Conservatives lost, needing voter's help

First published:
June 4, 2003

It has to be tough to be a Tory these days. Northumberland conservatives must look across the horizon at the provincial and federal parties and cringe.

Ontario Premier Ernie Eves called off an election this spring. His argument was simple: with the lockout of Toronto District Catholic English school teachers and a new outbreak of SARS confounding public health officials, the timing was not good. Now is a time for leadership, he said.

Add to this the status of the party in the polls and it is no wonder the decision was made to hold off.

The intent is honourable, even if suspect. Eves’ time as leader is a series of hits and misses when it has come to demonstrating his leadership. Often it seems like he takes one step forward, then two steps back.

Take the most recent example. No sooner has he settled into his leadership mode, when Agriculture Minister Helen Johns sticks both feet in her mouth, saying the government is considering ban on Alberta beef following a single case of mad cow disease was identified.

Within hours Eves is picking up the pieces, after some angry words from Alberta Premier Ralph Klein. No, there is no ban being considered, Eves states, with a frustrated tone in his voice.

Tory farmers throughout Northumberland must be spitting nails when they hear this kind of mind-numbing comments. She forgets how farmers from across the province, including our county, were shipping hay to their brethren in the west during the severe drought. Farmers are a strong community who come to each other’s aid, whether it is across the road or the country.

If this is not enough, the federal Tories pick status-quo candidate Peter MacKay as their new leader during a convention in Toronto over the weekend.

Following a leadership campaign that most people have described as disappointing and lackluster, Progressive Conservatives were faced with little in the way of vision for the future of a once mighty political party in this country. Just to drive home the point, MacKay gave a speech at the convention that was a version of his stumping address given during the campaign. Good grief!

After a very tight vote, which surprised many of the pundits and the MacKay camp, Tory delegates walked away from the weekend bitter and divided. Some are angry over the deal MacKay made with rival David Orchard, who is a free trade opponent. Others are upset about the possibility of a unite-the-right effort that may see the death of the 135-year old Conservative Party.

As Alliance Party observer Chuck Strahl said in a post-convention interview, one Tory came up to him and told him his membership for the Alliance Party was in the mail

Certainly neither of these situations is enough to have Northumberland Tories pulling out their hair. In fact, for political observers election strategies and conventions are a sideshow.

But what is deeply perturbing is what is underneath all of this. Both Eves and MacKay have failed to deliver the kind of clear, coherent vision the party desparatly needs. Let us not forget the Conservatives of the past who have made significant contribution: John A. Macdonald, John Diefenbaker, Bill Davis and Mike Harris. For Tories, these are the icons that pushed the party and its vision forward over history.

Neither leader can say the same. Eves is lost. His platform bears none of the political energy of the Common Sense Revolution, which brought Conservatives across the province behind a unified plan. Regardless of whether people agree or not with what took place, as a piece of political strategy, it was masterful.

None of that exists now. Policies on mandatory retirement, ending teacher’s strikes and mortgage deductions just don’t carry the same.

MacKay shares this lack of imagination and inspiration. Maybe we should just call him Who Two, because nobody really knows who this guy really is and what he represents. Joe (Who?) Clark will be remembered as the first Who.

He is committed to running Progressive Conservative candidates in all ridings. Federal Liberals are dancing in the street because, as is the case before, the right wing vote will be split.

And the proposed review of free trade, agreed to, as a part of the Orchard deal done Saturday, will only drive deeper divisions between party members. This will make the snipping between federal Liberals look like a tea party in comparison.

So, if you see a dejected looking conservative this summer, give them a map and a compass, they need the direction.

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