Opinion: Conservative mergers part of political history
Later this year, grassroots members of Alberta’s Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties will likely be asked to approve a memorandum of understanding uniting the two parties under one banner. The object will be to create a united, principled, and competent alternative to the NDP government prior to the next provincial election scheduled for May 2019.
“Realigning” two conservative parties in this way may strike some Albertans as unique and strange, but it shouldn’t. Such realignments — reassembling conservative principles and policies in new structures to better serve electors — have occurred before. They are an established evolutionary feature of conservative politics in Canada.
Recently, John Whittaker, a researcher at the Manning Centre, was given access to a heretofore classified and unpublished document from 1966 entitled, An Alberta Political Proposal. A copy of this document has been posted on our website along with Whittaker’s summation of it and six other related documents.
This 1966 proposal was jointly commissioned by my father, Ernest C. Manning, then-premier and leader of Alberta’s longtime Social Credit administration, and Peter Lougheed; who had just become leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. At the time the PCs held no seats in the legislature.
The 1966 proposal itself was the work of a small committee consisting of Joe Clark (later Canada’s 16th prime minister), Merv Leitch (later Alberta’s attorney general), Dr. Erick Schmidt (then a special consultant to the Alberta cabinet), and myself. It proposed nothing less than principles and procedures for uniting the Social Credit and Progressive Conservative parties of the day under one banner on both the provincial and federal levels.
The six related documents summarized by Whittaker include a 1967 book entitled Political Realignment, by my father, which focuses on the reorganization of conservatism at the federal level. It draws a sharp distinction between realignments motivated by political expediency and those based on principles, strongly recommending the latter.
The other documents include the constitutions and memorandums of understanding which created the Reform party in 1987, the Canadian Alliance in 1997, and the present-day Conservative Party of Canada in 2003. Each contain statements of conservative principles remarkably similar to those first put forward in the 1966 Alberta Political Proposal; in particular those pertaining to the value of the individual, fiscal responsibility, and a limited (specialized) role for government.
Whittaker’s summation notes that the realignments represented by these documents are the continuation of a recurrent theme in Canadian political history, particularly on the conservative side of the political spectrum, beginning with the Great Coalition of the MacDonald Conservatives, Quebec Bleus, and Reformers of Canada West that brought Confederation into being.
It further illustrates that such realignments are more likely to succeed when the proposed union is between opposition parties than when the proposed union is between a government and an opposition party as was the case involving Social Credit and the Alberta Progressive Conservatives in 1966.
In that case, the members of an aging governing party refused to believe that they needed an injection of “new blood” from an opposition source. At the same time, the members of the fledgling opposition group were highly suspicious that the proposed realignment was nothing more than a cynical “takeover attempt” by the governing party.
Recent polls show that two-thirds of Albertans, regardless of political affiliation, and around 80 per cent of those who voted Wildrose or PC in the last provincial election, believe that a principled union of these opposition parties would be “a good idea” for the province.
It is my hope that the release of the 1966 Alberta Political Proposal, and related materials pertaining to successful federal political realignments, will be encouraging and instructive to grassroots party members and political leaders willing to respond to the desires of these electors for a constructive alternative to the NDP government.
Preston Manning is founder of the Manning Centre