On the weekend of August 22, 2002, 1,400 federal Progressive Conservatives gathered in Edmonton for their Party’s national general meeting. For months, journalists and pundits had speculated on how the end of the parliamentary coalition with the Alliance dissi- dents would affect the party’s views on uniting the right, its reconsideration of the so-called 301 rule, and the review vote on Joe Clark’s leadership.
What observers found was a level of energy and enthu- siasm not seen since the early 1990s and a desire to resist the temptation to navel-gaze in favour of an open dialogue about the future. Joe Clark’s recent announcement that he would step down had dramatically changed the orienta- tion of the meeting. His call for renewal ensured that what could have easily turned into an insular discussion about the party’s relationship with the Alliance suddenly became a frank exchange on what the Party should offer Canadians.
Certainly, the idea of bringing together the opposition forces in Ottawa remains top of mind for many party mem- bers. But after all the efforts aimed at building trust and offering a political home to the Alliance dissidents"a noble experiment despite its ultimate undoing"the membership of the Progressive Conservative Party came to this conclu- sion: the way back to Sussex Drive, however long the jour- ney, would not come from backroom deals and ultimatums; it would have to begin with a renewed focus on what the party hopes to achieve once in power.
Thus, delegates decided to launch the party’s upcoming policy process at Edmonton. Facilitated by caucus critics from the House of Commons and the Senate, and by experts from universities, interest groups and think tanks from across Canada, the membership began to define the party’s agenda for the first decade of the 21st century. While the final policy proposals will not come until after an extensive consultation with the full party membership, a few basic points of consensus became apparent.
First, Progressive Conservatives agreed that healthier public finances could be achieved through progressive tax cuts like increasing the basic income credit, the reduction of payroll taxes, scheduled debt repayments and the introduc- tion of a regulatory budget to eliminate waste caused by unnecessary red tape. The PC Party also recognized the exis- tence of a fiscal imbalance and agreed to consider ways to ensure that provincial and municipal tiers of gov- ernment receive a greater share of the fiscal pie.
On the economic front, priorities included support for the creation of the proposed free trade area of the Americas and a review of region- al development initiatives that would continue to recognize the unique needs of certain regions but better reflect the realities of the global econo- my. Specifically, the party considered a proposal by PC Finance Critic Scott Brison to eliminate the bulk of funding for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency in favour of a 10-year corporate tax holiday for Atlantic Canada.
Second, the PC Party favoured a more activist agenda for Canada abroad. Under the current government, Canada has wasted its reputation in the world and has been left behind by major events. With increased funding for defence and foreign aid programs and a more assertive stand in diplomatic and international organizations such as the UN, the Commonwealth and la Francophonie, Canada could be a leader again in ensuring a multilateral approach to international conflicts, as well as North-South relations and environmental concerns. Specifically, Canada should leverage its relationship with the United States to engage our neighbour on a continental approach to issues of trade, security, energy and climate change.
Third, the PC Party reaffirmed its support for a more collaborative approach to social issues here at home, specifically with regard to health care and the environment. On health care, it is clear that the time for studies is long passed. The PC Party believes now is the time for real reform that puts the patient at the centre of the system; that protects the basic principle that the needs of patients must be met according to medical necessity, not ability to pay; and that spells out hon- estly the role of the federal government, the provinces and the private sector in the delivery of health services.
On the environment, Progressive Conservatives reaffirmed their commitment to making the envi- ronment a priority again. The PC Party recognizes the link between the environment and human health and agreed to push for initiatives to ensure safe drinking water in our communities, and to work toward a pan-Canadian consensus on how best to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, dele- gates formally adopted as party policy a series of proposals aimed at reasserting the power of Parliament and its members, and reconnecting government with the citizens it is elected to serve.
Taken together, these proposals constitute the most comprehensive and detailed democrat- ic reform package currently proposed by any fed- eral political party. Moreover, contrary to other proposals being made, it aims to address Canada’s democratic deficit, not by further emas- culating the Canadian parliamentary system, but rather by working through it and making it strong again. Like the Tory approach of decades past, it is a unique marriage of the populist ideal with parliamentary tradition.
Healthier public finances, a more activist agenda abroad, action on health care and the environment, and a stronger democracy"that is the Progressive Conservative agenda. A tall order, indeed, but someone has to do it.