Doomed union

The recent effort to unite Canada’s right-wing parties is a fruitless affair, even if they do unite. I do not subscribe to any political party, but I know this attempt will produce nothing good for either party, especially the Progressive Conservatives.

The PCs are making a comeback, now at 19 per cent (seven per cent higher than their popular vote in 2000) in the latest polls, while the Canadian Alliance is languishing at 12 per cent (13 per cent lower than their popular vote in 2000).

The first reason unification is a non-starter is the deep ideological divide between the parties. The seemingly oxymoronic term "progressive conservative" alludes to this divide.

Despite being fiscally conservative, the PCs have come to be a socially progressive political party. The PCs advocate the right to choose on abortion and are okay with gay marriage. The Alliance is less than progressive on these issues. These differences are incommensurable because the convictions involved, once entrenched, take generations to change.

The second reason is the factions contained within the parties themselves, most importantly those in the Canadian Alliance. The Alliance has two major factions, whose stories can best be told by looking at their leaders.

The first faction is Canada’s Christian right, led by Stockwell Day. His leadership fractured the party during the summer of 2001.

The other faction is the western alienationists, generally people embittered by the National Energy Program. This faction’s leader is Stephen Harper, a yawn-inspiring economist whose leadership has caused the party’s popularity to drop considerably from its high.

The only person who successfully united the party was Preston Manning, a man of considerable political talent and leadership, also the only man capable of getting the Alliance back on its feet.

These factions run the risk of fracturing any megaparty created in a conservative merger, especially considering the ideological divide already obvious between them.

We see factions among the PCs as well. A significant portion of the party is associated with David Orchard. His policies lean more to the left than any other group involved in this merger, and he is predictably fighting to quash the merger from within.

Furthermore, there is Joe Clark, former party leader, saying this is a bad move. The reality is every political party is made up of factions, but neither party should compound the matter by increasing the number within one party.

If a merger does take place, both parties risk alienating their constituents. The Alliance might lose the religious portion of their party because they would oppose any loosening of the moral stands they have taken against gay marriage and abortion. At the same time, the progressive part of the PC party would have no recourse save the Liberals or the New Democrats to avoid the religious right. Easterners could be disturbed by both the Stephen Harpers and Stockwell Days of the Alliance and may also jump ship from the big party.

This is extremely important considering an election is coming soon. In the confusion of the merger, the new party could lose a lot of votes both parties assume they would keep.

The PCs would do themselves a service by calling the merger off and playing hardball. The best strategy would be to tell the Alliance they would form a coalition government if the Western-based party stopped running candidates in Ontario. This would solve the vote splitting conundrum that started the reunification movement. Moreover, both parties could keep their support base and skirt the ideological differences existing between them.

It is time for the PCs to become a real player on the national scene by taking control of their advantage and leaving the Alliance to wither away.

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