The next Conservative leader should be a lot like a long dead Liberal

I said, earlier, in a post about the Conservative leadership race, that we should look to Liberal Prime Minister Louis St Laurent as a “model” for our next Conservative leader …

StLaurentKarsh001.jpg

… Uncle Louis, as he was often called, not always with great affection, was, in the words of Gordon Robertson, one of the best Clerks of the Privy Council (1963 to 75):

“… probably gave Canada the most consistently good, financially responsible, trouble-free government the country has had in its entire history.”

Do you think anyone said that about Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien or Stephen Harper? Of course not … and not just because they governed in more turbulent times. M St Laurent faced down a war and a serious recession and still gave Canada good, indeed excellent government.

He also, of course set forth, in the famous Grey Lecture of 1947, the base for the best, I would say the only real foreign policy Canada ever had. He laid down five principles:

  • Our external policies shall not destroy our unity. No policy can be regarded as wise which divides the people whose effort and resources must put it into effect.
  • Political liberty. This is an inheritance from both our French and English backgrounds, and through these parent states it has come to us from the whole rich culture of western Europe. It is a patrimony which we ourselves have enlarged by working out on our own soil the transition from colony to free community.
  • Respect for the rule of law has become an integral part of our external as of our domestic policy. The supremacy of law in our own political system is so familiar that we are in constant danger of taking it for granted. We know, however, that historically the development of this principle is a necessary antecedent to self-government. The first great victory on the road to freedom was the establishment in early modern times of the principle that both governments and peoples were subject to the impartial administration of the courts. Only then could the further step be taken by which the people gave their consent to the laws by which they were governed.
  • Human values. I know that we live in an age when it is fashionable to speak in terms only of hard realism in the conduct of international affairs. I realize also that at best the practice of any policy is a poor approximation of ideals upon which it may be based. I am sure, however, that in our national life we are continually influenced by the conceptions of good and evil which emerged from Hebrew and Greek civilization and which have been transformed and transmitted through the Christian traditions of the Western World. These are values which lay emphasis on the importance of the individual, on the place of moral principles in the conduct of human relations, on standards of judgment which transcend mere material well-being. They have ever influenced our national life as we have built a modern state from east to west across this continent. I am equally convinced that on the basis of this common experience we shall discern the same values in world affairs, and that we shall seek to protect and nurture them.
  • Willingness to accept international responsibilities … If there is one conclusion that our common experience has led us to accept, it is that security for this country lies in the development of a firm structure of international organization.”

These five principles broke with Mackenzie King’s timid semi-isolationism and animated M. St Laurent and his acolyte Lester B Pearson in creating the UN and NATO and the Colombo Pact. They served us well until Pierre Trudeau repudiated them (quite explicitly in the 1970 White Paper A Foreign Policy for Canadians).  The sad fact is that Conservative prime ministers Mulroney and Harper did not bring Prime Minister St Laurent’s principles back to life.

M. St Laurent re-built and then maintained strong, well equipped, superbly disciplined armed forces because he knew, instinctively, long before Joseph Nye’s “Soft Power” was published, that the the diplomatic, economic and socio-political influence that he wanted to wield in the world had to be backed by real, usable “hard power.” That was something that Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien never quite understood, in my opinion. I suspect that Prime Minister Harp[er understood that principle but he failed to act on it.

Prime Minister St Laurent was a social moderate: he was, I believe, a genuine “progressive” but he understood that he had to bring the whole country along with him … another lesson that I think Prime Minister Harper understood as he required Conservatives to accept that we cannot roll back the “social” clock to the 1950s.

And that’s what I want from our next Conservative leader:

  • Social moderation ~ (s)he, the next leader, may hold whatever personal views matter to her/him but (s)he will recognize that issues like abortion and gay marriage are “settled” in both law and society at large;
  • Good, fiscally prudent administration and management; and
  • A principled foreign policy backed by an efficient, effective, and strong national defence.

 

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