UA open to social conversatives, observers say
Memo targeting certain Reform Mps is not an attempt to purge the movement of pro-lifers
A well-publicized memo by a top-level Reform Party strategist has some worried that the United Alternative is trying to push out moral conservatives.
Rick Anderson, campaign director for the Reform Party of Canada, wrote a memo identifying 20 Reform MPs whom the party should be ready to replace in the next election. But pro-lifers are concerned because the list included many Reformers who are pro-life and pro-family, many of whom attended the parliamentarian pro-life luncheon during the March for Life in Ottawa last May. The August issue of Campaign Life Coalition’s National News said, “There is growing concern that UA organizers might see the MPs’ criticism of the UA process as a way to reduce the number of social conservatives in the party’s ranks.”
National Post columnist David Frum told The Interim that the Anderson memo was part of the typical “nose-counting exercises” political parties engage in “all the time.” Frum believes Anderson’s explanation of the memo is genuine: that it was intended to warn Reform leader Preston Manning of MPs who a unlikely to run again, unlikely to win if they do run, or just were generally ineffectual representatives.
Jim Pankiw (Saskatoon-Humboldt), who was not targeted in the list, agreed that the memo is a normal party practice, a way to prepare for ridings where there might be a nomination opening or nomination fight. Pankiw, a pro-life MP who submitted a private members bill that would put abortion funding to a referendum, dismissed the notion that Anderson and the UA sought to minimalize the influence of vocal pro-lifers. He said that the two-thirds party vote requirement for Reform to proceed with the UA will guarantee that moral conservatives, the base of Reform support in western Canada, will be a part of any new party.
Likewise, an assistant to a Reform MP who was named on the Anderson memo, said there was no effort to remove pro-life MPs. The assistant said the memo targeted the Reform MPs who were vocally against the UA.
But there might be a connection. Link Byfield, publisher and editor of Alberta Report magazine, said there is some concern among rank-and-file Reformers in the West that the UA might water down their principles to placate Ontario voters, widely perceived to be more liberal in their views.
That said, Byfield told The Interim he doubts the memo was part of a plot to target moral conservatives, because Anderson is “not really (against) social conservatives – as long as they (seek to gain influence) the right way.” Still, criticizing the UA, Byfield noted, would probably not be seen by Anderson as the “right way.”
Byfield said that he and many Reformers feared the UA would be “hijacked by the neo-conservatives” at the February convention, to impose an economic agenda at the expense of social issues. He was relieved, however, by the strong support for the traditional family expressed by delegates at the gathering.
Frum said he believes moral conservatives should not be ignored. “The UA should offer moral conservatives as hospitable a home as … is compatible with forming a government in this country.” He advised, though, that “moral conservative views” be expressed “in language that will not frighten non-conservatives away.”