Margaret Wente, writing in the Globe and Mail, got off a zinger or two about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Davos. “All the people at Davos,” she opined, “are the smartest people in the room. Like Mr. Trudeau, they are forward-looking and postnational. They believe that nationalist sentiment is a defect of the bitter clingers, who don’t understand that diversity (despite Cologne) is good for them … they are personally untouched by the seismic shifts underfoot. They’re on the winning side of change. Every year their lives get better and better.” But, she warned, the lumpenproletariat may have defied Marx and actually achieved some sort of “class consciousness” and they “are rising up, pitchforks at the ready. They are rallying behind Donald Trump – Trump! – in a massive rejection of every value a Davos Man holds dear. They’re convinced the elites have failed them. They blame the elites for the disruptions of globalization and technology that have stolen their jobs and their children’s futures.”
Is that the political future for Canada? Is it Justin Trudeau’s “sunny ways” and unicorns or is it a Canadian clone of “The Donald” and an angry mob with pitchforks? Is there not a sane, sensible, responsible Conservative middle ground where Canadians can find fiscal common sense, social moderation and real security?
Someone has, already, opened a Wikipedia page for the Conservative Party of Canada leadership election, 2017. It lists (with plenty of informative hyperlinks) eight candidates who have, already, “publicly expressed interest:”
- Maxime Bernier – Shadow Minister of Innovation (2015–present), MP for Beauce, Quebec (2006–present), Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism (2011–2015), Minister of Foreign Affairs (2007–2008), Minister of Industry (2006–2007) “self-described libertarian;”
- Michael Chong – MP for Wellington—Halton Hills, Ontario (2004–present), Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Youth (2006) and Minister of Sport (2006);
- Tony Clement – Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs (2015–present), MP for Parry Sound—Muskoka, Ontario (2006–present), President of the Treasury Board (2011–2015), Minister of Industry (2008–2011), Minister of Health (2006–2008), finished third in the 2004 Conservative leadership election, Ontario Progressive Conservative Party MPP (1995–2003) and provincial cabinet minister (1997–2003);
- Doug Ford – Toronto City Councillor (2010–2014), second place candidate in Toronto mayoral election (2014);
- Kellie Leitch – Shadow Minister of Health (2015–present), MP for Simcoe—Grey, Ontario (2011–present), Minister of Labour (2013–2015), pediatric orthopedic surgeon by profession;
- Kevin O’Leary – Entrepreneur, financier, and broadcaster;
- Lisa Raitt – Shadow Minister of Finance (2015–present), MP for Milton, Ontario (2015–present) and Halton, Ontario (2008–2015), Minister of Transport (2013–2015), Minister of Labour (2010–2013), Minister of Natural Resources (2008–2010), President and CEO of the Toronto Port Authority (2002–2008); and
- Michelle Rempel – Shadow Minister of Immigration (2015–present), MP for Calgary Nose Hill, Alberta (2015–present) and Calgary Centre-North, Alberta (2011–2015), Minister of Western Economic Diversification (2013–2015).
The Wikipedia article also lists five other “prospective candidates:”
- Jason Kenney – Chair of Shadow Cabinet Committee on Strategic Operations, MP for Calgary Midnapore, Alberta (2015–present) and Calgary Southeast, Alberta (1997–2015), Minister of National Defence (2015), Minister for Multiculturalism (2013–2015), Minister of Employment and Social Development (2013–2015), Minister of Citizenship and Immigration (2008–2013). First elected as a Reform Party and then Canadian Alliance MP before the merger;
- Peter MacKay – MP for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, Nova Scotia (1997–2004) and Central Nova, Nova Scotia (2004–2015), Minister of Justice and Attorney General (2013–2015), Minister of National Defence (2007–2013), Minister of Foreign Affairs (2006–2007), Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada (2003) MacKay did not contest the 2015 federal election and is not an MP currently;
- Rob Nicholson – Shadow Minister of Justice and Attorney General (2015–present), MP for Niagara Falls (1984–1993, 2004–present), Minister for Democratic Reform (2006–2007), Leader of the Government in the House of Commons (2006–2007), Minister of Justice and Attorney General (2007–2013), Minister of National Defence (2013–2015),Minister of Foreign Affairs (2015) and Shadow Minister of Justice and Attorney General (2015–present);
- Pierre Poilievre – Shadow President of Treasury Board (2015–present) MP for Carleton, Ontario (2015–present) and Nepean—Carleton, Ontario (2004–2015), Minister of Employment and Social Development (2015), Minister for Democratic Reform (2013–2015); and
- Brad Wall – Premier of Saskatchewan (2007–present), Leader of the Saskatchewan Party (2004–present). While Wall has declined interest, speculation persists that he may declare his candidacy for the federal leadership after the Saskatchewan general election in April 2016.
I have no doubt that there is, amongst this baker’s dozen of possible leaders, at least one who can and will lead the Conservative Party of Canada to victory in 2019.
But, as I have mentioned before, to regain government we have to:
- Keep our present “base” of about 30% of the electorate; and
- Add another 10 or 15 or even 20% to it. Brian Mulroney was the last Canadian prime minister, of any party, to win more than 50% of the popular vote (in 1984), but he showed that it can be done. Before Prime Minister Mulroney, it was another Conservative, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker in 1958; before him it was Prime Minister Louis St Laurent in 1949 and 1953 ~ the last time any Liberal ever won 50% of the popular vote (Pierre Trudeau’s best ever vote was just over 45% in 1968).
How can we do that?
The answer, it seems to me, is to keep espousing the values of honesty, frugality, responsibility and respect for the law, but, as Tony Clement has suggested, in Righting the Conservative Ship, we should also address issues that some Conservatives have avoided: poverty reduction, indigenous peoples, the environment, and so on. We need to be more in tune with the social values of younger families in the suburbs. We need to be all inclusive, a big tent party that excludes no one: not young, gay urbanites, not Muslims Canadians, not the pro-choice community … not anyone who obeys our laws and wants good government.
For myself, I want:
- A fiscal hawk who will lower taxes by lowering government spending but who will increase defence spending towards 2% of GDP. That, clearly, means that other spending must be constrained. We cannot, ever, not pay the interest on our debt so that means that social spending must be in my sights. I recognize how difficult that will be ~ we all remember Solange Denis ~ the little lady holding the sign (with a Liberal MP) in the photo ~ who frightened Brian Mulroney out of making some sense out of Pierre Trudeau’s social spending that, i the mid 1980s, was already unsustainable. But we have to do something, beginning, in my opinion, with “freeing” the provinces from the chains of the Canada Health Act. I understand that political strategists and some candidates, themselves, believe that we must have a certain Red Tory tint to our policies, that we must accept that social programmes, especially health care are “sacred trusts;” and
- A social moderate. I expect my leader to have principles and I will not mind if my leader is, for example, firmly pro-life, or supports gay rights or is openly gay, but I expect the leader to recognize that for the vast majority of Canadians issues like abortion and gay rights are “settled” in law, and I expect a Conservative government to govern for all Canadians, not just the political right. The fact that you or I or the leader may not, personally, approve of something does not mean that we should not “tolerate” that something, even join in “celebrating” that something, so long as it is within the law of the land and, broadly, our liberal, secular, enlightened and democratic socio-cultural traditions.
Finally, we have to campaign better, starting now. In the Globe and Mail, long-time Liberal insider Bruce Anderson wrote a column suggesting a “speech” a new Conservative leader might want to give. It has, doubtless, annoyed some Conservatives, but there are some points worth considering. He says (and I respond):
- “We must return to the idea of growing our support, not ring-fencing our supporters. To do that, we must concentrate on describing the outcomes we can achieve for people. We must not demand that they share our ideological DNA. Or leave the impression that we disrespect them if they don’t.” That’s just good common sense, isn’t it?
- “The future of Canada will always be shaped by a blend of progressive and conservative instincts, and will always be something of compromise by voters on both sides of the spectrum. It’s the way regular people live their lives, and it’s only natural that they expect politics to reflect this aspect of our culture.” Does anyone seriously dispute that? We need to promise to be “utilitarian:” providing the greatest good for the greatest number.” The biggest and best “good” is fiscal responsibility and a low tax, free trade economy that encourages investment and growth.
- “Conservatives don’t lack compassion. We believe in looking out for our neighbours and helping those in need. We join groups in our communities to get things done, by working together.” Yes, indeed. What we don’t, necessarily, try to do is to use government to replace community involvement unless or until it is clear that the community and the voluntary sector simply cannot cope. And, that’s my kind of Conservatism.