Joe Clark seems to have had an epiphany on the way to his new, smaller, Parliament Hill office. It apparently has dawned on Joe that, hey, he lost the election, is hanging onto official party status by his fingernails, and that future prospects for the PC party are looking discouraging. Time for a new strategy.

“What to do?” (You can see Joe’s brow knitted in deep thought.) “Ah, I’ve got it!” (The cartoon light bulb switches on above Joe’s head.) “It’s time for Progressive Conservatives to try cooperating with the Canadian Alliance.” At least that’s what Joe reportedly suggested at a party caucus meeting in London, Ont. Several weeks ago.

Uh … right, Joe. Isn’t that the same proposal Preston Manning almost begged you to consider two years ago? A plan that sounds a lot like the United Alternative, an idea you scornfully dismissed as being beneath contempt not long ago.

And when queried about Alliance leader Stockwell Day pouring cold water on the notion that the two parties could unite under the Tory banner, Clark reportedly commented: “That seems like a pretty stubborn attitude on his part.” Those who live in glass houses …

I have contended since before the 1993 election, in which the Tory party was routed and has never recovered, that there is not room in this country for more than one major right-of-center party, and that as long as the Alliance and the Tories slug it out for the small-c conservative vote, the result will be stalemate and a Liberal dynasty.

However, while the politics of reality may finally be sinking in even to diehard Tory dinosaurs like Joe Clark, the ideological schism within the ranks of Canadian nominal conservatism is much wider and deeper now than it was eight years ago, which makes the prospects for a successful shotgun wedding between the Alliance and Tories more remote than ever in practical terms.

For example, New Brunswick Tory MP John Herron was quoted commenting in London that whatever party structure might emerge from negotiations with the Alliance, it would have to be socially left, fiscally right, and be called “Conservative.”

The latter stipulation might not be too difficult – the Alliance already has “Conservative” in its official name. However, the rest of Mr. Herron’s laundry list isn’t going to fly with a substantial proportion of Alliance supporters who think that the party is already watering down its social conservative values too much. As they say down south, “that dog won’t hunt.”

If the price of a Joe Clark-style united alternative to the Liberals would mean accepting a pro-abortion, pro-gay rights, anti-religion, soft-on-crime agenda, you can count on it that a big chunk of the Alliance’s core membership is not going to play ball. And they would be right. Compromising basic moral principles in pursuit of power is ignoble and begs the question: “What is the point?” We’ve already got moral pragmatists in power with the Liberals.

What really needs to happen is for the Tories to decide whether they want to be real conservatives, or just another faction of liberal-humanists bent on turning Canada into a radically secular, multicultural, anti-religious, pan-sexualist dystopia.

As Stockwell Day himself observed in a speech delivered to the Fourth Annual National Conference of the Civitas forum (of which this writer is a member) last April 28, people who say: “I’m fiscally conservative, but I’m socially liberal” may be sincere, “but I think they misunderstand what conservatism is about. Conservatism is about acknowledging the permanent facts about human nature … primarily about curtailing the power of the state to manipulate society, while respecting the role of individuals, families, and communities to determine how they want to live their lives together.

“While many of these politicians have at last grasped fiscal reality, they have not yet awakened to our disintegrating social reality. But they will, and the day they do, many of those fiscal-conservatives-but-social-liberals will become unhyphenated conservatives. And when they do, they will find a ready home in the Canadian Alliance.”

“In the long run,” Day continued, “it is impossible to maintain a combination of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism because in the long run a socially liberal state, with its incumbent social challenges, is very expensive to maintain. It requires a large welfare state and a costly judicial and police system. A self-governing society with a limited state, by contrast, requires citizens who respect the virtues of family, faith, thrift, civility, and personal responsibility.”