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Gerald Caplan has an MA in Canadian history and a Ph.D. in African history from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He is an author, teacher, media commentator, and social and political activist with a lifelong commitment to African development. He is preoccupied with genocide and genocide prevention, particularly the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, about which he has frequently written. He has been a consultant on African development issues to many United Nations agencies as well as to the African Union. His latest book is called The Betrayal of Africa. He writes a weekly online column for the Globe and Mail.

The election loss has taught the Conservatives exactly nothing

| January 20, 2016
Image: Flickr/GTEC

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They have learned nothing. They have understood nothing. They are the Bourbons of our time, though with rather less monarchical glamour.

They are Canada's own Conservative Party, already making clear their determination to recover what only months ago they believed might be theirs in perpetuity. So blinded are they by this sense of entitlement that they remain heedless of their own uncontrollable drive to self-destruction.

Take Tony Clement, a leading small-c conservative ideologue and cabinet minister under both Mike Harris and Stephen Harper. Since the Harper defeat, Mr. Clement has almost changed his tune. Almost. The new Liberal government moved swiftly to reinstate the long-form census that under him, to infinite ridicule and infamy, the Harper government scuppered.

But Clement does not criticize the Liberals for undoing his high-profile work. "In hindsight," quoth he, "I think I would have done it differently." But not a word, a phrase, a syllable, a single letter, to explain why he didn't do it differently when he had the power.

This week Mr. Clement was at it again. He is insisting the Liberals release a report that ostensibly justifies why they're not cancelling the reprehensible $15-billion arms deal the Harper government signed with Saudi Arabia. I'm with him here, of course. But this would be the exact self-same report that Mr. Clement and his colleagues themselves refused to release publicly back in their day.

For those who enjoy hearing politicians make fools of themselves, listen to Mr. Clement's As It Happens interview with host Carol Off. His bottom line: "I'm saying that if the judgment of the public was that we [the Harper government] weren't transparent enough and that they elected a government that promises to be more transparent, I'm calling on the government to live up to their promises."

Something like this warped sense of morality infects all the tattered remnants of the parliamentary Conservative Party. No more definitive evidence is needed than that revealed in the Globe's final front-page headline of 2015: "Tories vow to block electoral legislation." The Official Opposition party, we learn, having been unceremoniously turfed out as government, "is vowing to use any means necessary, including a Senate blockade, to keep the Liberal government from forcing through electoral-reform legislation without first holding a referendum."

"Any means necessary"? "Including a Senate blockade"! These people have taken complete leave of their senses. As they were so often in government, the Conservatives in opposition remain tone deaf when it comes to hearing their own malarkey.

The issue, it seems to me, is not the question of how we change our voting system, important as that is. It's how a democratic parliament works. But that question has long been irrelevant to the Conservatives, in opposition and certainly in government. Indeed, public opinion itself has been of no interest to the Conservatives. As government, they ruled to keep their beloved base loyal. That meant maybe 30 per cent or so of the public. The rest of us could go jump in the lake.

Now, suddenly, the Conservatives in opposition will not accept any new form of voting system unless it's approved by referendum. It's easy to be cynical about this position, since there's a widespread view that the Conservatives need the present first-past-the-post system to have another crack at a majority government. So they're desperate to keep the decision out of the hands of the Trudeau government.

A referendum may show the public is in favour of the status quo (though of course it may not). I am not a fan of referenda. They are too easily manipulated. It's hard to come up with a straightforward question for a complicated issue, and only too easy to misrepresent and over-simplify such issues.

Still, if the Official Opposition wants to promote a referendum, good luck to them. As opposition, they have the right to pressure the government to concede. They even have the right to use all tools available to that end, though many of those tools come awfully close to violating the spirit of democracy.

Of course, the Conservatives have genuine expertise here; their government spent a good part of the last decade violating the spirit of democracy.

Still, such tools have been used by all parties from time immemorial, if not longer. But as I've argued before, this Opposition -- given its wretched record in government -- must earn the right to use dubious means to their ends. They have so far done nothing of the sort, as the examples above indicate. They merely remind us why they were unceremoniously turfed out last October.

More obviously bizarre is the party's vow to use the Senate to help force a referendum on the government. Can they even be serious when they threaten this option? Have they been stuck with Matt Damon on Mars for the past couple of years? Is there a more discredited, undemocratic institution in all of Canada than our Senate? Does it have a jot or tittle of legitimacy left? Dare the Conservatives actually mobilize this misbegotten chamber to thwart the will of the elected House of Commons?

There is only one appropriate fate for a gang with this kind of integrity: Kevin O'Leary.

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.

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Image: Flickr/GTEC

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