You have to hand it to Preston Manning and his diligent Reform Party as they pull into London this weekend for their national convention. While the party may claim to be a focused alternative to brokerage politics, Manning has always been a calculated strategist and bringing his entourage to London for the next few days could be one of the party's most brilliant strategies to date.
Not that Londoners should complain. The three-day conference, which started yesterday at the London Convention Centre, will attract upwards of 2,000 visitors to the city. The various delegates, supporters and media will be eating our food, drinking our beer (warning: avoid Ceep's house draft) and utilizing our lodging services. This kind of national exposure will be a wonderful boost to the local economy, not to mention the long term benefits for Tourism London.
But don't let Manning's cracking, pre-pubescent voice fool you Reform is here on business. After forming as a Western protest party, Reform has been gently sending their message east, offering Ontarian's a "sugar coated" version of their platform. While the results have been moderate, Reform is left with a major issue of contention, Toronto.
Canada's largest financial centre has been spoon-fed by Ottawa for years and this has often been at the expense of the West. While one can understand Reform's frustration, should Canada really focus all its resources in Calgary?
So what better place to send an Ontario message than from conservative London. This is a city where their right-wing message will likely find an audience.
Herein lies the paradox. Reform looks to want to implement their policies so that Western capitalists can thrive, all at the cost of Canada's social services. But they can only do this with Ontario's influential vote.
While you can't blame Reform for wanting to expand its support base, one has to wonder just what this sort of policy agenda is going to do for them. If the party is still a Western protest vote, then appeasing Ontarians is only going to alienate their core support. If they maintain their desire to "re-balance federal-provincial powers" they are unlikely to win a vote east of Manitoba. After all, this "re-balance" involves taking power from Ontario (even Quebec) and sending it westward.
Manning's "strategy" seems to involve a toning down of the issues in order to make them a little easier for Ontario to digest. While this is classic patronage, it seems that all Reform's selling is one big contradiction which looks and sounds a lot like a ticking time bomb.
Be wary of Preston Manning, London. He wants your vote and he'll come right to your front door to get it.