Canada's Reform Party Sets Sights on Conservative Seats

Article excerpt

CANADA'S western populists are moving east with the likely outcome, says one party organizer, that "politics in Canada will never be the same."

The Reform Party of Canada, the fastest-growing political movement in Canada outside Quebec, voted at its weekend convention to expand beyond its present base in the four western provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

But the party voted to stay out of Quebec. Indeed, it is a party that holds that, if Quebec secedes from the federation, Canada can live without Quebec. Party leader Preston Manning says he and his followers represent "the new Canada."

"New Canada must be open and big enough to include a new Quebec; but it must be more than viable without Quebec," Mr. Manning told delegates to the convention in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Founded four years ago to deal with the political frustrations of western Canadians, the Reform Party has strong support in the West and expects to become the voice of English Canada by moving into Ontario, Canada's most populous province.

"There's a huge vacuum on the right wing of Canadian politics and the Reform Party is a credible alternative," says Mel Watkins, a professor of politics and economics at the University of Toronto. But Mr. Watkins thinks the party could be making a mistake by moving outside its base in western Canada.

"They are a phenomenon of western Canadian populism, and unless the Conservatives have collapsed completely I would have thought they would have done better to stay in the West," Watkins says.

The Reform Party, as Watkins points out, is a populist movement of the right. Its platform would do away with many things Canadian federalism has achieved, from bilingualism to big government spending on social programs. Reform Party proposals include:

- Ending official bilingualism. French would be Quebec's language; English would be spoken elsewhere.

- Abolishing official "multiculturalism," federal policies that encourage immigrant groups to keep their identity rather than melding into the dominant culture.

- Balancing the federal budget. If it is not done in a three-year period, the party would call for an election.

- Adopting a flat-rate income tax.

- Making referendums binding on the government. …