Michael's Essay: The Last of the Red Tories
Sunday, September 23, 2012 |
Do coincidences come in threes?
Last week Peter Lougheed, one of the last of the Red Tory Progressive Conservative Premiers, died.
This week, a rancorous, divided, hyper-partisan Parliament reconvened.
And a few days ago a friend sent me an essay by pollster-slash-pundit Allan Gregg, warning that our very democracy is under threat by those who put ideology ahead of reason.
There is a slender string which ties the three events together.
It has to do with the idea of the small p progressive conservative.
Peter Lougheed, for example, always fought for his province whether
over oil prices or the Constitution, using reasoned argument and common
He may have been wrong from time to time, but he never let slip the dogs of ideology.
William Davis of Ontario was another so-called Red Tory.
He was certainly Conservative, but his administration was marked by the Progressive part in the title of his party.
Federally, Brian Mulroney came to power in 1984 as a free trader and
staunch conservative, but his government increased program spending and
made protection of the environment a priority by getting rid of acid
His Cabinet was salted with pragmatic Tories who tended to tilt to the left side of the party.
They acted on the basis of fact and reason, not dogma.
In his jeremiad, Mr. Gregg bemoans the disappearance of reality-based pragmatism.
He writes: "It seems as though our government's use of evidence and
facts as the basis of policy is declining and in their place, dogma,
whim and political expediency are on the rise. And even more troubling,
Canadians seems to be buying it."
This is from a former political operative who did a lot of work on behalf of the old Progressive Conservative Party.
Mr. Gregg builds his arguments by citing a litany of cuts and cutbacks
made by the current Conservative Government, many of which he insists
were done out of ideology not reality, the long gun registry, the census
forms, cuts to the national parks budget.
"This was no random
act of downsizing, but a deliberate attempt to obliterate certain
activities that were previously viewed as a legitimate part of
government decision making."
He points to excessive partisanship as an enabler for the downsizing.
"Once the population starts to segment itself into us versus them,
anyone with a vested interest in exacerbating the rift, can easily till
that soil. And that is clearly what is happening in the political
He argues that while ideology has poisoned the
political mechanics of the day, "Canadians by and large still believe in
tolerance, compromise, egalitarianism. We tend to see ourselves as each
other's keeper with a responsibility for those who are less fortunate."
What Mr. Gregg does not point out in his essay is that the current
iteration of the Conservative Party is as far from the old Progressive
Conservative Party as the current NDP is from the CCF.
But there are still a number of Old Tories, Red Tories around and sometimes, they speak out.
Tom Siddon was fisheries minister under Brian Mulroney. On his watch
was authored the current Fisheries Act, which Mr. Harper's government
wants to change.
Last May, Mr. Siddon came riding out of the west to condemn the proposed changes in heated language.
"This is a covert attempt to gut the Fisheries Act, and it's appalling
that they should be attempting to do this under the radar."
There is little forensic evidence that anybody in the government paid any attention to Mr. Siddon or his complaint.
But there are many more Red Tories out there, veterans of the old Progressive Conservative traditions.
Wouldn't it be interesting if more of them followed Mr. Siddon's example and said what was really on their minds?