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Why Conservatives Should Thank Chuck Cadman

He saved them from a doomed election led by hard right Harper.

By Murray Dobbin 19 May 2005 | TheTyee.ca

Murray Dobbin is an author, commentator and journalist. He is the author of five books and is a former columnist with Financial Post and Winnipeg Free Press. He is a board member of Canadians for Tax Fairness and on the advisory council of the Rideau Institute. He lives in Powell River, BC.

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Buck stopped with Chuck Photo: C. Grabowski

For all the talk of a dysfunctional House of Commons, what has transpired over the past few weeks is precisely the opposite. Oh, to be sure, for Bay Street, newspaper editors, hysterical right wing pundits like Andre Coyne of the National Post and the self-absorbed Rex Murphy of the CBC, it is dysfunctional because the dismantling the country has been put on hold. That, after all, has been the "function" of the House of Commons under Tories and Liberals ever since the free trade deal went through after the 1988 election.

But if you are talking about government functioning in the interests of ordinary Canadians, families, communities and the nation, Parliament functioned better yesterday than it has at any time in the past twenty years. Forget the lack of so-called "decorum," the name-calling, the opportunism of the Liberals and the motives of Belinda Stronach. Who cares? If you are keeping your eye on the prize, for the first time in a long time, Canadians actually got out of a federal government what they have been saying for over a decade that they want: a return to activist government which operates in their interests and not in the exclusive interests of corporations and the wealthy.

And they got it because the NDP's leader Jack Layton was able to leverage just 19 seats - a fifth of what the over-represented Conservatives have - to achieve a package of progressive funding arrangements for the environment, cities, affordable housing, child care and universities. All the machinations aside, that is what happened May 19th as the Liberal government managed to win a budget vote by the skin of its teeth.

Harper can’t win

There is, of course, no need to get delusional about what happened. Paul Martin, in his best of all possible worlds, is as obedient a hand maiden of Bay Street as ever walked the halls of parliament. As finance minister for nine years he did more to dismantle the fabric of Canada's social programs than even Brian Mulroney dared to do - and in the process also managed to give obscene tax breaks to the wealthy and to large corporations that also out-paced Mulroney.

And it is a certainty that Mr. Martin supports Bay Street's 'deep integration' initiative by which what is left of Canada would be handed over to the US -- a sacrifice in the interests of Canadian corporations who can't compete with their US counterparts. He is deeply committed, as well, to massive privatization through public private partnerships -- a program that has simply been put on the shelf waiting for a Liberal majority.

The only thing preventing this horrendous agenda from going forward are the nineteen NDP MPs whose influence is far greater than their numbers suggest. Not only do those numbers count in this House but they give the progressives in the Liberal caucus the backbone they need to resist a right-wing prime minister. If Martin had a majority, he would silence these dissidents with the same ruthless efficiency with which he silenced his opponents in the Liberal leadership race.

As for the leader of the loyal opposition, Stephen Harper just doesn't get it. Hidden in the media spin surrounding the budget votes yesterday is all the evidence the Conservative Party needs to rid itself of the man who cannot possibly win them power. Far be it from me to help this Reform/Alliance retread party be more effective, given its draconian, hidden agenda. But the fact is, this extremist agenda is exactly what Harper brings to the party. If the Conservatives actually chose someone from the old Progressive Conservative wing of their party as leader, not only would they do better, but Canada would not be constantly threatened by Harper's vision of creating a carbon copy of the US north of the border. While Harper is almost pathologically committed to an American vision of the country, what's left of the old PCs -- especially the Red Tories -- might just have enough good sense left to recognize that Canadians are moving to the left in their values and policy preferences.

The Stronach wing

Of course the likelihood of this happening is very slim as the majority in the party is made up of old Alliance members, including all the extremist nut-bars who stopped Preston Manning at the Manitoba border. But old PC Conservatives in Ontario (of the Belinda Stronach school) must be looking at Stephen Harper and realizing that under his leadership they are doomed to lose. Even on the eve of the budget vote, the Liberals were suddenly back into a commanding 15 point lead in the province, according to an Ekos poll. If Conservative MPs have any sense they should be phoning Chuck Cadman and thanking him. Had there been election, Harper and his party would have been hammered in every part of the country except Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Just what would Harper have offered Canadians? His campaign, if he was honest, would have sounded something like this: "Vote for me. I just forced an election on the 65 percent of you who didn't want one. I just declared that the Gomery inquiry is irrelevant and so too is your desire to hear him out. I think spending $250 million on an unwanted election is not too high a price to pay for my ambition. And, oh yes, I voted for the old budget -- but explicitly opposed the NDP budget changes and more money for education, housing, child care, the environment and cities."

Way to go Stephen.

Murray Dobbin's 'State of the Nation' column appears twice monthly on The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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