COVER

The first shall be last

After two majorities, the Tories confront their rout as a party

BRUCE WALLACE November 1 1993
COVER

The first shall be last

After two majorities, the Tories confront their rout as a party

BRUCE WALLACE November 1 1993

The first shall be last

After two majorities, the Tories confront their rout as a party

There was no Tory blue on display in the ballroom when Jean Charest entered the Sherbrooke, Que., hotel to claim his personal victory. The

green, purple and blue banners were leftovers from his failed leadership bid last June. So was the theme song blasting from the speakers, Bryan Adams’s Can’t Stop This Thing We Started. For Charest, that tune now has a new and bitterly ironic ring. As one of only two survivors of the Conservatives’ Oct. 25 collapse, Charest can hardly walk away from the herculean rebuilding job ahead. “The party that founded this country will always be there in the years ahead—and so will I,” Charest told a roomful of devoted local supporters.

Despite those brave words, the party that governed for nine years with two successive majorities has been reduced to a pitiful rump of its former self. The coalition that Brian Mulroney forged between the Western and Quebec Tories has been shattered. Nearly all of its traditional constituency of free-market believers and small government advocates has bolted to the Reform party. And the Tories’ coffers—once the envy of its opponents—are empty.

Amid the Tory ruins, however, some stalwarts clung tenaciously to the belief that their party could be resuscitated. Said one senior strategist: “Never underestimate the staying power of the old-line parties. The Parliament will prove unworkable, and the two regional parties will disintegrate. Then we’ll look pretty good again.”

Perhaps, but Reform’s historic breakthrough underscores that a surging number of Canadians want their MPs to be more accountable, to show loyalty to those who elected them rather than to the party whose colors they wear. Parties themselves may see their influence wane. “Individual MPs are now going to count for more,” said Rick Anderson, an adviser to Reform Leader Preston Manning. “Five years from now, what will matter is the quality of the candidates, not the party.”

The election results marked the end of an era for the party that muscled its way into power in 1984. In the 1970s, during their long hiatus in opposition, the Tories began attracting many of the younger, brighter minds in politics who were shut out of the Liberal party— where a brain trust was already deeply entrenched. “If you were young and ambitious in the mid-1970s, the Tories were the place to be,” said Allan Gregg, the party pollster, who joined at the time. He was among those at the vanguard of the party’s revival, political wizards who modernized Canadian politics with sophisticated polling techniques and direct-

mail fund-raising schemes. The party also beckoned to a host of candidates who were eager to turn back what they saw as the excesses of 1960s and 1970s Liberalism. Many of the Tories elected in the 1984 landslide were true disciples of conservative ideology. Once in office, they swamped Parliament with their agenda, everything from privatizing Crown corporations to deregulating air transportation and simplifying the tax code.

Those ingredients are missing from the Tory party of 1993. Its former frontbench stars are burned out or retired, and the ascen-

dant generation of newcomers has failed to present fresh ideas. The party’s defeat will force the Tories to reassess what they stand for. But that debate will likely have to wait until the party determines who will lead it through that political encounter session. Unless she resigns of her own accord, Kim Campbell faces an automatic review of her leadership at the next Tory convention, which must be held within a year, and her prospects for survival appear slim.

In Quebec, at least, last June’s leadership race never really ended: the feuding between the Charest camp and Campbell’s Quebec advisers continued through the general election. The Charest entourage has accumulated a list of what it sees as slights and is almost salivating at the prospect of revenge against Campbell’s Quebec team.

But whenever they do get around to rebuilding, party members will find that they are no longer the sole party of the economic right. Reform has clearly captured most of the freemarket, anti-government constituency. Even Charest may be relegated to the pe-

riphery of the coming national debate over unity. Having failed to resolve the issue during their time in office, the Tories have little credibility on constitutional questions. “You’ll see Charest seek a showdown with Bouchard over Quebec’s future,” predicted one Charest supporter. But the spotlight will be occupied. Both Jean Chrétien and Daniel Johnson, the likely successor to Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa will also carry the federalist standard in Quebec. And after the Tory collapse, Charest may be a politician practising in the dark.

BRUCE WALLACE in Sherbrooke