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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reformers, managers and divorce on the right

Over the past weeks, many more grassroots conservatives have become disenchanted with the Conservative Party. After Stephen Harper introduced a budget packed with political stimulus in which adherence to any sort of conservative principle was near-impossible to detect, the excuses that "the minority made me do it" or "the Coalition made me do it" are getting tiresome.

In sharing my thoughts about what those of us who favour less spending, lower taxes, and a more limited role for the federal government might do in the present circumstances (it would hardly be good advice to start voting Liberal or NDP), I recommended that we turn away from electoral politics, instead directing our efforts towards engagement in our communities and "spread[ing] to our neighbours the belief that individuals should not be subservient to their government." Because most Canadians still operate under an assumption that the proper role of government is to care for them and shelter them from the consequences of their actions, leading any presumptive conservative party to drift to the left in pursuit of political power, "any efforts at electoral change," I suggested "are only likely to be successful if accompanied by a corresponding change in the attitudes of the electorate."

Despite my pessimistic outlook on the attainability of positive changes through elections or politicians in Ottawa, I noted that I would nevertheless welcome "a fracture of the Conservative Party along Blue Tory/Red Tory lines."

Arthur Weinreb, writing in the Canada Free Press, proposes just that as a fruitful course of action for Canadian conservatives:

But what should the small “c” Canadian conservatives do?

Well, they could break away from the CPC and form their own party. As a philosopher, if not the greatest that ever lived then certainly the only one to catch a perfect game in the World Series once said, it seems like déjà vu all over again. The reality is that Canada pretty well lost all hope of ever getting a real conservative government when the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance merged to form the party that is now in government. Much like the current economic crisis, it might not have been foreseeable that it would happen under Harper’s leadership but the Conservative Party was bound to morph into the old Progressive Conservative Party; a party slightly to the right of the Liberals and one that easily tends to be more “progressive” than “conservative”.  We are now pretty well where we were before the merger, minus of course the Reform/Canadian Alliance.

Conservatism is not the norm for Canada. It is not enough to simply campaign on the grounds that Conservatives can run the country better than the Liberals can.

Conservatism has to be sold in much the way that Mike Harris did in Ontario in the mid 90s. A conservative party must be content, at least in the foreseeable future of affecting power instead of obtaining it. Small “c” conservatives could learn a lot from the NDP. Love them or hate them, they generally adhere to what they believe in.

Whenever someone in that party suggests that they move towards the centre in order to increase their vote, they are gently (ok, usually not that gently) told that these centrist policies are not what they believe in. Despite the fact that the NDP has never held power federally, they have affected much of this country’s social policies. A party on the right could also influence the two centrist parties, one of which is always in power.

The move to unite the right did not, nor likely never will, result in a “conservative” government. Small “c” conservatives who are happy with the Harper government are merely settling; forgoing conservative principles in favour of a liberal-light party whose main claim to fame is that it is more palatable than the Liberal Party.

If the principles of conservatism are ever going to make inroads in Canada, we need a political party to advance them. It’s time to disunite the right.

Read the rest.

While there's much to agree with in Weinreb's piece, as I see it, the right in Canada was always disunited.

There are two groups: the managers and the reformers. The managers are those (Red Tories, entrenched partisans etc.) who have no opposition to a Conservative Party which subsidizes industry, supports expansive welfare programs, retains the Trudeau legacies of bilingualism and multiculturalism, in short, provides a right-ish flavour to the policies of the Liberal Party. The reformers, on the hand, are many, and they desire nothing more from their government but that it leave them alone to live their lives, manage their money, and raise their families as they see fit.

Perhaps because of a misplaced faith in democratic politics, unwarranted goodwill, a superficial analysis of the system of state power, or, most tragically, an impatient ardour for change, too many from among the latter group placed their hopes and their confidence in the former, believing that a single united political party was the best and quickest avenue to the sort of government they desired. Aside from the oft-remarked upon leftward drifts, we have observed that when combined in a single party, the reformers, disposed to want as little as possible to do with politics, either cede control or simply lose out to the managers, who make the better politicians. For this reason also, pragmatism always trumps principle, concessions win out over advances, and deferral takes precedence over action.

Faced with the evident failures of this "united" approach, it is long overdue for those who still believe in limited government and decentralized power to make the disunion formal, to divorce themselves completely from the managers, to no longer defend them nor lend them support -- whether some among the reformers choose to form a new political party is by comparison immaterial.

Posted by Kalim Kassam on February 10, 2009 in Canadian Conservative Politics | Permalink


Here is a solution, take control of the conservative party nominating process in each riding. Use control of the local party apparatus to find like-minded conservatives to run in ridings. In ridings with incumbents, we can use the local party apparatus to either get the local mp to follow our wishes or find someone to replace him. Also, push for party legislation stating that mps are allowed to vote against the party leadership wehn they are voting contrary to party members' wishes.

Posted by: Jackson | 2009-02-10 8:27:30 PM

You may find the "excuses" tiresome, Kalim, but until you come up with a workable alternative, your protests amount to nothing more than unproductive kvetching. If you wish to spend forty years in the wilderness preaching to an empty pulpit, be my guest.

You said it yourself: The reformers lose out to the managers. That's because 90% of the job of running the country, either from right or left, is the same, especially in Canada. We always need managers; we only sometimes need reformers. So it's better to have managers willing to make reforms when possible than to have simply reformers.

I'm not thrilled with the spending package either. Unlike you, however, I don't see a credible alternative.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-10 8:36:16 PM

Splitting the conservative vote simply elects Liberals. If you like the governments of Jean Chretien and Paul Martin you'll endorse a split of the conservative vote. If you don't like that idea, push for a majority and incremental change. That's as good as it gets.

Posted by: gary | 2009-02-10 8:37:50 PM

How about true reformers join together with members of the Libertarian and Christian Heritage Parties to form a true conservative alternative. This new party could be based on tax cuts, free trade, deregulation, gun rights, banning the human rights commissions, opposition to abortion, pro death penalty(and other tough crime measures), eliminating the senate, holding national referendums on the appointment of supreme court justices, adding a charter amendment including a right to private property, adding a charter amendment stating a right to hunt and fish, banning affirmative action, and an end to transfer payments.

Posted by: Theo | 2009-02-10 8:46:25 PM

Those are all worthwhile goals, Theo, but in a democracy, the majority rules--and the majority of Canadians are, at best, ambivalent on many of those topics. Canadians are notoriously apathetic and actually grumble when offered an opportunity to select the next government.

I just don't see that there's an appetite (yet) for a conservative alternative. In the near term this is as good as it gets.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-10 9:37:40 PM

In 1973, in order to join the (Alberta) Libertarian Alternative, Canada's first libertarian Party, in order to ensure purity of principles, we had to be psychologically tested. Naturally, the purity of our libertarianism was not the reason we went nowhere. To the mainstream electorate in those days, libertarianism was unknown. And that hasn't changed much over the last 36 years.

Purifying the Conservative party will only lose more votes because conservatives and libertarians are on the wrong side of the cultural drift which has, over the last half century seen the leftist and green dominance of most of the institutions which influence political leanings outside of families. Education, entertainment, unions, (mainstream) churches, mainstream media, and even the rent-seeking business community all lean left.

It will take much more than recreating the Reform (sprinkled with libertarians) - Alliance - Conservative evolution to start to reduce government. Likely only after a sustained generation of Conservatives and libertarians going to each classroom of every high school (like the Sierra Club or Green Peace) with coherent messages and similarly influencing all of the above institutions, will we start to see a real shift.

There are, of course, undemocratic techniques for change along with extreme event trauma (rhymes with Obama) which could accelerate the shift.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2009-02-10 9:48:07 PM

How about doing all you can to ensure a Conservative majority the next election?

It's totally do-able.

What's the alternatives?

Bitching? Or moaning?

Posted by: set you free | 2009-02-10 9:58:15 PM

Incremental change in the right direction not the wrong one. I laugh at this idea that Harper must flow with the wind and act to save his own ass. I voted for a party of principle, not one that changes with the wind, and abandons conservative principles in a heartbeat. In fact if the budget was designed simply to retain power that makes Harper a very evil man - he was willing to bankrupt our great nation just so he could find power. Disgusting.

Our leaders need to have principles and lead by those principles - not take orders from left wing think tanks.

Posted by: Faramir | 2009-02-11 2:46:55 AM

Forget it set you free. The Conservative Party doesn't deserve a majority and has demonstrated it should not have one. If they act like self serving Liberals now they will only do that more with a majority.

Posted by: Faramir | 2009-02-11 2:48:41 AM

How much better is it, then, that the Liberals get the majority instead? At this point you actually seem to prefer that to a Conservative majority.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-11 6:14:35 AM

On the other hand: http://www.newsweek.com/id/183670/output/print

Posted by: anonymous | 2009-02-11 6:50:38 AM

No, but I would prefer to see a Liberal MINORITY. Put Harper into the woods for awhile to rediscover his NCC self.

Posted by: Faramir | 2009-02-11 1:54:28 PM

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