Thursday, November 11, 2004

National Post: Does Canada Even Have a Conservative Party?

Does Canada have a conservative party?
National Post
Thursday, November 11, 2004

When Stephen Harper scored a first-ballot victory in the Conservative Party of Canada's inaugural leadership contest last March, it was a strong endorsement of the conservative values that had guided his stewardship of the Canadian Alliance. And yet, mere months later, Mr. Harper is shifting the party to the mushy middle.
As early as last June's federal election campaign, there were signs -- notably the Conservatives' statist health policies -- that Mr. Harper was wary of bold policy proposals. Since then, he has become meeker still: Having apparently deduced that his party lost the election because its policies were too bold, Mr. Harper has been reluctant to take any position that could spark even slight controversy -- the only exception being his curious and unwelcome flirtation with Belgian-style federalism.
The Conservative leader now appears to be sacrificing one of his party's top priorities -- assisting the United States in promoting continental security. Yesterday, it was reported the party is backing away from its support for Canadian participation in a missile defence shield. "The goal posts are moving on this," a party insider told CanWest News Services, "because there's a recognition that missile defence just doesn't sell in Quebec or among urban voters in Ontario."
The Conservatives may be correct to hold back on a full-fledged endorsement of the Liberals' missile-defence plans until more specifics are available. But their unwillingness to voice support for the idea even in principle contradicts the positions taken by Mr. Harper as recently as last year. This backtracking could compromise Canada's participation in the program: The Liberals may not be keen to press forward with missile defence if all three opposition parties oppose it.
Canada has little use for a pandering, anti-ideological opposition party that bases its positions on the polling numbers and spends more time sowing regional divides than putting forward serious policy proposals. What it needs instead is a principled right-of-centre alternative to the governing Liberals. Mr. Harper was elected leader because he seemed best able to provide that alternative. With the Liberals in minority status and the next election up for grabs, now is the time to start delivering.