I think I have been pretty consistent over the months I have been writing here in advocating, again and again, for a big tent party. Now, in an opinion piece in the Toronto Star, Prime Minister Harper’s former communications director, Angelo Persichilli, argues that:
- Prime Minister “Stephen Harper … succeeded only in building a “coalition” of conservative groups around his leadership, not a united party;” and
- Because “The ideological spread between the extreme right and left of the [Conservative] party is so wide … there is no blanket big enough to provide cover for both.“
In fact, he says, now “is not the time to unite, but the time to make choices,” and, as I read his article, he believes that the right choice, for Conservatives, is to recognize that “their core support lies among moderate voters from the right to the centre, and not those who lean towards the extreme right.”
I know some readers are tired of seeing it, but it is time to drag out the bell curve, yet again:
Now, I do not think you can argue that there is a spectrum of political opinion that ranges from the deranged few beyond the political Left to the odious few beyond even the hard Right, but some of you will argue that the ‘population’ above that spectrum is not as neat as mathematics would lead us to believe. And I’m prepared to conceded that Canadians ‘tack’ from left to right on a regular basis as they try to stay on their “moderate middle” course …
… and this might give the impression that, sometimes, the sails are more “full” on one side than the other but the fact is that there is the same amount of wind (political will) when the ship is tacking to starboard as when it tacks to port. Almost 70% of us are, most probably (sneaky mathematical term), in the political centre. That would be enough, in many functioning democracies, to have an effective one party state. Another almost 20% of us can be persuaded to support either a left leaning/centre-left or right leaning/centre-right party. That means that something like 89% of us are, at least somewhat, centrist. That why Mr Persichilli is right when he says that “Politics is about ideology and principles, but it’s also about mathematics.”
Mr Persichilli says, of Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative governments from 2006 to 2015, that “in the second part of its mandate the Conservative government changed direction and turned sharply to the right. This shift, and not the party’s failure to “unite the right,” was the cause of their electoral failure. They moved so much away from the centre that they lost most of the moderate vote that gave them a majority in 2011.” He acknowledges that there is a “left” to the CPC, but he blames pandering to the “right” for losing the moderate middle.
I agree that we, the CPC, “lost” the moderate middle and I also agree that some policy decisions helped to drive it away, but, with one exception ~ the “barbaric cultural practices” fiasco ~ I’m not sure the social conservative/religious right faction had much to do with it.
I think that Angelo Persichilli is correct when he says that there is no tent big enough to accommodate everyone in the 65±% of voters who I think are centre, centre right, right of centre and right segments of the “statistically predicted” voting population … there is not room for both some of the 19.1% who are centrists but lean left (the old Red Tories like Hugh Segal) and all of the 4.4% in the real right (people who would support no-one but Brad Trost). But the big tent doesn’t need to stretch that far. Our political goal ought to be to do what John Diefenbaker and Brian Mulroney did: erect a big enough tent to get fully ½ of the Canadians who bother to vote to vote Conservative because we offer the better (probably never the best in anyone’s eyes) mix of social, economic, foreign, agriculture, law and order, environmental, industrial, resource, immigration, defence, fisheries and First Nations, and, and, and … policies. It is very hard to do in a multi-party system … but it can be done and we, Conservatives, have done it, twice, since the 1958. (The Liberals have not done it since 1940 when there was a war and when the Conservatives were unprepared because Mackenzie King had promised, publicly, to not call an election during the war.) The 50%+1 tent is achievable but it doesn’t have room for some of the old Red Tories nor for some of social conservative/religious right voters.
The Conservative Party should not have room for those who want to impose their more/religious beliefs on others. That is not just a shot aimed at those who oppose e.g. gay rights, it also applies to those who think that their (often religiously based) socialist views ought to prevail in a liberal society … think of e.g. United Church minister David MacDonald who was a minister in Prime Minister Joe Clark’s government but, later, ran for the NDP. In my opinion we have room for neither policy in our party … BUT that doesn’t mean that there is no room for people who are bright Red Tories or social conservatives.
What Prime Minister Trudeau has done, denying e.g. pro-life ‘believers’ an opportunity to stand for election as Liberals is just as odious as imposing any other belief on free people. I am quite prepared to vote for a leader who has and who enunciates strong moral position with which I do not agree, BUT (another Big But) I am not prepared to support a party that tries to impose their moral standards (which the courts have decreed are private, personal matters) on other Canadians. I have discussed the “hot button issues” before …
… and I am unconcerned about what the leader or members believe, in their hearts, but I am concerned about what the party’s platform says. My Conservative party must vote Yes to equality at and under the law for all Canadians, Yes to equality of opportunity, Yes to social moderation, Yes to fiscal responsibility, Yes to a principled foreign policy, Yes to immigration, Yes to an efficient and effective military, Yes to property rights, Yes to respect for the laws as interpreted by our courts, and Yes to liberty coupled with individual responsibility. Non of these things are incompatible with the beliefs of 90% of the 65% I mentioned above … in other words there is no real reason why we, Conservatives, cannot appeal to nearly 60% of voters: all we have to do is enunciate better polices and show a record of more honest, open government than the Liberals. We have the second: prime Minister Harper left us an enviable record of good government, it cannot be not too hard to do the former, again.
Our tent may not, ever, be quite big enough to cover everyone who we might like to invite in, but it is big enough to win the 2019 election, if we have the right leader, and the one after that, too. We should not, as Mr Persichilli suggests that many want to do, concede, now, in 2016, that “the Liberal government is there to stay for at least two terms,” it is not immune to policy failure nor to public disenchantment and, therefore, it can be beaten … if we are “big enough tent” party.