Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Great Conciliator?

Mulroney wants Tories to kiss and make up

When Conservatives gather to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Brian Mulroney's 1984 majority government victory -- one of only two for the party in the past quarter century, and only three in the past 60 years -- Mulroney wants the party to be more than simply a celebration of a past triumph.

He wants the Conservative party to kiss and make up.

"It's in the interest of all Conservatives -- Progressive Conservatives and the latter-day group -- to come together in support of common principles," Mulroney recently told Canadian Press.

How welcome, precisely, Mulroney's call to reconcile is in the mind of Stephen Harper is likely only truly known to Harper himself -- who will not attend the party, as he will be in the United States on that day -- or perhaps his wife, Laureen.

But a reconciliation between the Harper wing of the Conservative party and Mulroney loyalists -- some of whom surely continue to harbour some grudges over the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, and even after 20 years the feeling likely remains very much mutual -- would bear many dividends for the party.

For one thing, it would reunite the party with activists who unequivocally know how to win in Quebec.

For Conservatives wary of declining polling numbers in La Belle Province, Mulroney would urge them not to write the province off as a lost cause. "When I became leader [in 1983] we had one seat in Quebec," he said. "Our first election in 1984 we got 58 seats -- and 50 per cent of the popular vote. Then in 1988 we got 63 seats of the 74 here."

"We had quite a following here," Mulroney recalled. "We were able to do some things that people remember favourably."

A reconciliation with the Mulroney camp would expand the party's expertise in fighting elections in Quebec. Considering that Harper's Diefenbaker-esque dealings with Mario Dumont and the Action Democratique du Quebec haven't fully beared fruit -- likely due to the admittedly-woeful state of the ADQ -- the Conservative party could put that kind of experience to good use.

There is no modern-day Maurice Duplessis to help the party reap an electoral windfall in Quebec.

A reconciliation between the Harper and Mulroney camps could even help pave the way for an eventual return by current Quebec Premier Jean Charest to federal politics as a high-profile member -- and likely eventual leader -- of the party.

The Liberal party evidently never really knew what to do with the Stephane Dion package -- a dedicated separatist-fighter with solid credentials on the environment. It probably helped that the Dion package was never really legit, but with Charest it is undisputable. The Tories would do well to avail themselves of his potential return. A reconciliation would go a long way.

In Mulroney's mind, at least it isn't out of the question. He seems to bear Stephen Harper no ill will in regards to the issues that have emerged between them. In fact, he doesn't seem very distressed by it all.

"He severed relations with me, which, when you've been prime minister, doesn't really mean very much to you. There's nothing that I worry about [that] Mr Harper can or cannot do," Mulroney explained.

In fact, Mulroney seems to recognize much of himself in Stephen Harper.

"Because you can’t elect anybody based on that hard-core thing," Mulroney added. "Mr Harper was smart enough to realize that and to figure out how you get elected in this country."

"I was conservative -— right of centre —- on some important issues, which he is, and slightly left of centre, or centrist, on some important social issues."

Of course, it isn't merely in the interest of all conservatives to heal some of the remaining rifts in the Conservative party -- it's also in the interest of all Canadians.

Canada can't be governed on liberalism alone and, as paleoconservative political scientist Barry Cooper would note, the Harper government's turn away from contrived public virtue-based governance and back toward economic pragmatism should be considered a welcome one.

Anything that strengthens the Conservative party -- in fact, anything that strengthens almost any political party -- will, by extension, also be good for Canada.

Mulroney likely isn't being entirely unselfish in his motives for wanting to see the Conservative party kiss and make up. In the eyes of many, Mulroney was the greatest Conservative since sir John A MacDonald -- or at least since John Diefenbaker. Helping the Conservative party further unite itself under any banner would only further cement that legacy.

Brian Mulroney's precise motivation is actually irrelevant. All that really matters is getting the Conservative party back on track again, fully united.

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