Thursday, April 19, 2012
Joe Who Said What?
He is interviewed as if the majority of Canadians cared:
- I think that this has been in effect a Reform Alliance government much more than a Progressive Conservative government. What does that mean? It’s certainly clear in international affairs, where its focus has been very narrow on the military and on trade. Much of the emphasis upon CIDA, which had been upon actual development dealing with poverty, has been replaced now by a supportive role [in] trade arrangements, not necessarily in the poorest countries. Our relations with many parts of the world where we had historically strong partnerships have deteriorated. There is an avowed interest in Latin America as a priority, but it’s primarily a trade interest rather than a political interest, and I think that is wasting a Canadian advantage. I’m sorry that’s happened.
While many an old foreign policy hand, like Joe himself who ran External Affairs under the Brian, will bemoan the drift away from feel-gooding to practical pursuit of our national interest, I doubt most Canadians are too bothered by the shift. It is a truism that the electorate cares not whit about our standing in the world. Sure we see ourselves as a nice people and so hope the rest of the world sees us as a nice people too. Beyond that it doesn't really matter. Canadians knows that our relationship with the United States is the only one that is vital to our national interests.
Joe's crying over the spilled milk of Trudeaupian foreign policy is mostly of historical interest. These days our sixteenth Prime Minister couldn't get himself arrested in Ottawa. If anyone in the PMO bothered to read the above interview with a has-been it was likely for amusement purposes. Oh, look Canada's third least successful living Prime Minister doesn't like what Stephen Harper, winner of three straight elections, is doing. Let me file that under I don't give a damn.
Stories like this put me in an awkward position. The most awkward imaginable from my perspective because they force me to defend the Harper Tories. The gag reflex kicks in when I write these pieces. You can't eat cereal and defend the Tories at the same time. The results are pretty ugly. Trust me on that one. But still I feel compelled to say something. It's an unpleasant duty of being a right-leaning blogger.
Why defend them? Two things. When people on the Left, and I think we can safely put Joe Clark on the Left at this point in history, attack the Harperites they are indirectly attacking the Right as a whole. Sure most sincere conservatives, libertarians and classical liberals consider the current post-Reform Tories as bad PR, misrepresenting a genuinely pro-freedom view of government. But in the public's imagining Stephen Harper is a conservative. He is therefore used as an intellectual prop to attack certain arguments.
The other reason I feel compelled to defend the federal Tories is that they bring the weirdos out of the woodwork. Harper, Baird, Kenney, Flaherty & Co are like magic amulets that summon forth the most extravagant attacks from the Left. The great thing about Harper Derangement Syndrome is that it makes it easier for people like me to show just how crazy the extreme Left is in Canada. The Tories bring out the worst in Canada's Left. No more hiding behind mushy moderate slogans as they did during the Chretien years. Nope. Under Stephen they let it all hang out.
Joe's blast from past also gives us a bit of perspective. Once upon a time he was the standard bearer of Canadian conservatism. That sound you're hearing is the collective shudder of millions of right-leaning Canadians. More terrifying than bell-bottom pants or Travoltaesque leisure suits is the memories of many boomers that they, quite openly, voted for Joe Clark. In fact so many people voted for Joe Who, a nickname bestowed on him by the Toronto Sun after his surprise win at the Tory convention in 1976, that he won a very strong minority government in 1979. A few thousand more votes and Joe Clark would have won a majority government.
Being Joe, a little man with a big ego, he vowed to govern as if he had a majority. Most people assumed that meant working out a deal with the half-dozen Socreds still milling about in the House of Commons in the late 1970s. Those few MPs would have secured a working majority. Heck they might have given the Socreds a new lease on life. Or perhaps not. Instead Friend Joe alienated the Socreds and got outwitted by Bob Rae and Pierre Trudeau. The result was NEP and the Charter.
With "conservatives" like these you really don't need Liberals, though you'll get them anyway. Again and again and again.
Mrs Thatcher famously quipped that Brian Mulroney was often more progressive that conservative. Too much of the qualifier not enough of the adjective. To be frank, as discussed last week, there was sometimes not much of a noun in the Progressive Conservative Party. Cat herding is how Peter C Newman described leading the old Tories. Joe Clark wasn't very good herding cats. Or counting votes. Or being a conservative.
The name "progressive" was tacked onto the party back in 1942 at the insistence of John Bracken, the Manitoba Premier brought in to lead the party out the wilderness. Don't be too bothered about not knowing who John Bracken was, his impact outside of our middlest province was nil. He was turfed out as party leader a few years later after being crushed by the King Liberals. Plus ca change....
As time passed the Tories, at first rather annoyed by the progressive qualifier, came to embrace it with a startling enthusiasm. By the time we get to Joe Clark, nearly forty years after Bracken's nomenclature reform, the conservative bit had become the qualifier. Canada did not have a Progressive Conservative Party, it had a Conservative Progressive Party. Statist but not crazy statist like the NDP or smug statist like the Grits.
Say what you will about Joe and Stephen one thing is fairly clear, neither men would have served in each other's cabinet. That, in a very small way, is real progress.
Posted by PUBLIUS on Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 12:10 AM |