How to ‘renew’ the right
‘ Things go up and down, but this is a low point’
The prevailing wisdom about Stephen Harper’s incremental conservatism was that having shrunk government spending — at least from the peak it attained under his watch — Canada’s no- deficit/ l ow- tax orthodoxy would cement smaller government in place. Tack on a few signature policies, say sayonara to the Canadian Wheat Board and the long- gun registry, and you had something like a legacy.
Welp. The Liberals ran on a promise of borrowing and spending billions, won a majority, and are now busy managing deficit expectations upward.
These things are “cyclical,” says Preston Manning, who observed in a recent op- ed piece that Conservativeoriented political parties in Canada are now out of office federally and in eight of the 10 provinces.
“These t hi ngs go up and down, but this is at a low point,” Manning said. “So our whole point is recharging the right — what do you have to do to renew ideologically … what do you have to renew on the policy side, and what you’ve got to do to renew organizationally.”
The federal Conservatives are better placed to rebuild than some of their provincial counterparts. But their ideological and policy concerns are second to none as the conservatives gather in Ottawa Thursday for the 2016 edition of the Manning Centre Networking Conference.
The aftermath of October’s federal election has at times been downright humiliating for Conservatives.
Within a month, former i ndustry minister Tony Clement expressed his regrets over the cancellation of the mandatory long- form census. He conceded there might be ways to protect both valuable data and Canadians’ privacy. Had the party not made a “collective” decision to ditch it, he said, “I think I would have done it differently.”
Just spitballing here: Perhaps he might have chosen not to imply Statistics Canada head Munir Sheikh was on board.
Within two months, former health minister Rona Ambrose, now interim leader of the party, seemed to come around to liberalizing marijuana laws. “Pot dispensaries are popping up everywhere,” she said. “( Trudeau) said he is … going to keep it out of the hands of kids and so I’m waiting to see his plans.”
Times change, of course. “I’d almost be more worried about somebody who got into government 10 years ago and had exactly the same positions,” Manning ventured. But it wasn’t 10 years ago that Conservatives were claiming legalization was a Trudeauvian plot to hook your kids on reefer. ( Reefer if you’re lucky!) It was October.
Also within two months, Conservative MP Scott Reid was telling his constituents that electoral reform would make it “virtually impossible to remove ( the Liberals) from power” — in a fundraising appeal, no less. Some conservative- friendly pundits s uggested even ranked ballots would doom the Tories forever. Absent a r eferendum, Ambrose threatened to block reform legislation in the Senate, using a Conservative majority her former boss promised never to appoint.
“In the end,” said Manning, who supports a referendum, “your success should not depend on what kind of electoral system is there.” No kidding. Do conservatives really have so l ittle confidence in their solutions? In their powers of persuasion?
Perhaps yes. It recently fell to the Liberals to release the details of the 2012 spending cuts that brought the federal books back into balance. The Conservatives never mustered the courage to share them with us, or perhaps they just thought it was none of our business.
Indeed, the Harper Conservatives never managed to sell Canadians on many conservative solutions they didn’ t al r eady appreciate — fiscal prudence ( perhaps now in remission) and homeland security. For the sake of the conservative movement, that has to change.
The Manning conference weekend program features discussions on many key items: marijuana and electoral reform, as previously discussed; the environment in general and the oilsands in particular.
“Conservatives should be stronger and more proactive on the environmental side, and they should be champions of the market- based approach ( to greenhouse gas emissions) rather than just massive government i ntervention,” said Manning. Instead, they used carbon pricing to bonk their opponents over their heads, and how many pipelines did it get them?
As big as the necessary rethink is, the program is notably devoid of a keynote speaker. Manning Centre spokesman Colin Craig says presentations by five potential Conservative Party of Canada leaders — MPs Michael Chong, Tony Clement, Maxime Bernier and Lisa Raitt, along with financier/ broadcaster Kevin O’Leary — are meant to attract similar interest.
But when i t comes to ideological and policy “recharging,” a good keynote can go a long way. It can unlock principles long since swallowed, as Ron Paul did three years ago with a rapturously received libertarian tub-thumper.
Maybe it’s just too soon. Maybe nerves are still too raw for that sort of thing. But in a year’s time the Tory leadership race will be just t hree months away. The need for a comprehensive ideological, policy and organizational reset in the meantime is dire.