A few days ago I suggested that some potential Conservative political platform planks are “simple” because most Conservatives can agree on the basics. I included fiscal, foreign and defence policies in that list.
I specifically said that being “simple’ did not make such policies easy.Take defence policy, just as an example. I’ll bet that an overwhelming majority of Conservatives would agree with a statement like “Canada should have strong, combat effective, well equipped armed forces that we can use, to protect and promote our vital interests, anywhere in the world.” The problem is that I’ll also bet that an equally overwhelming majority of Conservative would agree th“Canada must be fiscally responsible ~ a balanced budget, within the next few years, is our to priority.“
Now, Justin Trudeau has, sort of, suggested that he will, sometime and after fiddling with what gets counted as “defence” (the unarmed, civilian Coast Guard, for example), grow the defence budget to about 1.4% of GDP. He hasn’t exactly promised when that new money will appear ~ it’s just another vague Trudeau promise. But he was, before this defence spending promise, already on track to run HUGE deficits until about 2050, so, clearly, he’s not worried, at all, about being fiscally responsible. But Andrew Scheer has promised to balance the budget … and Conservatives, indeed most Canadians, expect no less. Conservatives, and, again, most Canadians, will not look kindly on tax hikes so how does a Conservative government both
- Balance the budget; and
- Strengthen the military?
The answer is: with great difficulty!One way to balance the budget is to grow the economy; one way to grow the economy is to expand trade which means, inter alia, free(er) trade with China ~ a proposition that many Conservatives oppose for several different reasons. One of the things the Chinese will want is better, more assured access to our oil reserves: they will want to be able to “buy in” to the oil sands and they will want a pipeline to the West Coast … that will continue to put the (hopefully Conservative) federal government on a collision course with the First Nations and with groups like the (American) Tides Foundation that have very deep pockets when it comes to funding groups that want to keep Alberta’s (and Saskatchewan’s oil in the ground.
So, even two seemingly “simple” (easy to agree on) policies may be difficult to reconcile.
I believe that, unlike Stephen Harper who preferred a very pragmatic, incrementalist approach, Andrew Scheer needs to (at least in his own mind) develop a grand strategy to help him unify Canada’s fiscal, foreign, trade and defence polices and reconcile them with domestic priorities, too. Being a convinced and committed free(er) trader I want to see that as one of the cornerstones of our grand strategy and, as I have also mentioned, being a free(er) trader means being committed to maintaining the freedom of the seas and that means having a large Navy which would be a radical change of course for Canada. It also means getting our resources, including petroleum and dairy products, and manufactured goods to tidewater to be sold around the world: to Africa, to the Anglosphere,* to Asia and Europe and, of course, to America. I do not believe that isolationism or protectionism work … both, it seems to me, are historically destructive courses of action, even when they are wildly popular. We should also want to trade more freely in banking and insurance and entertainment and in the “knowledge” industries. That means allowing free(er) movement of money, people and ideas ~ that will also disturb some people, including some Conservatives.
I think enough Canadians will have suffered enough “buyers’ remorse” by 2019 to send Justin Trudeau and his Liberals to the political rubbish heap … but they will need to be persuaded to come out and vote, in large numbers, FOR the Conservative Party. That means we have to offer a coherent suite of policies make good sense and are not frightening. We might want to start with a coherent, interlinked, set of fiscal, foreign trade and defence policies.