Racists, Rednecks and the Reform of Canada
Cornwell, Tim, The Independent (London, England)
Vancouver - On his small square patch of Canada, surrounded by a nine-foot fence of English laurel, Reform Man is railing against the Frenchmen who run the bloody government, and dropping remarks about Chinese drivers.
"I admire a lot of those other cultures, but in their own country," said Sid Blanchett, a diesel engine mechanic. Mr Blanchett lives in north Vancouver, a hotly contested riding in the 2 June election. There are two signs outside his fence: one for the Reform Party, and another that says "No More Prime Ministers from Quebec". He's proud to be a racist and a redneck, he said, if that means defending his own culture, religion, and traditions.
Covering Reform can be like waking up in a Monty Python sketch, as one Vancouver journalist said this week. Old-fashioned caricatures pop up and say the most extraordinary things. Members belt out Oh Canada at party meetings, and while they drop clangers about blacks, gays, or Sikhs, the race they really detest is the French. In 1993, Reform went from one seat in the Canadian parliament to 52, riding the back of the conservative collapse. Four years later, though the Liberals seem assured of re-election, it is Reform that dominates the political conversation, along with its leader, Preston Manning. Anger against the conservatives put Reform in place: Mr Manning is now fanning the flames against Quebec to bring his voters back to the polls, accusing his opponents of pandering to French Canada. The other party leaders - all Quebec politicians, as he has pointed out - turned on him for running the most divisive campaign in Canadian history, even fomenting civil war. "They are constitutional arsonists," said Warren Kinsella, a former journalist and aide to the Liberal Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, challenging the Reform encumbent in North Vancouver. A Bible-toting prairie Christian, Mr Manning's political base is in Alberta, where his father was premier for 25 years and a radio preacher for nearly 50. At 54, Mr Manning recently had his teeth straightened, and dropped his clunky glasses after laser surgery on his eyes. But voters still seem uncomfortable with him personally - "a bit too odd for me" said one man, in the streets of "North Van". His support is almost exclusively in the west, in Alberta and neighbouring British Columbia, where he won 24 of 32 BC seats. He would actually like Quebec to leave Canada, it is whispered, because without it Reform would have a shot at forming a government. His showing this time could determine whether Reform can overtake the stumbling Bloc Quebecois as the country's official opposition, or whether it will eventually fade like other upstart populist movements from the region. …