Allan Fotheringham

Easterners may not have noticed yet, but part of the Liberal Party is missing

Allan Fotheringham April 5 1976
Allan Fotheringham

Easterners may not have noticed yet, but part of the Liberal Party is missing

Allan Fotheringham April 5 1976

Easterners may not have noticed yet, but part of the Liberal Party is missing

Allan Fotheringham

Allan Fotheringham

It may be rather hard to swallow at one gulp but consider this (and jiggle a bit at the juicy prospect): the Liberals could be finished as a national party. It is hard to imagine, one realizes, this vast nation bereft of the delicate nuances of the parliamentary gavotte as perfected by the Grits (one mincing step forward,twoswiftly side-ways and one gravely back), the sleight-of-hand transfer of portly pork-barrelers into the oblivion of the Senate, the lofty arrogance that is a Liberal’s chief charm. Can you imagine that the Lord’s earth could struggle along without the party that brought you Sky Shops, the dial-a-judge contest, fuddle-duddle, terminal 2, regularly scheduled post office strikes and Mitchell Sharp as decisive thinker? Well, imagine it.

The theory is not so much theory as the direction the evidence points. Canadian political history indicates a party cannot exist on one level: it must have both provincial and federal structures. It is why the NDP is only masquerading as a national party. Until it solves the riddle of Quebec and breaks into the impoverished Maritimes it is only a pretender to the throne. It is why such regional aberrations as the Union Nationale in Quebec and Social Credit in British Columbia have never had any serious future. And it is why the Liberals, who have ruled Canada 43 of the past 54 years, are teetering on the edge as a true national party—the collapse of the party in the four western provinces is nearly complete. The only missing link is the kindly doctor to shoot the beast and put it out of its misery. For doctor, substitute voter.

You don’t even have to go into the wellknown fact that the Liberals have a shaky hold on only 13 of the 68 federal seats in Western Canada. More important, look at the base—the provincial structures that should keep the federal skeleton alive. In Alberta, Liberals have disappeared like Depression blow-dirt. They don’t have a soul either in the provincial legislature or in the Commons. In Manitoba, the party has no official legislative status since it is reduced to three MLAS. The latest candidate for self-destruct leader, Charles Fluband, failed in a by-election bid last year, falling on the sword of an Ottawa budget. In Saskatchewan, where Liberals are nominally in opposition, they could make no gains as Allan Blakeney’s NDP slipped at last year’s election. The party on the rise is the Tories, led by Dick Collver, who went from 2% to 28% of the vote and from zip to seven seats. The Liberals planned a leadership convention this year to relieve little

Davey Steuart of his weary mantle but things are so bad they may have to cancel the immolation ceremony because a new kamikaze candidate has yet to offer himself for the sacrifice.

It is in BC, however, that the suicidal intent of the party too long in power federally has been most proficient in screwing its lowly colleagues. Provincially, the Liberals have been “statistically reduced to a curiosity,” in the words of Cam Avery, a longtime aide to Justice Minister Ron Basford. Support at the polls has disintegrated in the last four elections from 20% to 7%. The lone ranger left in the legislature, Gordon Gibson Jr., will soon be back in the federal

nest from whence he came. What makes all this so remarkable in the annals of Liberal arrogance is that BC in each of the last six federal elections has supplied more than half the Liberal MPS in Western Canada. In return, the feds have disemboweled their provincial cousins by alienating the voter in most every possible way known to man and Grit.

The current example is that BC, with eight bodies in the Commons, has the lowest ratio of any province of elected cabinet ministers in relation to MPS. The lone cabinet minister chosen by the unwashed is Basford (who is doomed next time around at any rate. His margin over little-known Tory rivals in Vancouver Centre in the last three elections fell from 17,105 to 5,185 to 1,921). The Liberals, desperate to demonstrate their disdain for the voter, reached into the Senate for BC’S second cabinet minister, Ray Perrault. Senator Perrault does not represent anyone. In fact, he was

rejected by the voters, having lost his seat in Burnaby-Seymour. Having perceived the voters’message, the Liberals’ answer is to promote him into the Senate and the cabinet. They do have a gift.

How the heavy thinkers in the East Block can choose such a tired non-elected warhorse as Senator Phogbound Perrault over the stylish Iona Campagnolo, the Prince Rupert MP, completely boggles those of us who have been left out of the Privy Council. She not only has beauty to go with her brains and statuesque presence, she has the good sense to share her birthday with Pierre Trudeau and the nerve to appear before him in a sarong at last year’s Press Gallery dinner in a song that mocked his intellect. To top it off, there was that exquisite insult to every loyal BC party hack and expectant ward heeler of the cynical appointment of Jack Austin, the Senator-on15-minutes-notice. Resentment of the feds rides high. There are those today who think a 1976 election would yield only two Liberals west of Thunder Bay—Otto Lang and Iona.

It’s become a bore to recite the reasons for the western alienation. Western politicians now feel the Liberals’ vaunted Western Economic Opportunities Conference in Calgary in 1973 was a sucker play. They note with sardonic humor that even Ontario Liberals at their April 23 annual meeting will discuss splitting from the federal albatross. The Glassco comfnission on government efficiency 14 years ago outlined the basic problem. Although 75% of civil servants work outside Ottawa, only one in seven civil service executives is located outside Ottawa. Three quarters of the Ottawa brdss have never had field experience. The Canadian bureaucracy is twice as centralized as the American.

We won’t even go into the fact that eight years, Trudeau’s tenure, was long enough for Harold Wilson or that U.S. law states that eight years is long enough for anyone. Nor will we mention that the Prince Valiant of the west, John Turner, has gone and the Tories once again have a westerner for a leader.

Let us only suggest that a Liberal party hived into Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes with the collapse of the west is no longer a believable national party. The polarization between left and right, Tories and the socialists, has already taken place in Western Canada much as in Britain. Quebec will be going her own way at any rate (the real leader of the opposition in Canada is René Lévesque) and there just ain’t any room left for Liberals.