By Brian Low
Last week, amid a great deal of fanfare, a new Canadian political party was born–the Canadian Alliance. Narrowly avoiding becoming the first party in Canada to have a naughty acronym, the Canadian Alliance seeks to offer conservative-minded voters a right-wing alternative to the governing Liberal party. It will be interesting to see what comes of this.
The Reform Party (not to be confused with the all-new, completely distinct Canadian Alliance), has had a few problems since its inception. Though wildly popular in the West, for all its efforts, it hasn’t made serious in-roads into Eastern Canada. This is largely due to an unappealing image of intolerance and several pro-West/anti-East party doctrines (like a Triple-E Senate), which make it seem like a regional party.
The logic of the Canadian Alliance party is not difficult to discern. Regardless of whatever its constitution may say, its raison d’étre is essentially to ditch the unmarketable Reform party image, get rid of some of the unmarketable Reform party doctrines and members, and sacrifice a few principles in order to actually get a vote or two east of Winnipeg. In principle, it’s not a bad idea. In practice, however, it’s not likely to get very far.
Part of the problem are the candidates for leadership. The contestants thus far are Preston Manning, Stockwell Day and some guy from Ontario. Preston Manning cannot speak French. While the extent to which Jean Chrétien can speak English (or French for that matter) could be the topic of just as much debate, Manning’s unilingual status is emblematic of his regional image, and that just won’t go over out East.
Stockwell Day, on the other hand, does speak French. He rode the wave of an oil boom to economic prosperity in Alberta and most Albertans love him for it. He is, however, an extreme social conservative and the Eastern perception is that he would really rather regulate citizens’ private sexual behaviour than cut their taxes. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant–it won’t sell in either language.
The third leadership candidate for the Canadian Alliance has an altogether different problem–nobody knows who he is. Can you remember his name? Me neither.
Leadership, however, is only half the issue. The other half is that the Progressive Conservatives simply refuse to roll over and die. Rude, I know. It is not feasible for them to win any serious number of seats in the next election. This, however, won’t stop them from splitting the right-wing vote and reminding everyone that the Canadian Alliance is really just a white-washed Reform party and therefore, deserves the same lack of consideration in the Eastern half of the
My prediction is that the formation of the Canadian Alliance is likely to be the up-coming election’s biggest non-event. There’s a new name and some quasi-new policies, but there’s still going to be the same old image problem. And the right-wing vote splitting isn’t going away either. Barring a Conservative/Canadian Alliance conciliation, a surge in support for the NDP, or a major political debacle for the Liberals, I’d say brace yourselves–despite all rumours (and prayers) to the contrary, it looks like Chrétien and the gang are in for another four-year stint.