How to ‘re­new’ the right

‘ Things go up and down, but this is a low point’

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - Chris Sel­ley

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.


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