Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall wants his federal Conservative colleagues to remember the debacle of 1993 as they begin to assess what went wrong in the recent election campaign – and rebuild.
Mr. Wall says some Conservatives are "pining away" for the old days of Red Tories and the Progressive Conservative governments of Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell.
"How did that end? I mean, the party could have caucus meetings on an ATV," said the conservative Premier. "That's how it ended."
In the 1993 election campaign, the Progressive Conservatives were reduced to two seats as Jean Chrétien and his Liberals won the first of three majority governments. They went on to govern for 13 years until the merged PC Party and the Canadian Alliance under Stephen Harper's leadership were able to win government in 2006.
Mr. Wall made his comments amid reports that Mr. Mulroney is to deliver a speech next month calling for the Conservative Party to become more centrist. In addition, some senior members of Mr. Harper's cabinet criticized the tone of the Tory campaign.
Diane Finley, the outgoing public works minister, for example, has said a "softer image might not hurt." There was much discussion during the election campaign about values – and since last week's vote, there has been even more discussion about the mean-spirited campaign by the Tories, who turned to wedge politics, especially over the issue of the niqab.
The Conservatives are just beginning to regroup after being reduced to the Official Opposition, winning 99 seats. In addition, Mr. Harper's decision to step down as leader has triggered a leadership race.
Mr. Wall says he is not interested in seeking the party leadership.
Meanwhile, this was the first election that no former Progressive Conservative MP from Nova Scotia was on the Conservative Party ballot. Peter MacKay and Gerald Keddy, both Nova Scotia MPs who had been Progressive Conservatives – in fact, Mr. MacKay had been the PC leader that facilitated the merger and is among those being speculated about to replace Mr. Harper – did not run in this election.
The two other former Nova Scotia PC MPs, Scott Brison and Bill Casey, who were with the party during the merger, are now Liberal MPs. Mr. Casey, 70, is the rookie, having just been elected on Oct. 19.
"I think they screened out a lot of potential voters by not having that open-minded, progressive interest in people," Mr. Casey said about the Harper Conservatives and their campaign.
The Tories were completely shut out in the four Atlantic provinces, as were the NDP – the Liberals won all 32 seats in the region.
"I think the Conservatives made a lot of their decisions on debit and credits and spreadsheets without considering the impact on people," he said.
In 2003, when the two parties merged, Mr. Casey says he asked Mr. Harper to keep the word "progressive" in the new name. "He said, 'I don't like the word progressive.' He said that to me."
Mr. Casey says there was never any room in the Harper caucus for so-called Red Tories or "progressive ideas."
In Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark and Jean Charest's caucuses, there was always that room, he said, citing previous Conservative leaders.
David Small was a long-time Progressive Conservative who worked in senior positions in the Mulroney government. He is now a Liberal whose candidate won election in west Quebec. He says he has a lot of former PC friends who stayed with the Harper Conservatives until this election. "Their patience had run out," he said.
He defines a Progressive Conservative as a "conservative who has also aspirational goals for the country as a whole."
"It's not just a management thing," Mr. Small said.
As for the Red Tories coming back to the party, however, Mr. Small doesn't believe it will happen. "The Red Tories, bless them, they have an uphill battle," he said. "The right-wing has clearly got a firm grasp. It should strike no one as strange that Conservatives didn't lose any of their base ... their base is solid."
Premier Wall agrees – the base did not go away and the Conservatives won 99 seats, but the party and Mr. Harper were not good at what he characterizes as "finishing the sentence."
"Minus the wedge politics and the constant pursuit of hot buttons, the principles can be sound, especially if we can remember the end of the sentence," he said. "We want all of these things so that jobs are available to Canadian families, but also we want these things so that we can reinvest in the quality of life."
Mr. Wall believes, too, that it's not helpful for Conservatives to be talking in "factions."
"I think there are a lot of voters who participated in this last election who wouldn't be able to tell you what a Red Tory is and wouldn't remember the government from the '80s ...," he said. "So I think what would be helpful is if the party and its members were simply talking as Conservatives."