U.S. 2000 = Canada 1984?


[Peter Brimelow writes: Yeah, yeah, I know we should be posting about the October 11 Presidential Debate II. But it was so B-O-R-I-N-G. Particularly as Dubya wouldn`t or couldn`t make the point that two problems cited by Gore as necessitating more federal government – school overcrowding and Texans lacking health insurance – are actually aspects of America`s immigration disaster.

We prefer to think about higher things at VDARE – like the coming demise of the GOP, presaged here by one of Canada`s pre-eminent political commentators.]

By Lorne Gunter

“Gore`s, Bush`s way of saying it says a lot.” The morning after the first presidential debate in Boston, the only difference that The Washington Post website could see between George W. Bush and Albert Gore was the way each said the same thing.

It`s a devastating headline. The Republican hierarchy insists that the party become the mirror image of its Democratic rivals. It might work – in the short run. But it might also be the end of the party.

Couldn`t happen? Consider the Progressive Conservative (“Tory”) Party of Canada. In 1984, the same year in which Ronald Reagan won his 49-state landslide, the Progressive Conservatives won the largest electoral victory in Canadian history. Yet today, because they tried to be too much like their rivals, the Liberals, because they ignored their base – conservatives, especially in the western provinces – the Tories stand on the verge of extinction.

It has taken three elections. But in the election likely to be called this November, Canada`s Reform party (not related to Ross Perot`s vanity vehicle), now known as the Canadian Alliance, seems set to deal the deathblow to the Tories.

In 1984, after almost 20 years out of power, the Tories under Brian Mulroney came roaring in. Mulroney, a bilingual Quebecer, had become Tory leader with the claim that he would attract French-speaking voters in Quebec, where they form the overwhelming majority. Like Bush attracting Hispanics – except that it worked. Temporarily. Canadians gave him 211 of 282 seats in the House of Commons, a mandate to reverse the Liberals` damage.

But as Prime Minister, Mulroney felt confident his path to glory lay in governing the same way. He decided his Tories should simply replicate the Liberals as the majority party. The Liberals had formed a majority coalition by advocating an intrusive, expensive, powerful central state, and above all by pandering to Quebec. Where the Liberals under Pierre Trudeau had decriminalized homosexuality; Mulroney permitted the courts to entrench gay rights in Canada`s constitution. He doubled the debt left to him and expanded the Liberals` unpopular bilingualism policy. He extended the Liberals` gun controls, welfare and subsidies for non-traditional families. The Supreme Court of Canada abolished the few remaining laws against abortion without so much as a peep from Mulroney. He also imposed a wildly unpopular national sales tax. The personal tax burden increased by more than a third.

Immigration already expanded and reoriented to the Third World, increased by almost 50 per cent annually.

But above all, Mulroney continued to play favorites with Quebec, his home province.

Trudeau, also a Quebecer, had effectively expropriated the wealth of the Western prairie province of Alberta in 1980 by imposing crushing excise taxes on its oil and natural gas production. Thus when Mulroney defeated Trudeau, Albertans rejoiced. Alberta was the Tory heartland. Throughout the entire Trudeau era, at great political expense, Alberta voted Tory again and again.

But Mulroney didn`t discontinue Trudeau`s hated policies. For at least two-and-one-half more years, he kept Trudeau`s National Energy Program. He also continued to appoint a disproportionate number of Quebecers to senior government posts. French-Quebecers, who make up less than 20 per cent of the Canadian population, hold up to 70 per cent of the key jobs in some federal government departments, and an overall average of 40 per cent.

Then, in 1986, Mulroney, against the advice of his defense department, awarded a contract to service fighter jets to a Montreal company, rather than a superior western firm. It was more than western conservatives could take.

Under the unlikely leadership of the Albertan Preston Manning, westerners formed the Reform Party in 1987 as an alternative to the Tories that was truer to key Tory principles than the Tories themselves.

Their effort met with utter derision – worth remembering when considering U.S. Third Party efforts today. At its first test at the polls, in November 1988, Reform elected no M.Ps. It garnered just 11 per cent of the vote.

But in 1993, after five more years of Mulroney, the Tories were annihilated. They dropped to just two (2!) seats. Reform rose to 52.

Significantly, the Tory establishment did not learn. Since `93, a series of ever less conservative leaders have steered the party farther and farther away from their old conservative core. Today, it is unlikely it will win a single seat in the general election expected in late November.

Conservative party leaders, such as the current Republican leadership, who think it clever to ape their liberal opponents for short-term electoral success, should be careful that they are not sealing their party`s long-term doom.

Sure, the Reform Party of Pat Buchanan is no threat to the Republicans – for now. But if Governor Bush gets elected by sounding like a New Democrat, and in office acts like a New Democrat – the way Mulroney acted like a Liberal – then core Republicans, like core Canadian Tories before them, can and will go away.

Lorne Gunter (lgunter@thejournal.southam.ca) is a columnist with The Edmonton Journal in Alberta, Canada, and Host, Essential Talk Network.

For Peter Brimelow`s comments on Trudeau`s passing, see here.

October 12, 2000