Hijacked. That’s a word to describe the morphing of the once proud Progressive Conservative Party (PC) of Ontario into the neo-liberal wing of the American Tea Party. So, how did it happen?
Ontario’s true conservatives got lazy. They couldn’t handle that after more than a 40-year run as Ontario’s blue machine, their power was removed by voters and handed to the David Peterson Liberals and later to the Bob Rae NDP.
The PC party of Frost, Robarts and Davis surrendered to the likes of Harris, Hudak and Hillier. I could have thrown in Ernie Eves, our short-term default Premier. However, interim was his middle name, given he was aligned with the traditional Robarts/Davis PCs. As a result Eves quickly faded away, swept aside as much by his party’s right wing as by Ontario voters.
What did traditional conservatives believe in? In a word, they believed in an inclusive Ontario.
Despite the fact that unions frequently opposed PCs back then, these PC leaders were proud of Ontario’s institutions. This was evident in how they treated the public service and the women and men who made it one of the most professional and respected public services anywhere. This was a time when PCs believed in peace, order and good government.
Then, with Mike Harris, their mantra became the starvation and destruction of government services, agencies and structures. Instead of building community supports they looked to end them.
After assuming office, he announced hundreds of hospital workers would be laid off to cut health care costs. Harris compared the laid-off hospital workers to the people who lost their jobs after the hula hoop fad died down in the early 1960s, commenting, "Just as Hula-Hoops went out and those workers had to have a factory and a company that would manufacture something else that's in, it's the same in government…”
Harris said it best by proclaiming that “We are not here to be government; we are here to fix government.”
And did Harris ever “fix” government! The record is clear with the Walkerton tragedy, the Highway 407 privatization, Accenture and Andersen Consulting, failed Workfare programs and other privatization. These Conservative “fixes” produced death, destruction, waste, unneeded spending and mayhem. At the end of his term a $6 billion dollar deficit was the legacy. And all of this took place during some of Ontario’s most profitable times.
On December 5, 2012, former Chief Justice and Tory stalwart Roy McMurtry endorsed Liberal leadership candidate Eric Hoskins as the best choice for Premier of Ontario. That’s right. A life-long Tory endorsed a Liberal for Premier.
Mr. McMurtry gets it. Progressive Conservatives have lost their way. Bent on destruction, void of any ideas on how to re-build Ontario, current Conservatives only know how to tear things down.
Destroy the labour movement; attack the status quo; eliminate pensions; deregulate and privatize. Sell, blame and divide rather than unite. Exclude rather than include other people and thoughts. They have a hatred for the things identified as inspiration by historic conservative leaders.
Tim Hudak’s policies are not Conservative policies. They are from the American Tea Party Movement. The examples are clear. Sell the LCBO. Kill the golden goose that annually lays a $1.6 billion golden egg to support public programs and services. How can that be a good thing for Ontario?
The LCBO does this while providing thousands of jobs. Liquor Board employees provide socially responsible liquor sales, making our communities safer.
An LCBO sell-off will only be good for the business interests that would buy off all or part of that golden goose, kind of like they did with Highway 407 back in 1999.
Back then the Harris government leased the highway to a conglomerate of private companies for $3.1 billion. That deal included a 99-year lease agreement, unlimited control over the highway and its tolls and a restriction under which the government cannot build any nearby freeways that could compete with 407 ETR. Wow, what a great deal for taxpayers!
The 2012 American election rejected Hudak’s Tea Party brand of conservatism. Millions of people, marginalized by that ideology, rejected its messages. I believe, if tested, Ontario will do the same.
As a leader in the labour movement I know about the importance of mobilization. It has a few simple rules. The most important is that when you become passive you lose. It’s a great lesson for traditional Conservatives and labour activists alike.
To the historic conservatives who remember Davis and Robarts, it’s time you reclaim your party! Ontario will be a better place for it. We surely will have more civilized political dialogue, with greater balance and consideration.
That does not mean that I will ever support your party. I do assure you that a call to arms for a fight to reclaim the PC party will lead to a more prosperous, generous and compassionate Ontario. I challenge you to take just that action.
After all, a more prosperous, generous and compassionate Ontario would be a place Uncle Bill Davis would be proud to see again.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President