A friend sent me this link the other day, Man who claims he’s Diefenbaker’s son closer to discovering true paternity. We laughed. For those of us who remember the former Prime Minister, even vaguely, the idea that he might’ve sired a child out of wedlock at the ripe old age of 70 with a woman in her 30s, Trudeau style, seems (yes, I’m going to say it) inconceivable. I mean, really. Look…
It also struck me as funny that someone would be so ardently pursuing his birthright to be known as a Diefenbaker. Perhaps it has more of a monetary significance, wrapped up as part of a battle over some uncle’s will. I didn’t read the article that closely. But here is a guy wanting to start living his life as “… as John Diefenbaker II.” A sentiment I never expected to see during my lifetime.
Again, for those of us old enough to remember Dief the Chief, he was the grouchy old man of Canadian politics. A 19th-century lion, hopelessly out of date in the swinging 1960s. It wouldn’t be a line of paternity I’d personally pursue. Lester Pearson, maybe. Not John Diefenbaker.
Which might have more to do with my political leanings than anything and maybe this has nothing to do with politics. Perhaps John George Dryden is simply reacting to the family squabble and a sense of betrayal at being raised by someone who wasn’t his biological father, a one-time prominent Liberal. Screw you, pretend dad. My real father was a Conservative! And not only a Conservative. One of the big daddies of Canadian conservatism.
Of course, it could much more gruesome. Flash forward some 40 years and put yourself in Mr. Dryden’s position. Searching for a father amongst today’s conservative contingent. Who’d you be looking at? Our prime minister? Mike Harris? Ralph Klein? George W. Bush? Dick Cheney? Any of the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls?
Viewed through that lens, I realize a major source of my disenchantment with this new model of the conservative brand comes in comparison to the one I grew up surrounded by. Robert Stanfield. Joe Clarke. Bill Davis. John Robarts. Decent men, driven not by hyper-partisan brinksmanship and a dedication to obliterate any and all opposition but by a commitment to the office they were elected to uphold. Possessing no belief that they had the only answers to the problems of the day, they were consensus seekers that sought the best solutions. It made them kind of bland compared to those that followed them down the right of centre path. A path leading deep into the radical fringes that were once treated as such, not embraced as the values Canadians believed in.
The new conservatism has morphed so drastically and so quickly that even 1990s conservatives, themselves very likely unrecognizable to conservatives 20 years earlier, are now sniping at them. Witness Ernie Eves’ harsh words about their treatment of Norm Sterling. “… those few individuals who decided that the Tea Party version of Ontario politics would be good in that particular riding.” He was being generous about it being just a ‘few individuals’. This is a fundamentally different conservative party than the one Ernie Eves was part of.
I did not cut my ties with conservatism. Conservatism left me behind, still hugging an imaginary middle that’s now considered pinko, socialist, communist and, most of all, hopelessly out of touch.
These are not our father’s conservatives. They are all the bastard children of a once honourable tradition and a wild beast unhinged of reason, compassion and the belief in a just society. It`s tough to imagine anyone in the mid-21st century looking back to embrace them as their own.