Over the past three decades, the word “Conservative” has undergone a radical transformation in Canada. Nothing better demonstrates this than Joe Clark, who was elected Prime Minister in 1979.
Clark is often derided for his brief stint as Canada’s federal leader. (His Progressive Conservative government lasted a mere nine months). But while his grip on power was short-lived, he became the longest-serving Tory foreign minister in Canadian history under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
Under normal circumstances, Clark’s extensive international experience would make him a Conservative elder statesman. In actuality, he is shunned by the current federal government.
The feeling of disdain appears to be mutual.
“I have never been a member of the political party shaped and led by Stephen Harper,” writes Clark in his new book How We Lead: Canada in a Century of Change. With a tone that echoes Harper’s staunchest critics, the former Tory leader does not mince words.
“In the classic American film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Jimmy Stewart plays the idealistic outsider guided by a charming instinct to ‘do the right thing’ in the cynical capital of politics,” writes Clark. “The guiding members of the new Conservative government elected in 2006 were not ‘Mr. Smith.’ They brought a palpable edge of resentment to office, a sense of wrongs to be righted, and a suspicion of both the public service and of the governments that had been there before them.”
Local political junkies can hear Clark speak this coming Thursday, November 7, at the Southminster United Church (15 Aylmer Avenue), in an event organized by the Ottawa International Writers Festival. The talk is scheduled for 7 pm.
Clark will be discussing How We Lead, a thoughtful book that looks at Canadian foreign policy over the decades. Canada’s positive role on the international stage, he writes, was fostered by a succession of Liberal and Tory governments who balanced hard and soft power.
This critical balance has been ignored by the current government.
“Canadian international policy was once characterized by a rough balance among diplomacy, trade, defence and development, with diplomacy usually in a lead role” writes Clark. “Today, defence has been placed decisively in the lead of that quartet, with trade next, while the roles of diplomacy and development have declined sharply.”
This well written book offers an interesting view on international policy. For political observers, however, it also reveals in clear detail how many former Tories no longer fit in the modern Conservative Party. In fact, this book has more in common with present-day Liberals, Dippers and Green party members than Harper loyalists.
In a recent event at the Writers Festival, Toronto Star columnist Susan Delacourt told the audience that many former Progressive Conservatives reportedly joined the Liberal Party after the 2011 federal election, after being horrified about how the word “Conservative” was being maligned by the Harper government.
Given recent media reports (or is still speculation?) about how some Conservatives are looking ahead to a post-Harper world, it would be interesting to see if these former Progressive Conservatives will one day return to the Tory fold.
A good question, perhaps, to ask Clark on Thursday.