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.