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.