04.21.2014 06:08 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: Reform Party of Canada, RIP

Remember the Reform Party? The Reformers rather wish you didn’t.

Twenty years ago, the Reform Party’s fresh-faced MPs –  all 52 of them – arrived in Ottawa to cause all manner of dramatic change. Twenty years later, it is perhaps only the Reformers themselves that changed.

They arrived opposing gay rights. They arrived opposing bilingualism. They arrived opposing multiculturalism. They arrived opposing the “gold-plated” MPs pension.

Two decades later, the former Reformers are indifferent to, or supportive of, gay rights. They are the most enthusiastic patrons of free government French language training. They have what is, arguably, the most racially-diverse Parliamentary caucus.

Oh, and the “gold-plated” MPs pensions, recipients of which were once likened to pigs by the freshmen Reform MPs? Well, quite a few of the porcine Reformers are now planning to retire on that selfsame pension.

There are only a few of them left, and their principles are fully the stuff of history books. With the exception of the so-called long gun registry, nothing the Reform Party came to do really came to pass. They failed, in other words.

Take, for instance, Stephen Harper’s little blue book. He wrote it himself.

The Blue Book, as it was imaginatively called, declared that the Reformers opposed anything that would “alter the ethnic makeup of Canada.” Even though they furiously denied it, that bit of policy clearly meant that the Reformers wanted to keep Canada as white as possible. It was indisputably racist.

In the intervening 20 years, of course, Canada’s ethnic makeup has been radically altered. In places like Toronto, white, anglo-Saxon types are the minority – and it is the “ethnics,” as the Reformers called them, who constitute the majority.

At the outset, policy gems like these attracted all the wrong kind of attention. Neo-Nazis in the Heritage Front rushed to acquire Reform Party membership cards. And it was only through the efforts of Tom Flanagan and Cliff Fryers (and one Stephen Harper) that the white supremacists and Jew haters were sent packing.

I know whereof I speak. Back when I worked for Jean Chretien, and I still knew a bit about Canada’s far right movement, Flanagan et al. approached me to assist them in purging the extremists in their ranks.

I was surprised by that, but – when I sought his permission – Jean Chretien wasn’t. “Help them,” he said. “I don’t want them to win anytime soon, but I don’t want them held hostage by goddamn Nazis, either.”

Therein lay the moral of the tale. The Reformers came to Ottawa to change it. In the end, it was Ottawa that changed them.

Power, and the passage of time, can have that effect on a politician. It moderates them. It nudges them, however imperceptibly, towards the ideological centre.

So, one of Stephen Harper’s first acts was an apology to the aboriginal victims of schools. Then, when the great recession hit, they spent like – God forbid – liberals. And the banning of abortions and gay marriages and turban-wearing Mounties? None came to pass.

The Reform Party is dead, its remains swallowed whole by the Conservative Party, the nasty bits spat out. Will we see their likes again?

Perhaps. Probably. But by the time Ottawa is done with them, you won’t recognize a single one of them.




  1. Coelocanth_Jones says:

    I’m too young to remember the Reform Party in any real way, but if Harperland represents the centre ground in relation, I sincerely hope I never come across a member of the class of ’93

  2. Sean says:

    It was twenty years ago today
    Preston Manning taught the band to play
    They’d played inside Mulroney’s head
    To the point that he was almost dead
    So now you know the reason why
    Mulroney wants Harper to cry
    Preston Manning’s Reform Party Band

  3. Arnold Murphy says:

    Let’s hope the last bits are purged entirely, along with their goddamn Nazis. It would be nice to see some progressive people back in charge, with some acceptable and forward thinking ideas. The Reformer’s have their gold plated pensions, they won’t apologize for that, in the end it proves them entirely as hypocrites and remnants of a best forgotten time. History will record them as what they were, but it’s not soon enough for some of us. Good riddance.

    • Tim says:

      Right on. Those guys remind me of an old tune – DOA – Liar for Hire. Manning and Harper, that’s pretty much who’s still around in any important way from that old group, and they’ve both proven themselves to be cut from the same old Tory cloth.

  4. Ridiculosity says:

    In 2005, Preston Manning founded the auspiciously named Manning Centre for Building Democracy.

    I don’t know whose ‘Democracy’ he’s attempting to build. But it’s certainly not mine.

    Goodbye, Right.

    I know you’re getting old, your bones are starting to ache and that retirement is imminent.

    As you reflect back on your life, one thing is evident: being the self-described ‘brain trust’ of the West, it must be humiliating that it took almost 30 years for you to finally realize that Canadians aren’t nearly as conservative, xenophobic, homophobic (or stupid) as you’d hoped.

    C’est la vie.

  5. que sera sera says:

    “Remember the Reform Party? The Reformers rather wish you didn’t.”

    I suspect it is the Conservatives who rather wish we didn’t.

    A careful, orchestrated efforts to rehabilitate the CPC before the next federal election appears well underway. Pretending the extremists have left or been co-opted or tamed is part of the exercise.

    It seems, however, only the moving targets keep evolving rather than Conservative’s not-so-pristine “policy gems”.

    Instead of Jews and ethnics, pragmatic Conservatives’ “indisputably racist“ focus now appears to be on Muslims and aboriginals.

    The goal of banning abortions domestically appears to have morphed into banning funding for international projects that support abortion. Apparently it is easier to deliver the oppression of Third World women rather than Canadian women.

    The goal of banning gay marriage appears to have morphed into exclusively funding those evangelical religious institutions & organizations that proselytize against homosexuality:
    – $4.2 Million to the Newman Theological College
    – $3.2 million to Youth for Christ in Winnipeg
    – $192,000 to the world of Truth Christian Center
    – $495,600 to Wycliffe Bible Translators
    – $357,146 to Chakam School of the Bible Inc.
    – $198,951 to National Evangelical Spiritual Baptist Faith International Centre of Canada
    – $84,110 to Eastside Church of God
    – $2.9 million to Redeemer University College
    – $2.614 million to Trinity Western University
    – $1,0 million to Global Kingdom Ministries Community Center, Toronto
    – $544,813 to Crossroads Christian Communications

    It appears Conservatives’ define “nasty bits” to be spat out as Canadian international development and human rights advocacy organizations, women’s rights advocacy including native women organizations, immigrant organizations, environmental agencies, fair elections, academic and scientific research, dissenting viewpoints, critical discourse, and independent decision making.

    No matter how much lipstick you put on a pig, it is still a pig.

    Harper says ‘Islamacism’ biggest threat to Canada.

    Conservative MP and Senator belittle Chief Theresa Spence

    Tories won’t fund overseas projects allowing abortions for war rape victims, child brides

    Silencing Dissent: The Conservative Record

    • doris says:

      And the question remains will any party purge this Harperlaw when the regime changes?
      Another question to ask is would Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney or any other ‘rightwinger’ have legislated the shit that Harper and Flaherty have legislated?
      The reform party may have gone but the reformatories haven’t!

  6. Mike Jenson says:

    Re: “Solzhenitsyn favoured annexation of Ukraine by Russia. And not while in a gulag; while in living in Vermont. Go figure.”

    By positioning Solzhenitsyn as merely a Russian nationalist – ironically, this is Putin’s tactic – one obscures his rarely rivaled critique of totalitarianism – hence the Nobel Prize for literature.

    In a propaganda/psychological warfare context, during the darkest days of the Great Patriotic War (WW 2), Stalin allowed the Orthodox icons to be brought forth as morale boosters. Did that mean Stalin was suddenly a devout Christian? No. Likewise, Vladimir Putin has encouraged a layer of Russian Orthodoxy to paper over his draconian regime. Has Putin suddenly renounced the dark Chekist tactics? No. He is also expropriating Solzhenitsyn in similar fashion to fuel Russian nationalism while obviously offering no critique of Bolshevism and Putin’s increasingly Stalinesque tactics.

    If we are combing over the archives, nor is the Liberal party entirely free from Russian nationalism; Ignatieff writes: “Ukrainian independence conjures up images of embroidered peasant shirts, the nasal whine of ethnic instruments, phony Cossacks in cloaks and boots, nasty anti-Semites…Somewhere inside I’m also what Ukrainians would call a great Russian and there is just a trace of old Russian disdain for these little Russians.” This again is the Putin line that Ukrainians are one and all backward, neo-Nazis. Trudeau disparaged Harper’s Ukraine trip as “three hour photo op,” and stressed his status as an “international traveller” – perhaps more accurately, fellow traveler.

    Admittedly, Solzhenitsyn did not become what the America hoped for – a champion of the West. But “favoured annexation” is oversimplification. And war is only possible through oversimplification – we are angels and supermen, they are dogs and devils, end of story.

    Further reading:

  7. DJ says:

    I have the distinct feeling it will all fall apart for the Tories once Harper goes. They won’t know what to do. Harper has done nothing to pave the way for Tory success after he’s gone. Have fun while it lasts!

  8. Derek Pearce says:

    In other RIP news, a tip of the hat to Herb Gray for his long years of service to Canada. He was my Granmother’s MP for all those years and she canvassed for him back in the day, and one of the pictures she has of me is me shaking hands with Mr. Gray (who even my MP at the time addressed as Mr. Gray) at a Liberal Christmas party in Ottawa. Gram’s going to be 99 in a couple of weeks, bless her! Condolences to Herb Gray’s family.

  9. David says:

    Thank-you for acknowledging that Stephen Harper is a Liberal. It did take the Reform Party sometime to realize that to win an election they’d have to appeal to a broad range of the population. It’s exactly why from here on in all U.S. Presidential candidates will be a bunch of freaks. Welcome to the decline of Western Civilization. I look forward to the reign of President Mombo: a half Somali half Swedish gay hip-hop artist.

  10. Paul Brennan says:

    wow we start at the reformers were assimilated to the tories falling apart after harper goes….me thinks a little wishful thinking…

  11. Jerry says:

    Stephen Harper aopolgized to first nations because Jack Layton and Tom King and others demanded Harper do so before the hearings began, not after like Harper wanted to do, that apology was Jack’s legacy. Ask King how that all went down some time, he lives in Guelph, give him a shout.

  12. Marc L says:

    Yup, and none of the horrible things that you warned would happen if Harper got a majority happened either. No return of the death penalty. No banning of abortions. No scrapping of bilingualism.

    • que sera sera says:

      No return of the death penalty but rather the return of ideology trumping reason.

      No banning of abortions but rather Canada given a “below average grade” by UNICEF for child poverty (17-18/29 in international rankings of industrialized world).

      No scrapping of bilingualism but rather scrapping almost one hundred years of Stats Canada statistical integrity.

      Speaking of “horrible things” happening.

      • smelter rat says:

        And that’s the least of Harper’s crimes. Burning books, firing scientists, loosening human rights protections, strengthening corporate control over the country, election fraud, illegal SCOC appointments, Senate scandals, and elimination of environmental protections (most recently removing protection for humpback whales along the west coast in order to sell bitumen to China)….the list is endless.

        • Marc L says:

          You know why I never take hyper-partisans of any stripe seriously? Because of posts like yours. Crimes? Gimme a break. Several misguided policies for sure. Others which I would agree with but you may not. I don’t agree with many of Harper’s policies either. But crimes? Gimme a break.
          I can’t wait to see the Liberals take power again for one thing — to see the Liberal hyper-partisans agree with and defend every single action of the Liberal government, no matter how misguided, because that is what hyper-partisans do. No reasoning, no balance. Just hysterical gut reactions.

  13. Patrice Boivin says:

    That quote from Jean Chrétien sounds like what I remember he was like when I was kid.

  14. Ottlib says:

    Reform Party principles sacrificed on the Alter of Political Expedience. Anything to win power and more importantly to prevent the big bad Liberals from gaining power.

    Not that I am condemning them for it. The Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives had been doing it for decades.

    However, the Reformer always were a self-righteous lot who claimed they would never do such things, that they would do things differently.

    Now that they have they are still a self-righteous lot who claim that they would never do such things which just makes them hypocrites.

  15. nez1 says:

    This comment thread really needs ol’ Gord, don’cha think? OK, I’ll try:
    “We are brilliant–just look it up on Wikipedia. PMSH, that brilliant strategist, is way better than that commie POTUS. Wildrose rule!”

  16. Al Gullon says:

    The old Reformers never left. They simply progressed through Reform II (the ‘Alliance’) and Reform III (the present ‘Conservative’ party). And the PC’s never died but continued as the Progressive Canadian Party … with PC Party still on the ballot! (albeit much reduced in size)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.