Sunday, 8 March 2009

Der Törygang: Twilight of the Clod

Friday marked the ignoble end of what has arguably been the most humiliating political leadership career in Canadian history. After spending four and a half years making Stéphane Dion look practically Kennedyesque, John Tory stepped down as Stuffed-Shirt-in-Chief of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives.

Once upon a time, Ontario's Big Blue Machine delivered Tory leaders into premierships on silver platters. Ontario's Progressive Conservative dynasty, older and deeper than Alberta's, inscribed its personality onto the province's soul and gave it its most vital builders--Whitney, Drew, Frost, Robarts and Davis. Now, that machine has been reduced to a useless heap of rusty bolts and tangled steel.

Friday marked the point at which the dismally protracted journeys of two political death-marches met and united. One path was trod by the party, too many of whose activists seem determined to orient their party's tone and platform to the aberrant mid-'90s socio-eoconomic conditions that led to the equally aberrant Common Sense Revolution.

Another path was trod by the man himself. His political karma alreadly irreparably poisoned by his authorship of the notorious "Is This A Prime Minister?" ad campaign that helped decimate the federal Progressive Conservatives in 1993, Tory disembollwed his one and only shot at political redemption by making an idiotic proposal to extend public funding to faith-based schools the centrepiece of his 2007 election campaign, thus handing his party one of the worst defeats in its history and robbing him of his own seat.

Thereafter, Tory skulked about the province, lackadaisically looking for a riding to win; he never found one. That the leader of the Official Opposition could not manage to crawl into a seat in two attempts--both against relative unknowns and in safe P.C. ridings--testifies compellingly to the dilapidation of the Ontario Progressive Conservative brand.

As they re-group and lick their wounds, provincial P.C.'s need to ask themselves whether it is time to re-define their relationship with their federal fellows. It was foolish enough to think that Stephen Harper had political coattails in Ontario. Now, Progressive Conservatives need to banish all illusions, especially those concerning the old Harrisites who continue to pull P.C. strings from within the safe precincts of Harper's "Conservative" Party.

They need to ask whether it helps their cause to have a former P.C. Minister of Finance use his perch in Ottawa to warn international investors away from Ontario. They should ask if it brightens their aura to have former P.C. cabinet minister Tony Clement stutter blankly that he had no warning of U.S. Steel's decision to idle its Ontario operations, throwing over a thousand Ontarians out of work. They need to consider whether it helps to have former P.C. cabinet minister John Baird implicated in a municipal bribery scandal. They need to ask if it helps to be seen as the provincial arm of a party led by a man who made contempt for Central Canada the main theme of his entire public advocacy career.

Most provincial wings of the Liberal party are fully autonomous entities, with few if any ideological or operational links with the national party. Some Ontario P.C.'s clearly understand the value of keeping that kind of distance from their federal parent, but widening that distance and formalising it might be an excellent first step in the party's rehabilitation program.

When you put out the trash, you usually put it as far away from where you eat as possible. It is time for the party of Frost, Robarts and Davis to take Harper and his Harperoids, not just to the curb, but to the landfill, where they belong.


Ti-Guy said...

They need to ask if it helps to be seen as the provincial arm of a party led by a man who made contempt for Central Canada the main theme of his entire public advocacy career.

I don't understand how I managed to grow up, in Ontario, believing the prairies were populated by pragmatic, plain-speaking, civic-minded folk. Since the advent of the Internet, I've discovered that a significant proportion of them seem to be nothing but screeching lunatics, vicious bigots and pathological liars.

I blame the CBC. Too many Margaret Lawrence, Gabrielle Roy and W.O Mitchell dramatisations.

Sir Francis said...

Too many Margaret Lawrence, Gabrielle Roy and W.O Mitchell dramatisations.

Those certainly could not have helped. Throw in the execrable Vinyl Café, and you've got legitimate grounds for a Prairie insurgency.

I, too, was surprised to discover the virulence of the anti-Central Canadian (and generally anti-Canadian) sentiments of many Prairie-dwellers. This is coming from someone who spent his formative years in Québec and who was taught by nationalistes during the tail end of the Quiet Revolution. The animus against les maudits anglais was nothing compared to the icy blasts that routinely come from SaskAlberta.

What's incredible is that the Prairies used to be the headquarters of progressive politics in Canada while the Ontario/Quebec axis--forming a Tory/Catholic bloc--was the main agent of reaction.

How many Canadians know that John Robarts of Ontario was the main opponent of universal Medicare, an initiative conceived by Prairie populists? Really, such effective socialism as Canada has ever had has been an Albertan product: the Progressive Ginger Group that eventually created the CCF was comprised of Albertans.

Yet all we hear from our Western brethren is how "pinko", "left-lib" Easterners have imposed their Commie utopias on the stalwart yeomen of the Prairies. Spare me.

Hey folks! Here's some news from outside your asses: it's been precisely the other way around; you've been "conservative" for about thirty-five years out of Confederation's one hundred and forty-one--which, in historical terms, is the equivalent of yesterday. That's not a "tradition" of conservatism: that's sweet jack squat.

I think many SaskAlbertans are as aware of this as we are, Ti. They just need somebody to kick around, and we're it. Oh well: noblesse oblige...

Ryan said...

Well said. Though I do think Ti-Guy is a bit harsh on the prairies as a whole for the actions of a few loud neo-con minions. Plenty of the people I know, the majority in fact could probably be defined as "reasonable" and "civic minded" enough. I am a bit anti-eastern government myself--but as a byproduct of the Mulroney-Chretien-Martin-Harper years. But I suppose that's different than wanting to carpet-bomb Afghanistan.

Anyway, yes radical politics have deep roots in the prairies. Perhaps much will change in a tarsands collapse when money stops flowing as easily as toxic goo into the Athabasca.

Sir Francis said...


I think you're absolutely right about political discourse on the Prairies being monopolised by a relative few; the same applies out here, of course. So much of Canada's distemper is fuelled by elites struggling against other elites, with real people standing aside as spectators.

As a proudly Red Tory, I honour and appreciate the Prairies' key role in Canada's progressive political history, and I mourn its current latency.

What's particularly troubling is that the East clearly hasn't the moral energy to carry the torch. I really wonder what can possibly replace the moral groundedness of the Prairies that was such a defining component of Canada's identity from the '30's to the early '70's.

Ryan said...

Very true.

It seems to me that there may be two possible outcomes to this mess.

1) Like in the last great economic collapse, prairie people realized that the economic order that had been built didn't work for them. So they voted CCF or SoCred--Aberhart was a fundamentalist, but he was no fan of the "hogs of capitalism" and neither were Albertans--until they began as drug suppliers in the system.

2) Prairie people, so poisoned by American individualism and fattened on the chemical teet of the tarsands they may turn in the opposite direction. Terrified that they may lose the material wonders of the past few decades, they may be prime fodder for the far right. Perhaps Steady Eddy Stelmach will promise to bring us back to glory--a third rich(ness) if you will (the first before the NEP, the second under Ralph Klein until last year).

Ryan said...

Hard to say which is true. Though, to be honest, Harper's very presence at the head of this mess isn't helping him. Mind you, it's helping Harper/Empire-lite Iggy. Who wins?