By Corey Boles
When conservatives of all stripes descend upon Ottawa late in February, they will be engaging in an exercise of futility.
The United Alternative Convention, set to take place Feb. 19-21 at the Congress Centre, faces many obstacles before it even gets going. By far the most imposing of these is the ego of the man at the helm of the Reform Party of Canada.
Preston Manning has claimed repeatedly that if it is in the best interests of his party and the right wing movement of Canada for him to resign, he will do so. Anyone who actually believes this, is disillusioned indeed.
Manning wants to be prime minister. There is very little that he will let stand in his way, be it the principles he stands for, or the reality of the Canadian political climate. There is no chance that Manning will quit the leadership job unless he is physically tossed out by his supporters. There is an equally slim chance that a party led by the man will ever achieve any success at the polls outside of the Western provinces.
The Reform Party first arrived in force in Ottawa in 1993 promising drastic changes to the Canadian political system. These included opting out of perks for members like the pension plan, travel expenses and a house for their leader paid for by the taxpayers. Inevitably, however, as they became part of the establishment, Preston and his group drifted away from these once strongly held principles. By 1997, when the party became the Official Opposition, there was little difference between Reform and the more traditional parties. Manning has consistently shown that any tenet or practice that gets in the way of power will be thrown by the wayside. Manning will not let his considerable ambition be dampened by anything, including an effort to form a new united party.
The Reform Party is attempting to achieve an admirable goal: uniting the conservative movement in Canada to offer a feasible alternative to the governing Liberal party. Unfortunately for the many who are sympathetic to the ideology of the party, they are fighting a losing battle while they are led by Preston Manning. Under Manning, the party is incapable of shedding their label as a Western protest movement, and won’t be able to make the crucial leap to a national organization.
There are several prominent Conservatives who are either planning to attend the convention or at the very least have voiced their tentative approval of the idea. Bob Runciman and Tony Clement, both members of the Ontario tory cabinet, have made plans to make an appearance. Alberta Conservative Premier Ralph Klein has made allusions to supporting the union that is proposed, and will be the keynote speaker at the event. Also from that province, Treasury Board President Stockwell Day, a rising star of the conservative movement in Canada, will be there.
Even some avowed separatists of Quebec have expressed interest in an alternative to the Liberals. Officially, the sovereigntist leadership ridicules the idea, however.
All of this will be to no avail, however. Preston Manning is still the most prominent conservative-minded politician in the land and he will not agree to any union that doesn’t see him in charge. As long as they continue to follow the banner of Preston Manning, the February meeting and any others that follow it, will fail miserably.