The Hon. William G. Davis continues to haunt Ontario’s contemporary Progressive Conservatives with his political spectre slapping their wool-stuffed heads, something he’ll find amusing (or sad), snug in the vales of Brampton. The party’s young warrior class of the Common Sense Revolution who attempted to soil his name and drive all who had worked with him from the precincts of Queen’s Park in 1985 failed then — Mr. Davis, Ontario Conservative premier from 1971 to 1985 and a Red Tory, was canonized by the public in the bloom of mortal health faster than John Paul II could say Divinis Perfectionis Magister — and have learned nothing in the intervening 26 years. They could at least read Monday’s editorial in The Globe and Mail.
The Globe, making clear it was looking for a Bill Davis government to endorse and couldn’t find it, poured holy oil on Liberal Dalton McGuinty. Mr. McGuinty can do fuzzy, bland, big-tent politics maybe not as well as Mr. D but with the same dance steps. Tim Hudak? You could see The Globe’s editorialists making a moue. They found him, if you can believe this, “too dogmatic about smaller government,” code language for “Something here smells.”
So we will take our crystal ball out on a limb and declare an electoral victory for Mr. McGuinty on Thursday because the emotion he ignites in the province’s voters — optimism, hope — is stronger alchemy than the wand-waving in which Conservative leader Hudak has engaged: Culture war. Culture war is not smart. Culture war does not get voters to the polls. Mr. Hudak’s predecessor John Tory tried culture war with a promise to give public funding to all religious schools and almost destroyed the party.
Stephen Harper could get boomers, immigrants and rural Canadians out to vote with anger and suspicion at the dreaded elites and their know-it-all social engineering. Jack Layton pulled out everyone else with smiley optimism. But no one said “Culture war.” Someone in Mr. Harper’s high command shut Brad Trost up on abortion, and, beyond that, it was just sort of taken for granted that a few new citizens are spooked by what their Canadian-born children are getting up to and old people are, well, old people, worried about the anarchy that will follow the curtailing of the automobile.
But no culture war.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney preached culture war a few weeks ago at an Edmonton dinner celebration for Ted Byfield, the founding editor of Alberta Report and other publications that railed gloriously against homosexuals, abortionists, human rights commissions and the public education system — not to mention son Link Byfield’s November 1990 assault in Alberta Report on women’s “tiresome prattle of self-fulfillment” published a week before the anniversary of the Montreal massacre (perhaps a coincidence).
Crediting Ted Byfield and Reform Party leader Preston Manning with being the architects of the Harper-led movement to recast Canadian conservative politics, Mr. Kenney declared — according to Maclean’s magazine, whose editor Ken Whyte was one of the celebrants — that the “eastern elites” are “afraid and shocked” at the Harper majority.
He went on to say that one of Mr. Byfield’s early insights was that “culture would be at the heart of many of these political debates. Of course the culture of the Byfield operation was—at all times, at least in intention, implicitly, in some sense—Christian, dare I say it.”
And Stephen Harper sent a note to the Edmonton dinner reading “I have long believed and often said that fundamentally Conservative values are Canadian values. And I also believe that history will record that this year’s federal election began a new era of pre-eminence for those values.” His words sound like culture war.
Since the national election, back-bench Conservative MPs have been allowed into off-leash parks with a series of private members’ bills proposing to make it illegal to stop anyone from displaying the flag or to wear a mask to a riot or to condemn an agency that offers abortions or to eliminate the section of the Canadian Human Rights Act that prohibits hate speech – known as the Give-Ezra-Levant-His-God-Given-Right-To-Trash- Muslims section — or to force unions to open their financial records to public scrutiny. The federal Conservatives have also made good on their election promise to create an international religious freedom watchdog, big in the world of militant Christians who see restraints on their proselytizing soldiers in the lands of lesser faiths but presenting the government with an intriguing question of how much freedom should the religious freedom watchdog have when it comes to, say, bringing the Chinese government to book over its treatment of the Falun Gong when Ottawa officially wishes to play kiss-face with Beijing.
Possibly not much will ever be heard of the international religious freedom watchdog but it and the private members’ bills sound like culture war. As well, Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost is back, along with two of his Prairie colleagues, criticizing the Prime Minister’s decision to grant $6-million to the International Planned Parenthood Federation although the money can only be used in countries where abortion is illegal (and IPPF spends only a fraction of its annual budget globally on providing abortion services). Culture war, culture war.
And then there’s Tim Hudak and members of his party, endorsed by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Mr. Kenney and other cabinet colleagues and Mr. Harper’s chief of staff Nigel Wright despite an edict from Mr. Harper’s office (written by Mr. Wright as it turns out) that Conservatives should not make themselves “the story” in the Ontario and other provincial elections.
But of course it is a story that federal ministers of the Crown have put their imprimaturs on a party whose leader makes xenophobic statements by stating that the McGuinty government is favouring “foreign workers” — meaning new immigrants to Canada — with jobs at the expense of other Canadians by offering grants to employers to hire new residents struggling to have their professional qualifications accepted.
It is a story that federal ministers of the Crown endorse a party whose leader has defended a flyer handed out by Conservative election workers that scurrilously implies the Toronto District School Board will teach children how to cross-dress and promote sexual diversity with classroom kissing booths.
And a story that had at least one candidate ducking out the back door instead of publicly defending their views to a pair of reporters after the story.
Culture war. Interesting that these guys are out of the closet. Wonder who Bill Davis is voting for.