping, for forging and living up to international agreements, and for foreign aid.
The Conservative party self-consciously dropped the progressive part of the program and substituted a kind of American Republican doctrine. They don't like parliaments very much and their leaders Stephen Harper, Mike Harris behave like presidents rather than prime ministers and premiers.
Conservatives are driven hard by ideology rather than pragmatism and tradition. When the financial crisis occurred last fall, they put forward a budget that had no stimulus because they believe that government should get out of the way. Faced with a defeat in Parliament, they prorogued the House of Commons and returned with something resembling their opponents' position. But they are implementing it very slowly or not at all because they don't really believe in it, even though it is now the law of the land.
These new Conservatives like to be tough, or at least appear to be so. Canada now fights wars instead of keeping the peace. When the United States invaded Iraq, both Harper and Peter MacKay supported sending Canadian troops. In Ontario, Mike Harris decided that he would penalize those on welfare and in the education system in his years in power, Ontario had the lowest per capita support of higher education of any province. They talk about law and order a lot and like to believe that the way to prevent crime is to fill up our prisons and have a higher rate of incarceration, possibly hoping to emulate the land with the highest rate of incarceration in the world, the United States.
All that said though, here's a thought: what if progressive conservatives never really lost a party political platform from which to exercise their franchise? What if they simply moved over to the Liberals? A red tory by any other name... That of course is Michael Ignatieffs argument for the revival of Liberal fortunes across the country. Here's Mike making this very point during the last election campaign:
"This is a Conservative party that's pretending to be in the centre but is actually to the right of any progressive conservatism we knew through the 1980s. Everything I know tells me that there are more progressive conservative voters that could come to us than there are voters to the left of us by a factor of two to one. [Harper's speaking]this strange new language and they don't recognize themselves."
Only thing is the numbers didn't and dont add up. The NDP splits the vote in such a way as to allow the Tories to maintain minority government after minority government. Unless and until Ig realizes that the radical center is the road to political nowhere Canada will continue to elect Conservative governments, and progressives of whatever strip can get stuffed.