Thursday, April 05, 2007

Nicholls and the vendus

Word has it that Gerry Nicholls, the man who headed up the NCC after Harper left, has been told to move on by the organization.

This is a terrible shame, and a big mistake the NCC is making.

I've met Gerry on a number of occasions. He spoke at the Liberty Summer Seminar, and hung out with the gang before and afterwards. It was Nicholls who made me finally join the NCC, and it's Nicholls' departure that has me cancelling my membership in the NCC.

He emailed me to let me know he wasn't going to be at the NCC any longer, and he told me it wasn't his decision. He didn't want to leave, but he has to. I asked him why he was made to leave, and whether his criticism of the Harper Tories, which has been pretty fierce, had anything to do with it. He told me he can't say, since lawyers are involved. But the newspapers are speculating that this really is the reason, and I'm inclined to agree.

Gerry is a rare bird. As head of an organization with plenty of partisan Tories as members, it takes a certain amount of gumption and courage to criticize the federal Tories when they abandon what they have stood for. It's surprising and encouraging to see a man in his position stand up for small government when it would be much easier to ignore all of the pork barelling and focus on the three or four items in the budget that sort of, kind of, maybe, if read in the right way, gesture in the direction of small-c conservative or classical liberal ideas.

Taken as a whole, the budget was a disaster. It's ironic that the Tories are pushing ads in Quebec that use the word "vendu." Vendu, I'm told, has a double meaning. That second meaning that the Tories are hinting at in the ads is "sell out." Specifically, vendu is used against francophones who supported staying in Canada, but now sort of means a sell out to the cause in general. The only vendus I see are the federal Tories.

I guess I'm particularly upset with Jim Flaherty. He was Mike Harris' right-hand man. When Harris was doing what should make every conservative proud, it was Flaherty who delivered the message. And when I got drunk with him in Toronto, we had a nice long conversation about the importance of sticking to principle, even when it isn't terribly popular, and to doing what really is best for Canada and Canadians in the long run. I told him that I hoped he was really a libertarian in conservative garb, and he winked and nudged and hinted that he at least had strong leanings in that direction.

Strong leanings? And you deliver this budget? And you deliver it like you're proud of it?

What's that french word again?...

Many people have told me that, although they are small-c conservative, they can't help but find classical liberal or libertarian ideas terribly persuasive. They tell me they have strong leanings, just like Flaherty. Gerry Nicholls told me this a few times. And damned if he doesn't mean it.

Nicholls was one of the most prominent conservative commentators to call a spade a spade, and rip into the federal budget. Andrew Coyne was another. Nicholls said he couldn't tell what political party tabled it. It was something a Liberal would be proud to put forward, or a Dipper. He wondered out loud whether part of the motivation for the budget was to help Charest gain a minority in Quebec. Thank goodness, he said, that the Tories weren't trying to garner a majority for Charest. That would have bankrupted the country, he said.

Thank goodness, I say, that Andrew Coyne isn't heading up some small-c conservative think tank or advocacy organization. The vendus in charge would have been scrambling for small pink paper.

What are these people supposed to be loyal to, exactly? When working at the Western Standard, I had many a long conversation with Ezra and Libin and Steel and the gang. We wondered what would be best for the Standard in terms of a federal government. With the grits in charge, the Standard has a great target, and more grist for the Western Alienation mill. Alienation is good for circulation. But they all said that the point and purpose of the magazine isn't merely to sell print, and efficiently convert softwood lumber into glossy colourful eight-by-ten pages. The point is to make Canada better.

Their's is an environmental agenda, in a sense. Take down some maples and firs for glossy pages in the hopes that it'll keep the feds from taking down their own bigger corner of the forest for wallet-sized vanity pics of Elizabeths, and Lauriers, and MacDonalds, and spindles and spindles of red-tinged tape.

Conserve the forests! Eliminate pages from the regs!

And that's the point. It isn't that Harper is a swell guy and we should all be loyal to the Big Blue Machine. It's what the Machine is supposed to stand for that we should support (if you think it's worth supporting). Forget that, and all you're doing is the equivalent of supporting a team because it's your team. You're treating politics like sports.

Be loyal to your Maple Leafs or Flames or Oilers or Canucks or Habs, even if all the players change, even if they move ice rinks, even if their uniforms change, even if they lose, so long as they stay in the same city. City is to sports teams what policy is to political parties: the salient feature that defines it, that makes it sensible for you to support or not support. Everything else is bows, frills, and public relations.

Some people don't forget that it isn't about personalities or your history with the team. Some people can spot vendus and call them out.

I attended the NCC's Colin M. Brown Medal of Freedom ceremony when Harper was given it a few years back. I found that kind of funny back then. Taking nothing away from Harper, who, up to then, did some great work, but I couldn't help but feel like this was some sort of nonsense.

I'm no Colin M. Brown. I haven't founded any long-running and successful Coalition or Institute or Foundation. And I don't have the stack of money necessary to be giving away a fancy medal that'll spark some media attention and publicity.

But, for whatever it's worth, I do have a Peter M. Jaworski "Medal"* of Freedom to hand out too. And guess who's getting it?

If you guessed "Stephen Harper" you haven't been paying attention. If you guessed "Gerry Nicholls" then you are a clever sort.

Here's to you, Gerry Nicholls. You're the first to receive this "Medal"*. The Medal can be taken away at my whim, I'm afraid. No vendus allowed.

* By "medal" is meant a bottle of Liberty Ale from Anchor Steam Brewery. You can drink the beer, then keep the cap. 'Cause that's the medal part of it.

4 Comments:

Blogger Adam Daifallah said...

Bang on!

4:30 PM  
Blogger Gerry Nicholls said...

Peter:

Wow, I am stunned.

This is the first thing I have ever won (except for the time I won a free donut on my Tim Horton's cup)

6:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post, hopefully Gerry will get the money I just put into the NCC off them so it can be put to good use!

With regards "When Harris was doing what should make every conservative proud, it was Flaherty who delivered the message."
Harris was increasing spending just as fast as the federal Liberals at the same time. They pretended to cut taxes while the real level of overall taxation kept going up. The deception may have helped get him elected the second time, but Conservative and fiscal conservative have no necessary connection. Since Sir John A this has been true.

John Shaw

9:47 PM  
Blogger Janet said...

Yet another reason to re-brand what's known as "fiscal conservatism" as "fiscal libertarianism." ;)

10:47 AM  

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