Sunday, September 16, 2012

Those were the days...

Over the years there has been a fair bit written about Stephen Harper's long-held goal of not just over-taking the Liberals, but of consigning them to the dustbin of history. Now, as we begin the countdown to the Liberal spring 2013 leadership convention we can expect more of such chatter.

What sometimes gets lost in this Harper versus the Liberals narrative is the fact that should Mr. Harper succeed in forever vanquishing the former "natural governing party", it will mark the second time he has taken on and mortally wounded one of the federal parties.

The first victim? The federal Progressive Conservative party.


The death this past week of Peter Lougheed prompted a number of articles about his legacy, including this excellent one by Jeffrey Simpson.  

What struck me in reading these tributes was the number of sharp distinctions between what it used to mean to be a PC, and what it currently means to be a Conservative. The articles served as a reminder that there once was a time when the words progressive and conservative did not appear mutually exclusive; that there was a sense that government had a real role to play in the pursuit of the greater good.

More than anything, we remembered that good policy can and should be driven by both conviction and evidence. Facts and principles can exist side-by-side in our decision-making process. This was an approach that enabled Mr. Lougheed to govern for so long, so successfully. It was an approach that allowed the modern Alberta to emerge on the national scene.


The PC party of Mr. Lougheed does not exist at the federal level any more, and nor does the notion of a red Tory.  His federal heirs, if you will - politicians like Clark and Stanfield - and the values and approach to public service that they represented are long gone.  

In their place is the current Conservative party.  A party defined and moulded by Prime Minister Harper.  The current brand of conservatism is more principle-driven, relying less on facts and data.  More importantly, it represents an approach to politics and policy-making that is more adversarial; where accommodation and collaboration are rare and are too often portrayed as signs of weakness.

It is also an approach that has gradually started to erode the concept of the "centre", transforming the national political dialogue into a choice between two extremes.  

Unfortunately by making federal politics a "battle of opposites", as Mr. Harper has tried to do, policy debate starts to mirror the political landscape. When "what if?" is replaced by "either, or", innovation and the bigger sense of country are lost.


Over the course of the summer Canadians have been inundated with reminders about the war of 1812. The government's objective is to bring greater visibility to our military history, and to develop a national sense of pride in that history.

These are noble endeavours, without question. However, there is a certain irony in celebrating our military history while at the same time ignoring the principles and approach to politics that quite simply allowed a country like Canada to exist.

Canada is a nation that was born out of compromise, collaboration and a sense that if you wanted to make something truly special, at some point you had to leave your interests at the door and think of the big picture.

Mr. Lougheed understood that. We could do with more like him.     

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