The Tories Say Goodbye

By Bishop, Jordan | Commonweal, November 19, 1993 | Go to article overview

The Tories Say Goodbye


Bishop, Jordan, Commonweal


Prime Minister Kim Campbell's attempt to rescue the Tories from the unpopularity of the Mulroney years failed abysmally in the October 25 general election. Angry voters savaged her Progressive Conservative party, from New-foundland to Vancouver. In the Atlantic province of New Brunswick, only Elsie Wayne, the popular former mayor of Saint John, was elected as a Tory. And in Quebec, where former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's party had won sixty seats in 1988, the Tories retained only one seat, that won by Jean Charest. This time out, the avowedly separatist Bloc Quebecois, led by former Mulroney cabinet minister Lucien Bouchard, took fifty-four seats, giving the Bloc the status of the official opposition.

In Ontario, the Reform party--an extreme-right, populist party led by Preston Manning of Alberta--divided the already weakened conservative vote to give the Liberals an unprecedented sweep in Canada's most populous province: ninety-eight out of ninety-nine seats. The remaining seat went to the Reform party, while the mildly left New Democratic party (NDP) lost all ten of its seats and the Tories lost forty-two.

In the prairie provinces, the Liberals continued their sweep, gaining eight seats in Manitoba and five in Saskatchewan. In Alberta, however, the Liberals got only four seats. Here, the Reform party rolled up a total of twenty-two seats and added twenty-four more in British Columbia (compared to the Liberals' six). The Tories lost eleven seats in British Columbia, including Kim Campbell's, and the NDP retained only two of its previous seventeen seats. In the Yukon, NDP leader Audrey McLaughlin held her seat but the rest of the North went Liberal.

The defeat of the Tories and the NDP was so total that neither got the twelve seats needed to qualify for official party status in the House of Commons. As a result, they will not be granted research budgets, nor will they be allowed to ask questions in committees without the agreement of other members. While the NDP has been there before, this is without precedent for the Progressive Conservative party.

What does it all mean? For starters, the ersatz character of the Tory campaign convinced nobody. It had been hoped that Kim Campbell, projecting an image of youth (she is forty-six) and new beginnings, could overcome the bitterness many felt toward Brian Mulroney and the Tories. Not only were the Tories blamed for the recession (not entirely a bum rap), but they have never been forgiven for the GST (Goods and Services Tax, a national sales tax). Campbell was haunted by a statement she had made while campaigning for leadership of British Columbia's Social Credit party: "Charisma without substance is dangerous." In this campaign she demonstrated that a failed attempt at charisma without substance is ludicrous. She also attempted the impossible: to turn her back on Mulroney without repudiating a single one of the policies and practices that had made him the most disliked prime minister in recent history. This was made worse by a number of gaffes during the campaign, the most serious being a statement to the effect that a campaign is no place to debate serious issues.

The Liberals hardly needed to campaign. They cautiously went through the motions. Jean Chretien, the new Liberal prime minister, is an old hand, although at fifty-nine he is hardly over the hill. …

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