Over the past many years I have co-directed and produced at least a dozen musicals in Muskoka, from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance to Fiddler on the Roof. It was a passion of mine.
My one regret was my inability to put together a production of Les Misérables, to me one of the greatest musicals ever written. The royalties were too high and production requirements too complicated. I attempted to arrange a production of Les Mis as the opening event of the then-new Algonquin Theatre in Huntsville, but I was unsuccessful.
One of the pieces from Les Mis that has again caught my attention in recent months is a song by the production’s hero, Jean Valjean. He was searching for his identity and the song was entitled “Who Am I?”
When it comes to politics, another life-long passion of mine, I too, especially in recent times, am searching for my identity, and in that context (and no other) wondering who I am. I know I am basically conservative, believing in less government, sound fiscal management, and responsibility for those in need. But in reality, there is not a single political party in Canada at the national level in which today I would feel entirely comfortable.
I have always been a bit of a rebel and I made no exception of that when it came to politics. I remember a time in my early thirties, when I was chairman of Muskoka and also a vice president of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. The PCs were having their bi-annual policy conference and one of the items up for discussion was legislation that allowed municipal unions to impose mandatory membership on all municipal employees where a union existed. The trade-off was that going forward unions would have to conduct a secret ballot of their members for approval of any collective bargaining agreements.
I was against this legislation. I knew a number of hard-working and capable people at the District of Muskoka who did not want to join a union. I believed that was their right. And so, in what I believed was a closed committee session on this matter, I said what I thought, which was that compulsory check-off (mandatory membership) was wrong and in any event there should never need to be a “trade-off” with unions or anyone else in a democratic society for a secret ballot.
When I turned around after speaking, I was right in the face of a reporter from The Globe and Mail. How he got in the room, I don’t know, but he dutifully made sure there was a headline in the next edition of his newspaper that there was division in the ranks of the Davis Conservatives.
Of course, I got my fingers rapped, a gentle message from the premier’s office that members of the team stuck together and did not go public with their disagreements. And so, I sucked it up and pretty well toed the party line.
A few years later, when Frank Miller was treasurer of Ontario, there was a proposal for the Government to buy Suncor. Frank Miller, whose ministry would be the lead on that, was opposed. Premier Davis arranged for Miller to go to New York to meet with the Province’s bond holders. While he was gone, the premier announced the acquisition of Suncor.
Frank Miller was furious, and I asked him later why he did not resign on principle. In reply, he reminded me of a federal cabinet minister who had resigned on principle and subsequently faded into oblivion. Miller was not prepared to do that, and he went on to become premier of Ontario. That, too, was a lesson I have always remembered.
But now, especially at the federal level, things are different. I really do not know what the Conservative Party of Canada stands for anymore. I have great respect for our local Member of Parliament, Scott Aitchison. I believe his heart is in the right place and that he works hard on our behalf. I also like Erin O’Toole. I think he would be a good prime minister.
But there is clearly what I call a “Trump rump” in the Conservative Party which is, in my view, gaining traction and which I cannot condone. They are right-wing extremists who stand for many things I stand against.
If these people had their way, the issue of abortion would have been on the table again at the party’s policy convention that was held this week. They want this issue to become a political football once again. This is not a matter, in my view, that should ever again be on the public agenda. It is divisive and it is personal. People have a right to their own opinions and a right, whether or not we agree with them, to their own decisions. One thing I did agree with Pierre Elliott Trudeau on was his statement that the government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.
The final straw for me, however, or very close to it, is the motion that was on the table at the Conservative convention this week regarding climate change. Party leader Erin O’Toole had the legs kicked right out from under him.
I feel sorry for Erin O’Toole. He delivered what I believe was a very effective keynote speech to his policy convention. He said if the party was ever going to win an election, it had to change and it had to show that it has changed. He was right. The one motion that would have clearly demonstrated that his party was with him was the one on climate change, which O’Toole supported.
It was a simple motion. It said, “We recognize that climate change is real. The Conservative Party is willing to act.” Erin O’Toole said climate change is real; 54.8 per cent of the delegates to his policy convention voted against this motion. They turned their leader down flat.
Are they nuts? For one thing, they have almost guaranteed they will not win the next election. Of course climate change is real. All scientific evidence points to it. How catastrophic a reality it is is debatable and certainly whether a carbon tax is any kind of an effective inhibitor has not been proven.
However, climate change itself is real and it needs to be recognized and effectively addressed by any competent government. To refuse to acknowledge climate change is akin to refusing to acknowledge that Tuesdays fall on Tuesday or that our current pandemic is not real. Sounds like Trump rump to me.
So, here I am, all dressed up with nowhere to go. I am not a socialist. I could never vote for the NDP. And I cannot vote for a Liberal government as long as it has a spendthrift attitude toward the economy and, frankly, an unqualified prime minister.
In my heart I am still, at least by my definition, a conservative. But the increasing elements of Trumpism in the Conservative Party of today scare me. One thing I know for sure is that is not who I am.
I am not quite there yet, but metaphorically speaking my Conservative Party of Canada membership card is sitting on my desk.
And my scissors are close by!
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