It came as no surprise to the connoisseurs of that modern political phenomenon, the TV Convention, that the image the Progressive Conservative Party presented to the nation during its recent Ottawa rally was distorted, fuzzy and baffling. Sometimes the picture was recognizable enough but on those occasions the sound had an unnatural ring. When the sound was okay the picture became obscured by snow, ghosts and other electronic nuisances. It took a real act of will on the part of the viewer to remember that this was the official opposition to the government of Canada selecting a new leader and beginning a new campaign which it hopes will lead it into office.
The portrait that finally emerged was not the portrait of a militant opposition with battles to fight and men eager for the battle. Like most Canadians of most political persuasions and like many of no political persuasion at all, Maclean’s believes that in choosing John Diefenbaker as their new leader, the Progressive Conservatives chose wisely. Diefenbaker already has a fine parliamentary career behind him and is still young and vigorous enough that a still finer career could well lie ahead.
But if John Diefenbaker proposes to campaign on the basis of the platform endorsed by his party’s convention it will take’a miracle of personal magnetism to increase the Progressive Conservatives’ following among the electorate by a single vote. If an opposition has any function it is to oppose. During the last two sessions of parliament, the PCs adhered to this principle; with George Drew setting them a tireless and often brilliant example, they reminded parliament and the people that the St. Laurent government, strong though it is, quite frequently stands in need of opposing on the grounds of ordinary human principle.
The present Ottawa government is Big Government, the Biggest Government by far that
this country has ever had. There are many things to be said in favor of Big Government, and during recent elections most Canadians have said them at the polls.
But there are also many things to be said against Big Government and historically and by tradition it has been the role of political parties calling themselves conservative to say them and to say them right out loud. There is a case against decrees by order-in-council and other forms of law-making by ukase. There is a case against unlimited extension of state paternalism. There is a case against handing out baby bonuses and old-age pensions to the rich along with the poor. There is a case against federal encroachments into the domain of the provinces.
But to judge from the resolutions passed by their convention, the Progressive Conservatives oppose Big Government for only one reason: it isn’t big enough.
They proposed to add nearly two hundred million dollars a year to national spending on social benefits. The fact that they proposed at the same time to cut taxes may be dismissed as more or less innocent maundering induced by mike fright. The important thing is that, as of now, the most striking thing about the PG program is that it sounds like the Liberal program, only more so.
No doubt as the next election draws near and the television cameras recede into the background, Mr. Diefenbaker and his supporters will remember that they have many deep and fundamental differences with the Liberal Party; that in these fat times their chances of unseating the present government are very slim; but that they have nothing to lose and perhaps a good deal to gain just by standing up and being counted.
If they do any less, their prospects of returning to power—this year or ever—will be very gravely damaged.
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