Who do we need more of in Canadian politics: free-thinkers or conformists?
Conservative Rob Anders has been re-elected as a Calgary MP five times since his initial win in 1997, when he was picked to replace a fellow named Stephen J. Harper, who was retiring from politics forever. In each re-election, Anders' share of the popular vote has steadily increased, climbing over 11 points between '97 and 2011, from 51 per cent to 62 per cent.
His closest competitor in the last contest, Liberal Janice Kinch, was only able to eke out a measly 17 per cent. Thanks to such consistently strong showings over the last decade-and-a-half, Anders' district of Calgary-West has now become one of the safest safe seats in the entire country, on par with Libby Davies' East Vancouver or Rona Ambrose's corner of Edmonton.
So needless to say, some bright lights in the Tory party have decided this man must be destroyed.
On Tuesday, the CBC's Evan Solomon show broke the news that a gang of dissent Calgary Conservatives have decided to mount a nomination challenge against Mr. Anders before the next federal election. It's basically the Canadian equivalent of one of those "primary challenges" Tea Party-types are constantly waging against unsatisfactory Republicans, only Anders' intra-party rivals are coming from the left of the political spectrum.
Sitting awkwardly beside the MP in a joint interview, rebel spokesman David McKenzie told Evan that his group is seeking to depose Anders for being a "disappointment" who has routinely "embarrassed" his riding. Anders retorted that this whole thing is very obviously just the latest episode in the "age-old battle" between the so-called "Red" and "Blue" factions of the Conservative Party.
Though McKenzie predictably denied any allegation of ideological motive (I'm "as Blue as Mr. Anders thinks himself to be," he puffed) the contrary evidence is pretty unambiguous.
Alison Redford, the progressive former UN lawyer whose 2011 installation as Alberta's fifth PC premier sharply shifted the province to the left, accelerated the growth of the conservative Wildrose party, and led to a dramatic rejiggering of the provincial Tories' electoral base, launched a similar left-wing challenge against Anders back in 2004.
Her successor this time is widely expected to be Ron Liepert, Redford's ex-campaign manager. According to Anders, the Redford/Liepertites also enjoy the support of Janice Kinch, who as we may recall from an earlier paragraph, was the federal Liberals' candidate against him in the last federal election.
Anders' supposed sins in the eyes of this ideological clique are well known, in part because the media never tires of repeating them. He's pro-life, pro-gun, and opposes gay marriage. He's an evangelical Christian, a teetotaller, and a supposedly 40-year-old virgin who doesn't believe in sex between unmarried partners.
He's been virulently critical of unions, multiculturalism, the CBC, hate crime legislation, Islamic radicals, the Communist government of China, and yes, Nelson Mandela. In short, he's a right-winger with a philosophical worldview sharply distinct from that of the modern left -- which is of course anathema to Red Tories.
As much as they like to portray themselves as partisans of a proud and coherent school of Canadian political thought, Red Tories are not actually a thing. By and large, they're simply people who are either too stupid to realize they're Liberals or New Democrats, or do realize it, but live in ridings where it's impossible to openly get elected under that label.
Their great hero is Joe Clark (who Premier Redford once worked for, and whose former employees she's been installing everywhere), a man who has not voted Tory since he led the party, who endorsed Paul Martin for prime minister, who Elizabeth May has mused about making an honorary Green. He now spends his time writing books about how awful Stephen Harper is.
If pressed, the Reds might claim that their identity is based around being "fiscally conservative but socially liberal," but such rhetoric is among the emptiest of empty truisms. There is no party in Canada today that claims either fiscal irresponsibility or social regression as a core tenant -- this is a bit like saying your ideology is sane planning for a sensible tomorrow.
No, "Red Toryism" is merely the pseudo-intellectual cover used by a certain segment of the Canadian left to conceal what's really a far darker agenda: the idea that voters should have as few choices as possible during election time, that all parties should be more or less the same, and that "debate" should entail only the slightest, gentlest deviations within a settled progressive consensus.
For what it's worth, I'm not completely infatuated with Mr. Anders. To generalize President Mandela's entire political career as that of a "terrorist" when his leadership of the armed resistance wing of the African National Congress, entailed, at best, a year or two of a long and productive life seems needlessly petty, and I didn't care much for the crass anti-Americanism he displayed in analogizing Canada's 1812 war against Madisonian republicanism with our current war against Al Qaeda fascism.
But at the same time, Anders also represents an independent spirit in Canadian democracy that's under attack from all sides these days, from reactionary journalists who seek to turn any controversial opinion into a career-killing "gaffe," to so-called parliamentary reformers like Michael Chong who want to make it easier for party elites to veto the political ambitions of the unconventional or unorthodox.
Rob Anders' successful, 17-year career personifies a sharp rebuke to the forces of conformity and hegemony. Anyone who values free thought and dissent within this country's stagnant political culture should find common cause in his plight.