In 1968, George Wallace said that there wasn’t a “dime worth’s of difference” between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey.  Implicit there was the suggestion that Americans were not satisfied with echoes and preferred choices.  As it happens, Wallace was the last third-party presidential candidate to win Electoral College votes.  Besides 14 percent of the popular vote, he took Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi.  In 2000, the difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore was barely quantifiable.  Yet, despite the Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan candidacies, the Republicrats took over 96 percent of the popular vote.  In 2004, they will likely top 98 percent.  In America, third-party votes were once thought wasteful; now, they are sinful.

In Canada, we have many choices: third, fourth, even fifth parties.  Forming new parties is easy and cheap, as there are strict limits on campaign spending.  Any party that manages two percent of the vote gets taxpayer funding and free airtime.  In the 2004 election, the two leading parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, together won less than two thirds of the vote and only 234 of the 308 seats.  Curiously, however, the leaden echo of political uniformity is as loud here as in America.

No, I haven’t forgotten Canada’s separatists, the Bloc Québécois, who rebounded to take 54 of Quebec’s 75 seats.  However, considering that Quebec independence can occur only as the result of a provincial election, the presence of separatist MP’s in a federal assembly remains something of a mystery.  Yes, the Bloc fights for ever more money and privileges for Quebec, but given that, for 34 of the last 36 years, Canada’s prime ministers have been Quebeckers (Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin), its efforts in this respect appear somewhat otiose.

In all other respects, the Bloc is a typical Canadian party: “fiscally conservative, socially liberal.”  That is, corporatism and globalism in economics and perpetual revolution in society: the destruction of the historical and traditional Canada and its replacement with the proposition nation set out in the 1982 Constitution and Charter of Rights.

One method used to accomplish this transformation is the election of a new people—a continuous onslaught of Third World immigrants combined with official multiculturalism, ethnic quotas, hate speech laws, etc.  You might think that the Bloc, sworn as it is to the preservation of French culture, would oppose these policies.  Separatist Premier Jacques Parizeau blamed the defeat of the 1995 separatism referendum (by a mere 50,000 votes) on “money and the ethnic vote.”  The ethnic vote did split at least 9-1 against separation, while the Francophone majority (80 percent at the time) split 60-40 in favor.  So Parizeau was correct, and, clearly, Canada’s immigration policy is death to the separatist cause.  The Bloc has never stopped apologizing for Parizeau, however, and it has become received wisdom that he must have been drunk that night.  You don’t need to be drunk to speak the truth in Canada, but it helps.

Canada already has the highest legal immigration rate in the world, but the Bloc believes it isn’t high enough.  Neither does the New Democratic Party, which purports to speak for the “working class.”  I once pointed out to a leading NDP intellectual that Canada’s immigration policy separates the working class from its work and constitutes an enormous transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.  Judging by her astonishment, she had never this before.  She called it a “right-wing argument.”  I pointed out that Alan Greenspan, the Wall Street Journal, and Conrad Black’s National Post would disagree, but, by then, she had stopped listening.

The Liberals also support higher immigration, as well they might.  They have established a goal of one percent annually, 310,000 per year, of which about 225,000 will become Liberal voters after attaining citizenship.  Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver are now majority non-Canadian and elect Liberals almost exclusively.

The Conservatives, too, support higher immigration.  So all four of Canada’s major federal parties support a policy that benefits only the Liberals, even though opinion polls have demonstrated consistently that as many Canadians oppose as support Liberal orthodoxy on immigration.  I have highlighted immigration and multiculturalism here, but I could have chosen any number of issues to make my point—there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Canada’s political parties.

How did this happen?  Isn’t the multiparty system supposed to prevent uniformity?  And whatever happened to the Reform Party, anyway?  Didn’t it flourish by providing a choice and not an echo?

It is a chastening experience to read one’s past political prognostications.  After the 1997 election, I informed the readers of National Review that Canada’s Progressive Conservatives were “finished.”  They had, I insisted smugly, “learned that the wages of pragmatism are death.”  Three years later, Reform was dead, euthanized by its founder, Preston Manning.  Four years after that, the Conservatives, no longer “Progressive” but more pragmatic than ever, were back as Canada’s perpetual me-too Official Opposition.

Reform (1987-2000) was the most successful federal third party in Canadian history but ultimately accomplished nothing, squandered a generation of activism, and left Canadians even more cynical.  Its rise and fall deserves close study by anyone contemplating the establishment of a right-wing American third party in opposition to Karl Rove’s Republicans.

Reform (like the successor parties it spawned) is proof of O’Sullivan’s Law: An organization that is not explicitly right-wing will become left-wing over time.  Reform was never right-wing, even though almost all of its MP’s and early supporters were.  At Preston Manning’s insistence, Reform was a populist party.  Like all populists, however, Manning had the uncanny knack of conflating his own obsessions with the popular will and then manipulating his supporters into the belief that his ideas were actually theirs.  Primary among Manning’s ideas was that he should be prime minister.

Manning declared that he stood outside the superannuated binary categories of “right/left” and “liberal/conservative.”  This was no challenge to the hegemony of Canada’s liberal elite, however, to which Manning became captive.  He was terrified lest Reform be “perceived” as “extremist,” “racist,” or “homophobic” and “moderated” his party accordingly and futilely.

Manning’s unconditional surrender on immigration took place as early as 1991, when he threw William Gairdner to the wolves.  Gairdner was, amazingly enough, a best-selling Canadian conservative, author of an erudite monograph called The Trouble With Canada.  Unlike Manning, Gairdner was willing to challenge liberal hegemony.  A popular speaker, he raised a lot of money (without fee) for the fledging Reform Party.  For his pains, Gairdner was traduced as “an extreme libertarian with strong nativist sentiments” and “anti-Asian”—and banished.

The crowning irony of this squalid incident is that the hatchet job on Gairdner was published by Alberta Report magazine, itself traduced routinely as “extremist,” “racist,” “homophobic,” etc.  The hatchet was wielded by editor Ken Whyte, later the founding editor of the National Post.

Manning always played by elite rules.  He was determined to make Reform the most politically correct party, and Canada’s electoral laws made this possible.  Here in Canada, just like everywhere else in the British Commonwealth, the parliamentary ideal has been turned on its head: The leader elects his caucus, his candidates, and even his membership.  He is an absolute dictator.

By 1997, it had become obvious that Manning had been too cute by half.  Reform suffered the consequences of being tarred as right-wing; not being right-wing, however, it could not reap the benefits.  Manning had taken the party as far as he could: from zero to Official Opposition in a decade.  A remarkable achievement, but Manning wasn’t about to step aside voluntarily.  Instead, he announced the United Alternative, Phase One of a merger with the Progressive Conservatives Reform had left moribund.  This resulted in the loss of most of Reform’s principles, as well as Preston Manning himself.

In 2000, the new party, the Canadian Alliance, improved on Reform’s result, while the Progressive Conservatives had their worst popular vote result ever.  The reaction of the Alliance, of course, was to initiate Phase Two.  The terms of the merger were this: In exchange for the loss of the word Progressive, the new Conservative Party lost the rest of Reform’s principles and committed itself to being further to the left than the Progressive Conservatives had been back when the right deserted them to start Reform in 1987.

Under leader Stephen Harper, Manning’s former deputy, the Conservatives fought the 2004 election as more “pro-choice” than the Liberals.  Harper refused to say whether he would support a parliamentary veto if the Supreme Court ruled that Christian churches must marry homosexuals.  His slogan had seemingly been borrowed from Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis: Just win, baby.  Harper lost, despite a Liberal Party weaker than it had been for a generation.  In response, he announced a further “moderation” and purged what remained of the party’s timorous “social conservatives.”

The moral?  Elite values determine party values, not the other way around.  All the new parties in the world cannot change this truth, and, until the right internalizes it, its partisan efforts serve only to bolster its enemies.  Fool me once, shame on you; fool me 17 times, shame on me—as someone once said.