March 27, 2004

meet the new Reform Alliance Conservatives

With the merger of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives into the new Conservative Party of Canada, the right clearly hopes to be able to hold on to the support of both of the old parties. But with the election of former Alliance leader Stephen Harper as the head of the new party, many former Tories are surely wondering whether they will really feel comfortable with what many are characterizing as a hostile takeover of their old party. A few federal and provincial Tories have already joined the Liberals.

Atlantic Canada will be the place to watch for any potential fallout. Consider the following:

1. The Conservatives control the provincial legislatures of all four Atlantic provinces; the only other province they govern is Alberta.

2. Stephen Harper won the leadership race on the first ballot, but did not win a single province east of Ontario; Belinda Stronach carried Quebec (61%), New Brunswick (50%), PEI (68%), Nova Scotia (53%), and Newfoundland and Labrador (53%). (She also carried Nunavut with 56%.) Harper only managed to break 40% in NB. Atlantic Canadians rightly see the Reform/Alliance crowd in general, and Harper in particular, as hostile to their regional interests and contemptuous of their marginalization (Harper infamously castigated the region for its alleged "culture of defeat").

How will the electorate react? We'll get our first answer in the spring (or fall?) federal election. After that, the provincial races take center stage. Fortunately for the Tories, all four Atlantic provinces held elections last year, so the next ones are as far off as 2008. Unfortunately for the Tories, their majority in two of those four is on the brink. Bernard Lord in New Brunswick has a majority of one seat, and John Hamm in Nova Scotia leads a minority government. So we are potentially a byelection or no-confidence vote away from another early test of ReformaTory fortunes in the Far East.

UPDATE: Here's an interview with Harper in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, where he explains/spins his previous comments and promotes free market solutions to the region's ills (a policy that works so well here in the US).