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Forsaking their roots: we know Stephen Harper is sacrificing conservative principles in his quest for a majority. But what's Ed Stelmach's excuse?

THE DECISION TO COMPROMISE THE REFORM party's principles in return for a better chance of winning elections was not made in last month's Conservative budget by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but seven years ago by Preston Manning.

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That's when Manning called on Reformers to "think big," change their names and reach out to Progressive Conservatives. Reformers trusted Manning's ideological strength more than they feared the risks of his plan, and so the Reform party was interred and the Canadian Alliance was born. That process, originally opposed by Stephen Harper, was perfected by him with the merger with the Progressive Conservatives. Again, Harper's reputation as the author of the Reform party's original policy "blue book" gave him the credibility to truck with the Red Tories of the PCs.

Whatever their misgivings of the mergers, it is unlikely that any old-school Reformers would have preferred to have Paul Martin win the 2006 election--except those who would have received such a setback as the final shock to motivate Alberta to get serious about separatism. It is generally accepted within the right, especially in the West, that running a 75 per cent conservative who actually wins is better than running a 90 per cent conservative who loses.

But how about a 60 per cent conservative, or a 50 per cent conservative? At what point have so many ideological concessions been made that the Conservative party is different only in name and colours from the Liberals--precisely the accusation made by the founders of Reform in the 1980s?

There are certain aspects of this year's Conservative budget that would have caused the West to revolt had they been brought in under the Liberals--the end to the oilsands tax credit and income trust tax benefit being two of them. As Cyril Doll writes on page 26, spending is up, even more than in several of Martin's own budgets in the 1990s. And, while the Liberals talked a good game on Kyoto since signing the treaty in 1997, they never actually implemented it. It was pretend environmentalism. Harper, by contrast, sounds serious, or at least more serious than is comfortable. An SUV tax? A government bonus for buying a Prius?

Again, western conservatives are asked to hold their breath in order to win the motherlode of votes in Ontario and Quebec. The surprising success of the moderately conservative Action Democratique party in Quebec's provincial election makes that plan sound plausible. And Stephane Dion, who branded himself so heavily as the Green candidate in the Liberal leadership race, looks outflanked by the Tories, after their environmentalist frenzy. Dion and his party are dispirited, broke and low in the polls--a rarity for the Liberals. Maybe Harper's shifts are nothing more than tactical moves to achieve a strategic win--that was Harper's explanation for conceding that Quebecers were a "nation," too.

But what's Ed Stelmach's excuse? The nominally Conservative premier of Alberta has no majority to strive for, no restless French quarter to quiet, no environmentalist bandwagon to counter. If Harper wishes to tack left, and sacrifice Alberta's oil wealth in the name of a majority government, why should Stelmach go along with it? Worse, Stelmach has added his own assaults to the oilpatch, bringing in Canada's first carbon tax. It seems that choosing "none of the above" for party leader doesn't work any better for the Alberta Tories than it does for the Ottawa Liberals.

Many of the institutions of western political discontent have either been mothballed, or have made themselves obsolete by achieving their ends--a Calgary Conservative is now elected prime minister. Many of the activists are now MPs or staff--working within the government of compromise, not pricking it from outside, trying to keep it honest.

But Harper's victory--even if he can expand that to a majority--reforms just the House of Commons. The Senate, the Supreme Court and the judiciary, the media, the universities, the think-tanks and indeed the bulk of Canadian popular culture are still profoundly liberal and, if anything, even more resentful of the West's growing political and financial influence.

There are still many admirable conservative qualities about this government, most importantly its foreign policy. Simply cleaning out the stables after a dozen years of Liberal graft is crucial. But true conservatives ought to be wary--and pushing for the more conservative side in every compromise that's yet to come.
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Title Annotation:FROM THE DESK of Ezra Levant
Author:Levant, Ezra
Publication:Western Standard
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 23, 2007
Words:723
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