Column

FOLLY OF THE UNITED RIGHT

Opposing same-sex marriages and marijuana possession is irrelevant

BARBARA AMIEL November 3 2003
Column

FOLLY OF THE UNITED RIGHT

Opposing same-sex marriages and marijuana possession is irrelevant

BARBARA AMIEL November 3 2003

FOLLY OF THE UNITED RIGHT

Column

Opposing same-sex marriages and marijuana possession is irrelevant

BARBARA AMIEL

AS A YOUNG MAN, Joe Clark was improbable. His Diefenbaker jowls quivered on a schoolboy’s eager face. The young fellow ached to be taken seriously as a proper grownup, but there was a synaptic break between desire and execution. Those of us who were journalists when then-Opposition leader Clark visited a farm in India and earnestly asked, “How old are those chickens?” could never manage not to giggle when we saw him again. As decades passed, one sad fact emerged—whatever might be the opposite of the Midas touch, Joe had it.

The latest manifestation of this is his opposition to the merger of Canada’s political right. Canadians have put an electoral pillow over the face of the Progressive Conservatives. Today, the federal party is invisible except for an occasional glimpse of twitching nostrils. But Joe is adamant. Suffocation is preferable to seeing the Canadian political landscape revitalized.

He is joined in this opposition by David Orchard, who has twice lost a Tory leadership race. In policy terms, Orchard is an NDPer, but for reasons known only to himself and his psychiatrist, believes he is a Tory. It is remotely possible that Orchard has infiltrated the PCs as a fifth columnist for the NDP—just as the “three wise men,” Trudeau, Marchand and Pelletier, did when they moved from their Cité Libre days to membership in the Liberal party. Whatever— since Orchard made opposition of the merger of the right a condition of his support for Peter MacKay’s successful leadership bid, his stance is at least consistent.

FAR more important is the resurrection of respect for individual sovereignty and liberty to contract, run your business or dispose of your property the way you want

Clark’s position is more difficult to understand. He has given his best to the Conservative party over the years. With the possible exception of his time as an often effective parliamentary debater while in the Mulroney cabinet, he has made a complete dog’s breakfast of everything. All one can say in his defence is that his opposition to the merger is consistent with his own track record of always being on the wrong side.

Just as one knew it was necessary for British PM Tony Blair to wrestle the unelectable, hard-left British Labour Party into a democratic left-wing alternative to the Conservatives in Britain, so it seems obvious that Canada must have a proper right-wing alternative to the Liberals. A one-party state is simply not compatible with a healthy democracy. Having said that, I am not as sanguine about the merger as many people seem to be. What ails the Canadian right is a lot more than the division between the Canadian Alliance and the PCs.

Canadian conservatives, and I include the Alliance, seem unable to envisage any real alternative to interventionist government. One wishes this were only a failing of Joe Clark’s Red Tories. But over the past 30 years the Canadian political psyche has developed a statist perspective on life. The right may think, perhaps correctly, that it could manage Canada’s statism better than the Liberals, but even for them the basic notion of interventionist government is a given. Conservatives may notice that such doctrinaire views make Canada about the only country in the world where a contemplated competitive private health-care sector is anathema, but they shrink from drawing the necessary consequences. In addition, there are few conservatives who seriously consider the absence of property rights in Canada’s Constitution a fundamental flaw.

In so far as they are active in creating an alternative agenda to the left, the enthusiasm of Canada’s new right is reserved for the grotty issues of social conservatism. These include objections to same sex marriages and a determination to retain criminalization of simple possession of marijuana. Issues like this have no resonance with a majority of Canadians and, more importantly, whichever way they are decided, have nothing to do with making Canada a better or more prosperous country.

In a society where a printer can be ordered by the state’s “human rights” institutions to provide a product that goes against his conscience at the risk of curtailment of his livelihood, battling changes in social mores or opposing some types of popular entertainment, as today’s social conservatives do, is wanton blindness. Far more important is the resurrection of respect for individual sovereignty (such as the right to bring up one’s children the way you choose), and the liberty to contract, run your business or dispose of your property the way you want. The recent B.C. Supreme Court decision overturning a will of deceased parents that favoured one child over the other (the court simply voided the will and divided the estate 50-50 between the two children) is a flagrant example of the statist corruption of family law.

For the past 30 years, dirigistes and statism have had a stranglehold on the Grits. Were I young, I’d consider that recapturing the Liberal party for liberalism is more important than forging a New Right. But that’s because my instincts are small-L liberal and not conservative. Meanwhile, a split right is the worst of all worlds. The exit of Joe Clark & Co., together with all their bell-bottomed, magic mushroom folderol about “inclusiveness” and “diversity” that actually excluded anything but threadbare ideas of the soft left, may make the daunting task of rebuilding conservatism for Conservatives possible—even in the current folderol that is Canada. CTl

Barbara Amiel’s column appears monthly. bamlel@macleans.ca