Sen. Don Plett’s reminder of what the Conservative base is supposed to be

Translation: ‘Don’t tell me about the base—I am the base’


There is a mythical entity—if you follow federal politics you’ve no doubt heard it mentioned in hushed tones—called “the Conservative base.” As the Senate expenses affair gyrates and hurtles in one unexpected direction after another, the base is being referenced quite a lot. Sen. Mike Duffy, for instance, claimed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper told him the real reason his housing allowance claims were problematic wasn’t because Duffy had broken any rules, it was because “the rules are inexplicable to our base.”

The embattled senator’s recollection of that testy exchange with Harper is open to question. But it stands to reason that the Prime Minister, and everyone who works for him, must be worried about what the party’s core supporters are making of the whole Senate mess. Yet in all the oratory expended on the controversy, uncommonly entertaining though much of it has been this week, nothing that sounded like a plausible voice of the base had been heard around Parliament Hill—until Sen. Don Plett stood in the Senate this afternoon to say his piece.

Plett is the owner of a plumbing supply business in Landmark, Man., and he looks and talks like he might well be. Don’t kid yourself, though. He’s also a battle-tested partisan operator, a past president of the Conservative party and onetime campaign manager for Vic Toews, the former Harper cabinet heavyweight and polarizing pillar of Manitoba’s right. He’s also reportedly a friend of Duffy, no minor detail in the context. For all that, Plett just doesn’t come off as that sort of insider. He exemplifies the style admired by Conservatives who so want to believe, even as their party’s run in power under Harper stretches on, that they will never succumb to the entitled mindset that they regard as the private preserve of the hated Liberals.

“I am a Conservative,” the father of four and and grandfather of seven said on the Senate floor by way of presenting his credentials. “I am a Conservative, first and foremost, because I believe in the principles of fairness and justice.” This might seem a strange way to define Conservatism. Isn’t it about, oh, small government or family values or something? But fairness, I think, is indeed what many Conservatives feel they stand for. They think Liberals and New Democrats are for fixing the game in favour of one group or another, one region or another, one set of cronies or another. Their party is supposed to be about the level playing field—fair and just.

Plett went on to apply this principle to the proposed motion, which is what the Senate is debating this evening, to suspend senators Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, all for various alleged violations of Senate expense and housing allowance rules.  Now, the Conservative Senate leadership, with Harper’s full support, says the upper chamber has the right to discipline its members. But Plett contends, in a way I suspect might strike a lot of base-type folks as about right, that the Senate’s imprecise internal codes don’t count for much now that the police are involved.

“If we had not sent this to the RCMP, I could understand how we could feel it was our obligation to propose sanctions, once we had allowed for due process,” he said. “If we felt that we had enough information and all the facts, this likely would never have been sent to the RCMP in the first place. Now, we are putting any chance of a fair investigation or future trial in serious jeopardy.”

It was different hearing this sort of argument from Plett than it was when Duffy held forth on Tuesday, or Wallin on Wednesday. Duffy was pure showmanship. His voice rose and fell, his range extending effortlessly from ironic asides to outraged hyperbole. All very good radio (no TV in the Senate). Wallin was more restrained, but indignant in the manner of someone used to being more than respected, and she ended by reaching, perhaps inadvisedly, for a defiant, wounded note.

Plett’s voice was flat, matter-of-fact, and yet not without authority. “I believe this motion came as a result of the belief that Canadians are angry,” he said in one key passage, then emphatically went on: “The only correspondence I have received from Canadians, since this motion was introduced, is to respect the rule of law and to not let politics get in the way of doing the right thing.”

In other words, hey, don’t tell me about the base—I am the base and I talk to the base.

Only after he had soldered together his argument, length by length, did Plett allow himself, at the very end, a bit of the sort of speechifying indulgence one might have more expected from Duffy or Wallin. He invoked his old dad.  “My father introduced me to the world of politics at the young age of 15,” Plett said. “He counselled and mentored me. He was a Conservative all his life. But first and foremost, he was a man of ethics and integrity. He taught me not to let politics get in the way of doing the right thing. He taught me to vote my conscience.”

Earlier in the speech, that would have been a bit too rich, the sort of thing that would have a critical small-town crowd musing, He thinks well of himself, doesn’t he? But Plett had set it up pretty nicely. With the flourishes and filigrees of Duffy and Wallin such recent memories, the father-and-son bit went over well.

And not just any father-and-son reminiscence, either. This one was about base-building at its most fundamental, familial, almost genetic level. No matter how the Senate expense fiasco plays itself out (and this evening’s debate still hasn’t ended as I write this), Plett’s unexpected moment served as a reminder of how a lot of Conservatives think a Conservative should sound.

Among Stephen Harper’s biggest challenges now is to somehow make the base forget that he appointed Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau, or at least forgive him for doing so, and remember that he named Plett, too.


Sen. Don Plett’s reminder of what the Conservative base is supposed to be

  1. Lordy….’my ole pappy done tole me……..’

    Pure cornpone. HeeeeHaw!

    • I can see how you’d say that as a Liberal, watching Justin Trudeau try to run away from everything his father ever stood for. But most Canadians learn a lot from their parents and can empathize with what he’s talking about.

      • LOL….Harp is up to his ass in alligators, Cons are dropping in the polls…..and you’ve been reduced to cornpone.

        Puir wee Ricky…..

      • He looked pretty classy down in Washington. A class act from Canada is not something they are used to seeing down there.

        • Justin’s dreaminess transcends international borders.

      • Rick, you can’t have it both ways: accusing JT of being his father’s clone and then blaming him for not adhering strictly to his father’s ideas.

    • He made some damn fine points though. Most sane commentary from the Hill all week.

  2. Interesting piece.

    A little off topic I know, but if I have to listen to one more self-important blowhard deliver his personal manifesto of what conservatives “believe,” I believe I will puke.

    • The convention is next week – you may have to unplug everything because it’s going to be a big revival meeting. Observers should be advised to wear hip waders.

    • I know it’s difficult for you Liberals who don’t believe in anything but winning power. But believe it or not, most Canadians have principles, and they often get them from their parents.

      • I may be a liberal, but I’m no Liberal.

        Yes, most Canadians have principles. The question is whether they adhere to them. I think you need to consider your own favorite party before accusing other parties of only caring about power.

    • Also, I assume you’ll be equally disgusted with Justin Trudeau talking about how “Canadians” feel all the time, as if he’s ever actually spent time with a middle class blue collar working man?

      • “Middle class blue collar working man”? Help me here someone, is that a mixed metaphor, and oxymoron or what?

  3. Fairness is not a unanimous word. Hardly anyone can cite its true definition, or the fact that it’s still consistently debate among philosophers. To proclaim you are the Party of fairness is to admit you are selfish and conceded, and those who do not prescribe to your definition of ‘fair’ are enemies, which goes against the fundamental establishment of the word itself. In order to overcome these discrepancies, one must be the Party of the people, and voices, and a Party that has a mandate from only 43% of the population and consistently silences and ignores its own members let alone the other 57% of the populations is not the Party of voices, merely an aggravated murmur.

    • So in other words, to stand for fairness, you must stand for nothing? That thinking explains a lot about the Liberal Party of Canada.

  4. Just one question Mr. Plett – why were willing to sell out on those principles until now? Was the bell tolling, and you were worried about who it might be tolling for?

    • What “selling out” are you referring to?

  5. I don’t think Harper considers Conservatives like Plett as “the base”. His Party’s whispering and dog-whistles generally aren’t meant for people honestly interested in fairness for all.

    • That’s right, because Conservative’s hate everything and are evil people who should be jailed.

      • For once I agree with you.

      • That’s pretty harsh. Only the drug-dealing Conservatives and the fraudsters deserve such treatment.

        I’m sure there’ll be some Conservatives left free after those others are locked up. Probably.

  6. Politics , ethics and integity , from father to son , a conservative with a concience is a lovely thought . So where did L’il steve get his ?

  7. Now hold the phone … It seems that many Conservatives believe that when Canadians lose their jobs and benefits they no longer have medical coverage for heart disease or cancer.

    Apart from their stunning ignorance about Medicare, at what point were these fearless legislators planning to stand up for all the little people who don’t get Parliament of Canada health benefits?

    • And a special thank-you to Shakespeare`s rep. for injecting a little common ( little people ) sense into this feeding frenzy.

    • Listening to the clip of Duffy talking about not having benefits to purchase his heart medications disgusted me. How many thousands of Canadians face that dilemma every day? How many of those thousands are surviving on an income considerably lower than Duffy has become accustomed to? I’m not at all moved by the Duffy pity party – despite believing that the basis of this motion is nothing more than a belated attempt at damage control. The problem started when the decision was made to appoint these 3 to the Senate.

      • Yeah – I doubt that inspired the sympathy he hoped it would. Waaay too cynical a tug at the heartstrings.

        • I’m surprised he didn’t use his wife as a shield. Must have polled badly the last time.

      • The problem started when the decision was made to appoint Duffy & Wallin to the Senate. It shows poor judgement on the part of Stephen Harper.

  8. Chantal Hebert pretty much got it right last night on television’s “At Issue”.

    To paraphrase her: The governing Conservative Party is well within it’s rights to suspend members from its own caucus because they disagree with them or just don’t like them. But it is an entirely different thing to use your majority to expel members you don’t like from a legislative branch of government. THAT is a horrible precedent.

    I think this is a one hundred percent political prosecution, and has nothing to do with the well being of the nation, for example treason or something serious. It’s indefensible and dangerous.

    This is only a petty little expense account transgression. It does not threaten the well being of the nation or its institutions.

    • I am in no way defending the senators at the core of this issue, but if those putting forward the motion to have the three booted out of the senate without due process can do it, why can’t the three being booted put forward motions to have their accusers booted, because apparently due process is not required, just accusations. Fair is fair, is it not?

      • Good point. I guess, as Chantal was suggesting, if this happens a lot of possibilities open up for a majority government.

  9. I’m over sixty, well educated, middle class, retired, fiscally conservative, live in the West, believe in hard work and achievement, am not particularly well off but have been careful with my cash, I even go to church sometimes, but I would rather pound nails into my head and get a roor canal, than vote cpc. The Harpercons take my demographic for granted at their peril.

    • You are not alone. :-)

  10. Every party has a base who will support them no matter what. Those people have subjugated thoughtfulness to ideology. I feel sorry for those people. They have denied their individuality and embraced group-think. Fortunately not all of us have succumbed to the pressures that would make us faceless, mindless, followers. It is up to we independents to make rational decisions about our futures, and our country’s.