A couple of days ago I commented on the thorny issue of assisted dying. I started addressing some of the difficult, “hot button” issues back in December when I suggested that our next Conservative Party Of Canada leader needs to be a social moderate.
Three points to get started:
First: I expect any serious leadership candidate to have strong, morally informed views on issues, especially on those contentious “hot button” issues ~ if all I wanted was a mindless, poll driven political sock puppet I would have voted Liberal. I expect that we, Conservatives, attract serious people into our ranks: people who want to deal with issues that matter to Canadians.
Second: I recognize that some social, “hot button” issues really do matter to a great many Canadians and I expect Conservative politicians to speak out on them, and unlike Justin Trudeau’s Liberals who are required to toe a rigid party line on many issues; I expect the party leader to allow members to speak (and vote) as their conscience dictates.
Third: I also expect leaders and members to remember and understand Edmund Burke’s Speech to the Electors of Bristol in which he set out the conflicting “duties” of a member and came down on the side of “one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.” I expect no less from all elected Conservatives: I welcome hearing them express the views of their constituents; I welcome hearing them express their own, personal views on issues, but at the end, when the roll is called for a vote, I expect them to vote for the “general good” based on a reasoned assessment of the issue at hand. That, working for the “common good” is what I think modern, 21st century Conservatism is all about.
What are those “hot button” issues?
In the recent past we have seen many changes in Canadian society, some of them are uncomfortable for many Canadians. they include:
- Gay rights ~ especially the right to marry and adopt children;
- Immigration and multiculturalism;
- Aboriginal rights and privileges;
- The right to die;
- Equalization as a Constitutional right; and
- The Canada Health Act.
Where do CPC leaders and members stand?
I don’t know, and in most cases I don’t care where either the party leaders or members stand on these issues, but I do care that they care about Edmund Burke’s principle and that, like me, they keep it constantly at the front of their minds. I expect that some members have “contrary” views on most issues; it we were all united around any number of these “hot button” issues then we would be a very small and an even more little boring party. We aren’t united on issues and that’s part of what makes us strong, dynamic and flexible.
I want all Conservatives to remember that we have a three stage process …
… and no one stage dominates the others. Some people, especially some populist conservatives, don’t like the system: they want the “voice of the people” to dominate, always; they want parliamentarians to be their sock puppets, voting as “instructed’ by their constituents; and they want judges and the courts to be subservient to the popular will. Those who follow my ramblings will not be surprised to learn that I totally and completely reject that form of conservatism; it is, in fact, what I think John Stuart Mill had in mind when he said …
… Mill should be, like Locke and Burke and the great American jurist Brandeis, and Canadian Louis St Laurent, a Conservative icon. We, Conservatives are the 21st century liberals while the Liberal Party of Canada, since about 1970, has fallen back onto the 19th century, ward heeling, vote buying sort “conservatism” that we hoped had been eradicated.
I expect real Conservatives, especially the aspiring party leaders, to:
- Respect the role of the courts and to honour and respect the rulings they issue … even when we disagree. We have, since the dawn of history, been looking for the “right” way to leaven the powers of rulers, and, since at least Old Testament times, the role of judges has been to do just that: to set examples of fairness and propriety and to amend the actions of rulers in order to protect the people;
- Consider that every individual is unique and that every individual’s rights need to be protected against the depredations of all collectives ~ including organized religion and the biggest “collective” of all: the apparatus of the modern nation-state;
- Consider that the while majority might rule, usually, it is not, always, wise or right;
- Understand that they represent everyone in their riding, not just the vocal plurality who supported them, and that everyone has interests in in how their community is represented in the “Chambre des communes,” literally (and more correctly) the “house of communities” and everyone’s interests deserve a fair hearing and airing;
- Try to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to use their own talents to secure their own peace and prosperity in their communities and in the country, at large. We all need to believe that we all have a right to try out best. But we must also all understand that no one has any special “right” to take the fruits of the labour of others nor to conscript people into providing a service. Physicians, for example, must have an absolute right to not perform abortions or to refuse to assist a suicide; and
- Accept that all rights, even the most fundamental rights to life, liberty, property (the ones set forth by John Locke in 17th century England) and privacy (as defined by Brandeis and Warren in 19th century America), have limits, and that rights often collide and then it is the duty of leaders, especially of politicians and judges, to reconcile the conflicts and make sure the limits are fairly administered. There is, in my opinion, nothing fundamental enough in life or even in one’s beliefs strong enough to overcome one’s civic duty to consider the “common good” and to act in support of it.
I fully expect to support a leader who does not share all, perhaps even most of my social libertarian values or my fiscal hawkish views, either. That’s how it should be; I expect the leader to stand up for the rule of law and the “common good” even when that means acting against the wishes of her/his supporters and even when that means acting against his/her own, personal beliefs and values. All I will ask of a leader is that (s)he has principles and that first amongst them is an unshakeable faith in the rule of law.