- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2001

Looking upon the human toll of the Great Terror in 1789, a contemporary French observer said famously: "The revolution, like Saturn, might devour in turn each one of her children."
A rather apt quotation as one watches Canada's conservatives in the year-old Canadian Alliance party fervently tearing themselves to pieces in a civil war. It is not over issues but over the future of its embattled leader, the youthful Stockwell Day, and, derivatively, the future of the party itself.
Any hopes American conservatives had about a blossoming conservative movement north of the border can be put away as checked baggage for the foreseeable future. It would appear that the governing Liberal Party under Prime Minister Jean Chretien, 66, will remain in power for much longer than the CA had hoped.
(Is it coincidental that Britain's Conservative Party is itself at the moment undergoing a bruising leadership fight, with not, however, quite the blood-letting to be seen among Canada's conservatives?)
All new parties have a right to suffer growing pains but the CA is obviously abusing the privilege. From a peak popularity in the polls of 28 percent last October, the Canadian Alliance (CA) has sunk, like a cemented Mafioso dumped into the Hudson River, to an incredible 6 percent. This for a party which began life with 75,000 dues-paying members and which in the last November election became, in its first sortie into national politics, the official Opposition in the Canadian House of Commons with 66 seats. In the battle against Mr. Day, 13 CA MPs have left the party caucus, so technically the party now has 53 members in parliament.
There is a famous 19th-century British cartoon which shows Benjamin Disraeli, the great Tory leader, at the edge of a pond in which William Gladstone, his Liberal Party opponent, is bathing. Having collected all his rival's clothes, Disraeli is quietly tiptoeing away while the unobservant Gladstone is innocently paddling about. The cartoon would certainly fit the present political scene in Canada since Liberal Prime Minister Chretien serving his third term, is behaving in an un-Liberal manner although without any ideological conservative conviction.
The CA emerged from what had been the Reform Party, with strong Western Canadian roots, led by Preston Manning who was ousted by Mr. Day in a leadership fight a year ago when the CA was formed. The new leadership hoped — in vain it turned out — that it would make inroads among Eastern Canadian voters, especially in Ontario, with 103 parliamentary seats. In time, it was hoped, the CA would supplant the Progressive Conservative party, which had suffered disastrous electoral defeats.
From being a ruling party under a prime minister masquerading as a conservative, the Progressive Conservative party went down to an incredible two seats and in the last election managed to win a total of nine. Its present membership is less than 20,000. But its leader, Joe Clark, himself a short-lived prime minister, is hoping the weakened CA will seek his protection even though he has nothing to offer other than the party's multimillion-dollar debt. Earlier attempts by CA leaders to merge with the Progressive Conservatives were opposed by the ambitious Mr. Clark, Canada's frustrated comeback kid. The result was that in ridings with a strongly conservative vote, there were two conservative candidates, and the Liberals won overwhelmingly. Had the two conservative wings come together, they probably could have toppled the Liberals. But Joe Clark is no more a conservative than was Brian Mulroney, the one time prime minister.
For what it's worth, the CA executive board has finally agreed not to force Mr. Day's resignation now but to allow a leadership review by the membership next September in which Mr. Day would run against an opponent. At the moment, there is no visible successor ready and willing to challenge the incumbent leader.
What may be at work in Canada is that onetime radical or ultraliberal parties, at least in Canada and Britain, have learned the same lesson that conservatives learned in earlier decades. In Britain, the Tories took over Labor Party ideas in the late 1940s and thereby profited mightily. So Tony Blair saw the light and moved the Labor Party to the right with some enthusiasm. And in Canada, Mr. Chretien saw a potential problem in the rise of the Canadian Alliance and allowed himself, kicking and screaming, to move into conservative territory like spending cuts and lowering taxes. In Britain Labor and in Canada the Liberals were helped by the conservative oppositions — the gangup on Margaret Thatcher by her Westminster colleagues and her subsequent withdrawal as leader and prime minister, and in Canada Mr. Clark's refusal to run joint candidates on a united conservative ticket.

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