Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday May 31, 1997
Our hopes for the future
Our election ballot Monday must prepare our country for the challenges ahead. We must position our leaders, such as Jean Charest, where they will preserve Canada.The prospect of Preston Manning’s Reform Party forming the official Opposition after Monday’s federal election is deeply disturbing. Yes, Manning’s stance on separation better reflects the views of average Canadians, compared to the tired rhetoric of appeasement flowing from the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties. But beyond that single issue, Reform offers no viable vision for a strong, unified country.
Yet, largely due to an inept, cynical Liberal election call and campaign, Reform as the official Opposition is a very likely outcome of the vote. That Manning’s party of western discontent is a better alternative than the destructive Bloc Quebecois is cold comfort.
A Progressive Conservative Opposition would be infinitely better for Canada, and for Ontario.
It’s true that the Progressive Conservative and Reform policy platforms are very similar. Both call for tax cuts, which are unproven as a job creation device. Both do little to address environmental concerns. Both propose accelerating government spending cu ts, but the truth is Canadians are happy for the most part with the progress made by Finance Minister Paul Martin in reducing the deficit and getting federal spending under control. Given that Tory and Reform policies are similar in so many ways, why install Jean Charest as Opposition leader?
Jean Charest has demonstrated he has more to offer personally than any of the other party leaders. His youthful energy and intellectual sincerity appeal to Canadians, but he offers more than a good sound-bite and an engaging television presence. Charest is passionate about a united Canada, and that devotion is going to be called upon in the near future. Another divisive, manipulative campaign will be launched by the separatists, probably right after the Supreme Court spells out the rules around secession. Charest has already pledged he will set aside partisan concerns and fight for a united Canada, just as he did last time we went through this frightening, tiresome exercise. He can be most effective in the unity battle if the Conservatives wear the Opposition mantle.
Charest’s Conservatives have a national philosophy, a rich history and a vision of the future that starts with the country being united. Even where Reform and Conservative policies overlap, Reform would go further, faster, with little regard for maintaining a strong federal voice. In the end, Reform is about protest.
Indignant Reformers will insist theirs is a national party. Reformers are anti-separatist, not anti-Quebec, they proclaim. But if Manning’s party is serious about inclusion, why are only 11 Reform candidates running in Quebec’s 75 ridings?
And what of the Liberals? Jean Chretien called an election at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. His party will pay the price. Far from being the last national party, the Liberals could end up being Ontario’s party in a fractured Parliament. But it’s clear they will be returned to power for another term.
If that’s the case, one thing is abundantly clear.
The Liberals must begin to plan for Jean Chretien’s departure. He was the right politician for the time, when Canadians were dealing with the Mulroney government and its legacy of broken promises. Chretien has an uncanny ability to forge a connection and engender empathy if not trust.
But the Chretien era must end. He is not the man to lead us in celebrating the new millennium. He is certainly not the leader to guide this country through another ugly debate over Quebec’s future.
While there is no arguing Chretien’s contribution in the past, the sad fact is he is no longer appealing in Quebec, and so is among the best weapons the separatists have in their meagre arsenal. Chretien must gracefully step aside. Paul Martin, who has engineered the Liberals single biggest legitimate accomplishment by effectively managing the economy and reducing the deficit, is the logical replacement. Martin is respected for his fiscal conservatism, and may even be an asset in Quebec.
On Tuesday morning, the Liberals will govern. The question is, who will be second? If enough of us vote strategically and look seriously at credible Progressive Conservative candidates, perhaps Jean
Charest will be where he’ll do the most good for Canada. And Preston Manning will get the role he deserves, as a regional voice of discontent. (Hamilton Spectator, 5/31/1997, B4)