OTTAWA — HEATH MACQUARRIE is a rare bird in Canadian politics: a left-leaning, liberal-minded member of Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative Party.
He likes to say that if he had been a member of the British Parliament under conservative Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady most certainly would have referred to him as a "wet" (as in "wet hen"), a back-of-the-hand she reserved for liberal-leaning members of her Conservative party.
Instead, the 73-year-old senator and former member of Parliament from Prince Edward Island is known here on Parliament Hill as a "red" or liberal-minded Tory, one of the few remaining Conservatives of that ilk.
"I suppose they [Reagan-Mulroney-Thatcher-style conservatives] realize this species is so rare now that they're not terribly dangerous," says the cherubic-faced islander with a strong Scottish accent.
"Sometimes I think I'm the last of the red Tories, which is about as exciting as being the last of the Mohicans," he says.
But when Senator Macquarrie arrived in Ottawa in 1957, a newly minted Member of Parliament from Canada's smallest province, red Tories made up an entire wing of the Conservative Party. Louis St. Laurent was Canada's prime minister and Dwight Eisenhower was president of the United States.
Placing Macquarrie in time can seem irrelevant, however. Because while prime ministers and presidents come and go, Macquarrie has become a Parliament Hill fixture, appointed in 1979 to the Senate.
Entrenched as a savvy observer of Conservative politics, Macquarrie attended his first political meeting at age 11. Last year he published his political memoirs, entitled "Red Tory Blues," setting forth a red Tory's lament at the shift to the right his party has taken over the last decade under Mulroney.
Despite his ideological isolation, Macquarrie seems just as excited as any Conservative about the party leadership race as it moves toward its climax. The leadership convention running today through June 13 will be historic, because it will for the first time choose a new Conservative Party leader to take the reins of power from a sitting Conservative Prime Minister.
"My personal morale has gone up tremendously since the [Mulroney] withdrawal," Macquarrie says.
"We've had a long time of the rightist mandate. The country has shown that it hurts them. We have grave unemployment in this country, an increasing scorn of the political process and the political institutions that is very very dangerous."
From Macquarrie's left-of-center viewpoint, the free-trade push and its attendant dropping of tariff barriers designed to protect Canadian business is a mistake, as has been much of the privatization of Crown corporations. He favors full financing of Canada's omnibus health and welfare system, in contrast to Mulroney conservatives, who have trimmed deficits in part by cutting welfare and health-care benefits.
William Neville, a political scientist at the University of Manitoba, aptly describes a red Tory as one who "while upholding many traditional values and cherishing traditional institutions, was possessed of a social conscience and saw in the power of the state the means of ameliorating the worst excesses of the market.
"The red Tories have tended to believe in strong central government and to resist the provincializing tendencies of the latter days, and they are usually thought of as Canadian nationalists."
"I find the government under the present prime minister much more eager to be embraced in the big brawny arms of Uncle Sam," Macquarrie says.
"I don't think that in exporting Reaganism to the north that much has been done for our people," he adds.
What does he think of Kim Campbell, the favorite for nomination as party leader and then for prime minister?
"She's going to be interesting," he says. "There's something about her.
"Many are comparing her to [former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre] Trudeau, who was quite a phenomenon ... [and] caught on with the public."
Referring to both Ms. Campbell and her nearest rival for the nomination, Minister of Environment Jean Charest, Macquarrie is succinct.
"None of them is a red Tory or close to being one," he says. "The race has tightened a great deal. Mr. Charest is very attractive and articulate and has run a good campaign."
Though Campbell seems quite capable of winning enough votes from the field of 3,800 conservative delegates to win on a first ballot, that could change, Macquarrie says.
"The delegates are all selected now, and they are strongly in her favor," he says. "She almost has enough to win it on the first ballot. But it would be a very incautious person who would predict that she would win it on the first ballot."
Macquarrie says frontrunner Campbell is excellent one on one with delegates.
But since public opinion polls are shifting away from her, delegates may be swayed toward Charest.
"We have to watch out for the Flora MacDonald syndrome," says the long-time observer says of the first woman to run for the Conservative Party leadership in 1976. Ms. MacDonald had a substantial number of "committed" delegates, but the number of votes actually cast for her fell significantly short, handing the victory to former prime minister Joe Clark.
"I don't expect a one-ballot convention," he says. "A lot of things can happen on the way to the second ballot."