Tom McMillan says the party must also use its leadership race as an opportunity to reflect on its own history and find a way back to progressive Canadian values after being hijacked by an American-style party with right-wing ideologies.
It’s an argument McMillan makes in his new book, “Not My Party: The Rise and Fall of Canadian Tories, From Robert Stanfield to Stephen Harper.”
“The theme of the book is that the national Conservative Party has lost its way,” said McMillan, who places much of the blame on Harper. “I believed in the party and worked hard for what the party believed in and the causes for which it stood. But it’s no longer the party it once was.”
McMillan was the MP for Hillsborough from 1979 to 1988, which included roles as minister of state for tourism and minister of environment, before being defeated during the 1988 election.
He later became Canada’s consul general to New England and is now a Canadian citizen with permanent U.S. residency.
The issue of deciding the party’s future is pressing, with 14 candidates now vying for the federal leadership. Atlantic Canadians heard from those candidates during a debate in Moncton earlier this month.
Although McMillan doesn’t have “a horse in the race” as far as candidates, he said each likely has their own strengths and weaknesses, the more crucial decision is regarding the party’s overall direction.
McMillan said the party has time to reflect on what it’s achieved throughout the years, from it’s founding by Sir John A. Macdonald to its successes of creating a more cohesive country by building railways and forming instruments for the greater public good like the CBC and National Research Council.
Since 2003, those values have given way towards an American-style party that leans towards religious fundamentalism while also vilifying the role of government, said McMillan.
“The party should rethink where it’s been and what kind of government it provided the country for almost a decade under Stephen Harper,” he said.
The book covers half a century of the party’s history, focusing on Robert Stanfield and analyzing the legacy left by the former party leader. McMillan then examines the impact on that legacy made by successive leaders from Joe Clark to Harper.
McMillan said the party was hijacked in 2003 when the Progressive Conservative Party, led by Peter MacKay, merged with Harper’s western-based Canadian Alliance.
McMillan notes that he originally supported the merger, with many feeling the conservative vote would otherwise continue to be split.
However, he didn’t contemplate the traditions of the Progressive Conservatives, including the first half of its name, being thrown out the window.
“Had I know that would happen, I would have opposed it,” said McMillan.
McMillan said the three Maritime provinces also have a bigger stake in what becomes of the conservative party.
That’s because quite frankly, those provinces are more dependent on government, he said.
“And a party that is hostile to government and doesn’t believe in the role of government making people’s lives better is an enemy of Atlantic Canada, is hostile to our interests and does not deserve our support,” he said.
McMillan said he hopes the delegates voting for the leadership read his book and apply a standard to those candidates.
“(The book) is a cry from the heart for the party of old,” he said. “It’s not an attack, it’s a clarion call for the Conservative Party to restore its soul.”