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Romancing the Left


Nicholls explains why the political right in Canada seems preoccupied with the idea of winning over left wing types.

Originally published in The Montreal Gazette.


Gerry Nicholls

 Author Notes

Vice-president of the National Citizens' Coalition.

 Essay - 3/11/1999

Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark recently provided a dramatic illustration of what's wrong with the political right in Canada today.

It happened when the former Prime Minister waded into a mob of angry left-wing activists who were in Ottawa to protest poverty (is anyone in favor of poverty?). Clark's plan was to assure this group - really nothing but a bunch of socialist rabble-rousers - that he too was concerned about poverty and homelessness, that yes the Liberals were not spending enough on social programs and that Tories really did have a heart.

And you know, the protesters gave him a big hand - but unfortunately for Clark they wanted to wrap it around his throat. Indeed, had it not been for the presence of some police officers, the Tories might have had another unexpected vacancy in their leadership.

The lesson from this little incident is crystal clear: conservative politicians have no business trying to win over a political element that's antagonistic to everything conservatism is supposed to stand for. It's not that conservatives are from Mars and socialists are from Venus; it's that their from different ideological galaxies.

Yet that hasn't stopped certain conservative leaders from obsessively wooing the left. We've got Reform Party leader Preston Manning bargaining his party's principles for a United Alternative; Ontario Conservative Premier Mike Harris eagerly throwing buckets of tax dollars at our socialistic health care monopoly; and Joe Clark . . . well Joe Clark just being Joe Clark.

And why are these leaders doing all this? Well, these love-starved political Romeos seem to have this Harlequin romance-like notion that ideological opposites should somehow magically attract. Just as the Lion will one day lay down with the lamb, left wingers could one day vote for parties of the right. And to help the process along a bit, conservative leaders are more than willing to engage in a little political flirtation even if that means shedding their conservative policy attire and slipping into something a little sexier, a little hipper, a little lefter.

Underlying the conservative courtship strategy, of course, is the belief that leftists go for the sensitive, compassionate types. So it's goodby Margaret Thatcher; hello Alexa McDonough. If the left wants compassion, conservative leaders will give them compassion. And if you look in the official politicians' handbook you will find "compassion" defined as "spending lots of other people's tax dollars so that you can feel good about yourself." Do it in an election and this tactic is called "compassioneering."

But actually it's just a political adaptation of an age old dating strategy: impress the political left with a big expensive dinner at a fancy restaurant, and hope to get lucky later on in the voting booth.

Will it work? Not a chance. Let's face it, the conservatives have as much chance of winning over left-wingers as Don Cherry has of being named honorary captain of the Swedish national hockey team. After all, why should lefty types ever support conservatives? If they want socialism they will go for the real thing and vote NDP or maybe Liberal.

Meanwhile forgotten in this seamy little scenario are the conservative voters in this country, those Canadians who believe in things like smaller government, and free enterprise and who are working too hard paying their tax bills to waste any time marching with placards around Parliament Hill. Doesn't anybody care about them? Have they been jilted?

Maybe, for now. But watch. When the next election comes around conservative leaders, will return home, flowers in hand, thinking they can sweet talk those dependable conservative voters into taking them back.

And conservative voters would take them back if they were a bunch of Hillary Clinton clones who would put up with anything for the sake of power. But they aren't. Conservatives are more like a self-respecting wife: they have values, they have principles and they have little patience for those who would discard them.

That's why when the political types, tired of romancing the left, come tiptoing home in the middle of the night, conservative voters will be waiting for them, curlers in their hair and a rolling pin in their hands.

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