This upcoming weekend over 2000 loyal Provincial Tories will gather in the Niagara Falls convention Centre to chart a course after the disappointing results of last fall’s provincial election. This convention is anticipated to set the tone for the building process of the Ontario PC party for the next couple of years. As well, with the election of officers, and more importantly, a three way contest for the presidency of the party at stake. More than ever, Ontarians need an opposition with a contrasting vision for the province of Ontario. Recently it was projected that Ontario’s deficit spiral could last close to” another decade.” Without higher taxes this will force the government into making difficult decisions of either raising taxes or substantial cuts in services like healthcare.
Oh boy….. with such a bleak outlook for the Province that was once considered the engine of the Canadian economy; this makes a Tory supporter look upon the Harris era as the halcyon days for Ontario. Similarly, at the time, Ontario was suffering with an 11% unemployment rate along with runaway deficits and what was seen by many to be an experimental government in the guise of the NDP under Bob Rae now leader of the Liberal party of Canada. I guess politics is a business where you can fail, and still be lofted to ever higher heights. Nevertheless, in this darkest hour for the province, then leader of the Ontario PC’s Mike Harris decided to adopt a clearly Conservative contrasting vision; not only a distinct way how the government was run but the approach to government entirely. This agenda for the overhaul of Ontario’s government was aptly named the Commonsense Revolution. Admittedly the word revolution conjures up images that would easily seem to be an anathema to conservatism; but the plan itself outlined clear-cut conservative principles that included lower taxes, work fare, and reduced overall expenses in government.
Indeed, former Premier Mike Harris was one of the truly transformative leaders; he cut taxes, and diminished thesize and scope of government, as well as reducing deficits. In addition, he modernized government by bringing in certain initiatives, like standardized testing for teachers. However, with Premier Harris’s retirement in 2002, the Ontario PC party seems to have bought into the notion that moderation was the path forward for the party. As a result there has been a lot of revisionist history to contend with about the common-sense revolution and the Harris legacy in general. Recently current leader, Tim Hudak has come full circle by promising to craft a more Conservative alternative to the current Ontario Liberals. One of the more integral attitudes to address in the culture of conservatism in Ontario is more a point of pride. Ontario Conservatives have to start vigorously defending the Harris legacy and not perceiving it as a weakness or receding at every opportunity. It has become more important than ever to reclaim Ontario’s Conservative past to move on to a brighter Ontario PC party future.
As there is a man for every season the commonsense revolution was a vision for government of its time. The Ontario PC party now needs to start the arduous process of tackling the significant issues that confront us now in Ontario, in the next 15 to 30 years Ontario will face definite manufacturing and demographic challenges. How we confront these and various other perplexing questions of the various parties in the province will have to answer. However, for the unsure Ontario PCs to be the clear center-right alternative in Ontario, the party will have to unite all Conservatives under one ideological tent. Although Conservatism doesn’t go out of style the tools must change with the times this means that one should look to new solutions for this generation’s problems.
Hopefully the gathering in Niagara Falls this week will allow the Ontario PC party to admire their past yet start a new chapter in their history.
This has been revised from a previous version that was published on PAH