Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 9, 2009
Reform's grassroots strangled by the weeds of silence
So, what was that all about? It has only been a little more than 20 years since disgruntled Western Canadians established the Reform Party of Canada to give voice to a long list of regional grievances.
Once it got organized, Reform won massive support from voters across the West and virtually destroyed the federal Progressive Conservative Party in the 1993 election. In an attempt to move beyond the West, it morphed into the Canadian Alliance and, when that failed, it merged with the remnants of the PCs.
The new Conservative Party won the 2006 and 2008 elections with its leader Stephen Harper, a man who spoke with distinction at the founding convention of the Reform Party and later served a term as a Reform MP. Those who were so angry 20 years ago now sit in the seats of power.
But what has happened to those original ideals?
Reform set forth with a vision set squarely on greater power for local MPs, free votes in the House of Commons, an equal, elected and effective Senate, opportunity for national referenda on pressing issues (such as abortion), opposition to federal bilingualism and multiculturalism, opposition to special treatment for Quebec, entrenchment of property rights in the Charter of Rights, Canada-U.S. free trade, regional fairness in allotment of federal contracts, respect for provincial resource rights, and fiscal responsibility, including the elimination of the federal deficit. Later, it expressed strong opposition to imposition of the GST.
After three years in power, not only have the descendants of Reform failed to redress those grievances, they have, in many cases, been party to entrenching them. Indeed, the voices of government MPs have never been quieter and the power of the prime minister's office never stronger.
The voices of those outside Parliament who worked so hard to establish Reform as a viable force have also remained silent as the government has gone well beyond the compromises that are an inevitable part of assuming power. As well, the voters who backed Reform with such zeal continue to support the Conservatives.
About all that has changed is that the names of those in the seats of power are new and the angry voices that were so loud in the 1980s can no longer be heard.
It is astonishing, really, that a grassroots movement could see its original ideals so totally compromised and yet none of the founding fathers and mothers speak out in protest.
When the history of Canada in this period is written, the betrayal of the Reform Party's original ideals will be one of the important stories to be told.
One piece of that story will be how there was not even a hint of a public examination of conscience over that betrayal.
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