There never was much right to unite
THE ENTIRE project of uniting the right in Canada was doomed from the start. It was doomed because the right, as a concept capable of being united, never really existed.
That is the fundamental message from a Toronto Star/Ekos poll which appears elsewhere in this newspaper.
The idea of uniting the right began four years ago, with a conference called the Winds Of Change organized by, among others, conservative columnist David Frum.
From the beginning, however, it was a statistical mirage, an idea which sounded good only until it was thought about. In that sense, it was perfect fodder for columnists.
The notion was that Conservative and Reform votes could be added together. If only Tories and Reformers joined, the unite-the-right aficionados said, they would together be able to defeat the Liberals.
Statistics, statistics. It was this same mirage which, in the late 1950s, motivated the old Co-operative Commonwealth Federation to merge with the Canadian Labour Congress to create the New Democratic Party.
If only organized labour voted together with the farmers and others behind the CCF, those theoreticians of the left said, then their combined power would be enough to form a national government.
As it turned out, organized labour - or at least the rank and file - didn't think they had that much in common with the CCF. As a result, most trade unionists didn't vote NDP. And a national government of the left never occurred.
So, too, with the Tories and Reform. It became convenient for us journalists to lump the two parties together as small-c conservatives, as the right. We could then formulate elaborate scenarios as to what could happen if their two votes were combined. It was great fun.
But at base, the Tories and the Reformers didn't have much in common. In fact, as the Star/Ekos poll shows, Tory voters have much more in common with their Liberal counterparts.
Liberal and Tory views on the hot-button social topics of abortion, capital punishment and homosexual rights are virtually identical - and in line with those of the vast majority of Canadians.
Indeed, it is the Alliance voters who are out of sync with mainstream opinion. They oppose abortion, support capital punishment and oppose same-sex spousal rights far more than most Canadians - or most Conservatives - do.
Even in fiscal issues, the Alliance is out on the edge. About 8 per cent of Liberal voters and 8 per cent of Conservative voters think high taxes are the crucial political issue. Both are roughly in agreement with the vast majority of Canadians.
But more three times as many Alliance voters - about 27 per cent - think high taxes are the country's Number 1 problem.
On the federal debt, Tory voters are closer to the NDP than the Alliance. About 16 per cent of Alliance voters think public debt is the country's main problem. Only 5 per cent of Tory voters feel the same way, compared to 2 per cent for NDP voters and 9 per cent for Liberal voters.
Allies of Conservative Leader Joe Clark have argued that a united right would merely benefit the Liberals. Their argument apparently has merit. Recent research in Ontario suggests that Tory voters tend to favour the Liberals as a second choice over the Alliance. If the right united, the Tories would probably desert to Jean Chrétien.
Political consultant Graham Murray has gone one step further. He calculates what would have happened in the 1997 federal election if three-quarters of the province's Tory voters had gone to Reform.
By that scenario (and Murray acknowledges that to expect three out of every four Tory voters to back Reform/Alliance is to make a Herculean assumption), only 16 of Ontario's 101 Commons seats would have been taken from the Liberals - enough to force Chrétien into a minority government, but not enough to elect the kind of rightist regime of which Frum would approve.
Back in January, Alliance convert Tom Long accused Clark of not being a real conservative. Clark's defenders were insulted. But, in a weird kind of way, Long was right.
If by conservative, he meant an Alliance-type conservative, no, Clark is not one of those. But neither are the members of his party. And neither, so far at least, are most Canadians.
This is why the Tories and Reform were never able to form a united right. This is why the Alliance, as currently constituted, seems to be doomed.
There is little right of the Liberals to unite. Or, to be more precise, the hard right - insofar as it exists in Canada - is already pretty much united behind the Canadian Alliance.
Which just leaves the rest of us.
Thomas Walkom's column appears on Tuesday.