A PC Party Platform for Canada in the 80s

A major part of my involvement with Joe Clark’s campaign for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1976, which I began to discuss in last week’s post, was the preparation of policy papers. Four advisers – me, Carole Uhlaner, Ian McKinnon, and Mark Krasnick (of blessed memory) – did the drafting, and Joe edited and approved the final versions. The party wanted candidates to produce one 2000-word paper dealing with four topics. Erroneously, we thought the party wanted one 2000-word paper about each topic. Rather than distill the four draft papers, the Clark campaign decided to publish them all and distribute them at the leadership convention. In retrospect, this was a serendipitous mistake.

With 45 years of hindsight, the papers provide a fascinating snapshot into Red Tory thinking at the time. I will quote sections that caught my eye and add my reactions today.

The cornerstone of Clark’s program was a critique of the Trudeau Government’s expansion of federal power and spending and frequent imposition of national standards on provinces, municipalities, and individuals. Let’s examine how this approach was applied to key policy areas.

The Economy

“Government must set a dramatic example of restraint by sharply reducing the rate of growth of the money supply and the growth of government spending.” Joe Clark, meet Jean Chretien and Stephen Harper. Trudeau pere et fils, not so much.

“Government can take the lead in decentralization by moving many of its activities to smaller centres. In the future, we can look forward to advances in communication technology, which will make it easier for government to move activities out of the major centres but still keep its parts in close touch.” To a great extent, this has happened.

“The public sector should not have the right to strike. Instead, a Public Interest Disputes Tribunal should be established to determine what services are essential and ensure that these services continue to be fully performed during any labour-management dispute.” Yes, essential services are designated.

“The government should undertake a full-scale review of Crown corporations. Those that no longer serve a useful purpose should be disbanded.” Yes, the Mulroney Government did this.

“Parliament should be more deeply involved in budgetary review. Committees of Parliament should have the ability as well as support staff to undertake independent review of programs.” This has happened through the Parliamentary Budget Office, rather than empowered parliamentary committees.

“My government would also consider requiring applicants for Unemployment Insurance [now Employment Insurance] to do community work suggested by local governments for half the week while they look for work the other half.” This has never happened.

“Residents of the major cities and the heavily industrialized areas are beginning to feel that bigger is not always better and that increased city size often brings more pollution, more congestion, and the loss of agricultural and recreational land. That is how I interpret the opposition of the people of Toronto to the proposed Pickering Airport.” Borins wrote that.

Social Justice and Social Order

“Those who organize their lives healthily should be rewarded. Those who exercise, eat in moderation, don’t smoke, and get regular pre-illness checkups should pay lower [health care] premiums.” This hasn’t happened and is at variance with the National Health Act. However, this issue has arisen and is being passionately debated in the current context of vaccine mandates.

“While the Old Age Pension is one program which must apply universally, the Family Allowance Plan need not.” Criticizing universal transfers was prescient. The Canada Child Benefit, Old Age Security, and Guaranteed Income Supplement now are all means-tested.

“We need new evidence about the effect of the negative income tax before approving or rejecting a Minimum Annual Income approach.” Clark was thinking about it. Governments in Canada still are.

“Our ultimate goal should be the elimination of the Department of Indian Affairs. In the short term, I will consider separating that responsibility from Northern Development and Parks Canada, so one minister could concentrate on developing pride and self-sufficiency among native peoples.” The departmental reorganization has occurred, but we still have the Indian Act and the task of reconciliation is more all-encompassing than we ever imagined 45 years ago.

“[Referring to Jane Jacobs] Police function better in more cohesive communities. The more knowledge the local police and the local people have about each other the more effective the police can be in preventing crime.” An early statement of community policing.

Natural Resources and External Affairs

“The sad truth is that the Canadian forces are undermanned, overworked, and saddled with obsolete equipment. There are tanks older than the crews manning them, planes meant to defend the vast air spaces of the Prairies that can barely fly to the next airfield …” Plus ca change.

“Since Canada is currently finding it difficult to create jobs for many university graduates and other professional people, in the future less emphasis should be placed on recruiting highly skilled immigrants.” This was certainly off-base.

“As consumers, we must move vigorously to achieve more energy conservation … As part of an effort to increase energy conservation, the use of pricing policies merits serious consideration. It has been shown in Europe that peak-load pricing of energy smooths out demand …. Bringing the domestic petroleum price to the world price level will encourage conservation.” Clark was prescient. The reference to peak-load pricing was my contribution.

“We should support much more research on such renewable energy resources as solar, tidal, and wind power, instead of simply planning to find and burn more fossil fuels.” Climate change was not part of the discussion at the time, but this was prescient.

Political Structures

“The late Richard Crossman, a leading minister in the first Wilson Labour Government once said, ‘We have a non-partisan public service, but in Britain non-partisan means Tory.’ After four decades of virtual one-party rule in Canada, we have a similar problem, and will have to balance the traditional public service with some excellent people who share our goal of reform.” “I will start immediately to assemble an inventory of able women and men who will come with us to Ottawa as senior advisers to help implement the changes we are elected to achieve.” In the years since then, governments have made more frequent use of such appointments.

“In Quebec, there will be no ‘lieutenant’ and no ‘arrangements’ with other parties and groups. We must treat Quebec organizationally the same way we treat other provinces.” Again, Clark was prescient.

This selection of Clark’s campaign commitments shows that many of the issues he and his advisers grappled with then are with us now and that some of the solutions and reforms he proposed have been implemented. I feel a measure of pride in our work close to a half-century ago.

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