The social conservative dilemma

Patrick_BrownI have some sympathy for Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown who is described, in a National Post article by Michael De Tandt (that is, ostensively about rookie, teen-aged Ontario MPP Sam Oosterhoff), as being “Based on his voting record … a so-con himself, as Ontario Liberals adore pointing out … [because] … To the teensy extent Stephen Harper allowed formal expressions of social conservatism within the federal party, Brown as an MP joined them. In campaigning for the Ontario PC leadership, and again during the by-election fight in September in Scarborough-Rouge River, he aligned himself with opponents of sex education — though in the latter case he famously recanted.

As Mr Den Tandt explains, “Allowing his party to be aligned with social conservatism — whether through opposition to abortion rights, opposition to equal marriage or parenting rights for gays and lesbians, belief in creationism, opposition to sex education or any other religious-inspired view that smacks of fundamentalism — would be just such a blunder. Indeed it is the one thing, based on recent history, that could torpedo Brown’s chances of becoming premier … [and] … Brown is now quashing any so-con tendencies within his ranks, clearly for the same reason Harper did a decade ago: He understands this will be the surest weapon in the Liberals’ arsenal as they seek to shift attention away from their grotesque mismanagement of the energy file, among other items. That is presumably why Brown whipped the vote last week on Bill 28, the Wynne government’s All Families Are Equal Act … [despite the fact that] … nearly half the 29-member PC caucus were sorting their sock drawers during the vote (including Oosterhoff, whose swearing-in was unaccountably delayed until the next day) none voted against. Bill 28, which enshrines equal parenting rights for LGBTQ Ontarians, passed unanimously.

At the national level we have three self proclaimed social conservatives seeking the leadership …

… all three are admirable men who have served their constituencies, their party and their country well and each brings some strong values to the table.

But the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) faces the same dilemma as does the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (PCPO): “Allowing [the] party to be aligned with social conservatism — whether through opposition to abortion rights, opposition to equal marriage or parenting rights for gays and lesbians, belief in creationism, opposition to sex education or any other religious-inspired view that smacks of fundamentalism — would be a blunder. Indeed it is the one thing, based on recent history, that could torpedothe Party’s chance at securing government in 2019.

But like the PCPO the CPC wants and needs to have the support of those tens, even hundreds of thousands of voters who, time and time again, send real social conservatives to Ottawa.

I have described before where I think the social conservatives fit on the spectrum. I used personalities to describe what I see as a four party “structure” in Canada …

Slide1

I think there is a politically viable social conservative “wing” and I would rather that at least some of it resides within the Conservative Party because it shares that party’s core policy values. But I think that 75+% of Canadians are social moderates so the most that social conservatives, like economic socialists, can ever hope to achieve is the status of “king maker.”

(As an aside, the reason the Liberals favour some for of ranked ballot system for elections is that they are the “natural” first choice of, say, 30% of Canadas and the second choice of many, many Conservatives and most “Dippers,” so they are, almost, a shoo-in for power again and again and again. The NDP, on the other hand want real PR because that will, normally, give them something like 50 to 70 seats. We, Conservatives, want to stay with FPTP because it gives us reasonable and regular chances to form governments.)

So, what to do about social conservatives?

  • First: treat them with respect.
  • Second: allow them to speak out with their very real very principled concerns; but (there’s always a “but” isn’t there) ask them to temper how they express what Michael Den Tandt calls any “religious-inspired view that smacks of fundamentalism;”
  • Third: make sure Canadians understand what while, unlike the Trudeau Liberals, we, Conservatives, allow our social conservatives to speak and vote their conscience, the Party‘s position and that of any Conservative government is and will be one of social moderation that will include agreeing that abortion rights, gay marriage and adoption and so on are all settled issues.

I think we, all Conservatives, including social conservatives, must understand Michael Den Tandt’s point that while: “It was voters who sent Oosterhoff to Queen’s Park … [and] … Contempt for him is contempt for those who elected him. Less-than-urbane social conservatives could, one supposes, be dismissed en masse as a “basket of deplorables … [but, equally, supporting social conservatives and treating socially conservative voters with the respect they deserve] …  will be the surest weapon in the Liberals’ arsenal as they seek to shift attention away from their grotesque mismanagement.

Now, some social conservatives will see my three points, above, and the justification for them, provided by Mr Den Tandt, as, de facto, assigning them to the status of second class Conservatives ~ allowed to be seen and heard, as the Liberal Party‘s committed Christians who oppose e.g. abortion and gay rights cannot be, but not heeded. Some will want to leave the party over that. But I would suggest that there are precious few really first class Conservatives for whom all the party’s polices align with their beliefs. I for example, a fiscal hawk and social libertarian do not expect the Party to implement my views on many policies … but I can still support the Party.

My current guess is that one of these folks, from amongst the declared candidates, will lead our Party into the 2019 election:

(I think there is still time for another one or two get into the race if it appears that none of the current dozen can secure enough support, perhaps one of these …

… but I’m not sure how well any these three might do on the campaign trail … French ability, alone, being a decisive factor.)

If the Party picks a declared social conservative (Andrew Scheer) then I am convinced he will lead us to another defeat for the reasons Michael Den Tandt explained: Canadians are socially moderate and they do not want to turn the clock back to the 1950s.

We, Conservatives, should want to keep our social conservative wing, but it would be a serious mistake to allow it to lead us on policy issues. If we are serious about offering Canada good, fiscally responsible government then we must be a socially moderate party.

2 thoughts on “The social conservative dilemma”

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