The stated purpose the United Alternative initiative — spawned by Preston Manning, leader of Reform Party of Canada — is to create a new party to defeat the Liberals in the next election. Unfortunately, Manning’s approach forebodes failure.

His strategy involves inviting non-Liberals together to debate a platform of “principles” — “fiscal responsibility, social responsibility, democratic accountability, re-balancing, and equality in the federation” — that are so vague and elastic that communists could accept them. For example, “fiscal responsibility” could be achieved whether the government extorts 1% or 99% of our income. “Social responsibility” could be stretched to mean forced equalization of everyone’s wealth, etc.

The essence of this strategy is to eschew basic right-wing principles — such as individual rights (including property rights) and free enterprise — in the name of attracting the anti-Liberal vote.

Manning himself declared that the right-left distinction in politics is “outdated,” and he’s willing to sacrifice his right-wing principles for a broad “consensus.”

But if Liberal policies are bad (and they certainly are), then it’s because they are based on bad ideas or principles. The proper strategy for a good alternative to Liberals would be to first clearly identify and explain to Canadians why Liberal principles are bad. (The remaining steps would involve clearly defining good principles and policies, and then rationally persuading Canadians of their merit.)

For example, consider an issue Canadians are deeply concerned about: health care. Liberals champion socialist medicine, which means government as a monopoly provider of “free” health care paid for by money extorted via progressive taxation.

The principle underlying this Liberal policy is Karl Marx’s dictum: “from each according to ability, to each according to need.” Or, as Finance Minister Paul Martin stated it proudly: “Our health care system is blind to income so that its eyes can focus on need.” It’s the morality of altruism — the belief that one has a moral duty to sacrifice oneself to others, to the collective.

Implication? To the extent one is ambitious, creative and productive — and thereby earns much money — is the extent to which one is robbed to pay for the health care of those who (for whatever reason) earn less. Also, those who take good care of their health are forced to pay for those who don’t. The overall effect is to discourage productiveness and responsibility while encouraging laziness and irresponsibility.

But that’s not all. Under free-market medicine (i.e., the true right-wing alternative ), health-care providers compete for a patient’s money by offering the best value for it, thereby making providers directly accountable to patients, thereby encouraging innovation and cost-efficiency. Under socialized medicine, providers are accountable to governments, which extort money virtually at will from individuals regardless of whether the individual approves of the quality. Hence, the incentive to offer patients higher quality at lower prices is replaced by the incentive to appease bureaucrats and politicians whose objectives typically include appeasing pressure groups and expanding government size and power at the expense of individual liberty.

The outcome is predictable — first costs rise (without a corresponding rise in quality) until governments can no longer get away with borrowing or raising taxes; then governments attempt to control costs by enslaving doctors and reducing services; then lineups grow for special services while the better doctors flee to freer, greener pastures. This predictable outcome is now history — costs have soared, people are dying in long lineups and many good doctors have fled.

The Liberals — rather than being champions of health care — are actually enemies of health care. (This principled approach would yield similar conclusions regarding education, jobs, old-age security, etc.)

But does Manning champion health care by rejecting the destructive left-wing principle underlying socialist medicine and defending a right-wing alternative? No! He has embraced socialized medicine and routinely chastises Liberals for not throwing more money down its drain. (Liberals frequently point out to him that he can’t have his cake — lower taxes — and eat it too.) Why? Because Manning _feels_ that a majority of Canadians will never vote for a party that opposes socialized medicine.

In other words, the benefit or destructiveness of a policy or principle is irrelevant to Manning — all that matters is whatever he thinks the majority happens to believe right now.

The first casualty of Manning’s pragmatist philosophy is a real alternative to Liberal policies. By eschewing principles, Manning is reduced to copying whatever the Liberals do on the premise that “that’s what got them elected.”

The second casualty is unity. Only rational principles and logical persuasion can unite people to a common and noble purpose. Asking them to blindly eschew their principles — be they true or false — in the name of unity can only beget frustration, bitter power struggles and despair, i.e., disunity (as our experience with Quebec separatism has demonstrated).

A truly United Alternative party would debunk and reject the Liberals’ philosophy of altruism-collectivism-statism, which is ruining Canada, and rationally and proudly defend the opposite philosophy: rational self-interest, individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism.