There is an important blog post in The Spectator by Paul Goodman, editor of ConservativeHome, which I hope Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party of Canada braintrust will take to heart. It is headlined: “How the Conservatives can win back young voters.” It’s something the Conservative party of Canada must do. In the last election Justin Trudeau, to his everlasting credit, persuaded young voters to come out and vote. Voter turnout in Canada has declined, fairly steadily, since the early 1960s (when it peaked at nearly 80%) but Team Trudeau convinced quite literally millions of new voters to come out (voter turnout was up from 61% in 2011 to 68% in 2015) and the Elections Canada data says that the biggest increase was amongst young Canadians.
Bravo Prime Minister Trudeau ~ we, all Canadians, owe you one for that.
Now the challenge is for Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives to persuade those young Canadian to do two things:
- Come out and vote, again; and
- Switch their allegiance away from the Liberals and, preferably, to the CPC.
Paul Goodman quotes some statistics from the UK which I suspect are fairly close to what happens in Canada: the political progressive-left gets three young (below 30) votes for every one that goes to the Conservatives. I saw some recent polling in Canada that suggested that, by about the same 3:1 margin, Canadians perceive the Liberals to be “modern,” young and “with it” ~ in tune with younger Canadians while the CPC is perceived to be “old fashioned” and “out of touch.” When most Canadians (three out of four) think “Conservative” they see this … a batch of white septuagenarians who, most Canadians suspect, wanted Stephen Harper to turn the clock back to the 1950s. Now, a couple of things about that photo: first, I’m in it; and second I would guess (but it’s a well informed guess) that almost all of the people in it:
- Voted, as they do in almost every election; and
- They almost all voted Conservative.
But I’ll tell you something else about that not so random sample:
- They are, mostly, old fashioned, classical liberals;
- They like our national health care system, even though most of them worry that it is unaffordable;
- They believe that we should be a caring and sharing, fair sharing, society but they also believe that we should all pay something, even if it’s just a token amount, for the “benefits” we receive;
- They don’t give a damn about homosexuality (they all know at least a few gay people) because they know, with the absolute certainty that experience brings, that all people, regardless of race, creed, gender or whatever, are equally good and bad, equally smart and dumb, equally brave and cowardly;
- They don’t mind paying taxes but they want the money spent carefully and productively;
- They want a strong military, but they want it used in pursuit of a principled foreign policy ~ and the first principle is self-interest;
- They don’t deny climate change, but they are unsure about what and how much Canada can (or should) try to do;
- Yes, they do, indeed, wish “things,” especially social values, were a lot more like they were in the 1950s, but they love their children and grandchildren and they are happy that they are out trying to change the world;
- They aren’t opposed to relaxing the criminal prohibitions against cannabis, but they suspect that, like alcohol, it impairs judgement and reactions and they don’t want ‘stoned’ people behind the wheel;
- They approve of Brexit;
- They dislike Donald Trump; and
- They mistrust Justin Trudeau because they think he is an intellectual and moral featherweight.
So, the people in that photo are, indeed, the very rock-ribbed foundation of the Conservative base, but it would be wrong, in my opinion, to assume that they are anything other than moderate.
After making some specific proposals for the UK Conservatives to win back the youth vote, Mr Gooman says, “Finally, a plea to see ourselves as others see us. I’ve never heard anyone who wasn’t politically active talk of a small or big state. Most voters want government to be out of their hair yet there when they need it. They respect, even if they don’t always like, politicians who deliver stable economic management and a competitive tax framework – which in turn raises the revenue to fund higher spending on schools, hospitals and other public services. Which is what Margaret Thatcher, free market heroine, delivered in her time.” This is the same plea I am making and it brings me to the good news in the recent Canadian poll I saw. While most people (3:1) saw the CPC as “old fashioned” the same proportion of people (about 3:1, again, as I recall) said that Conservatives were the only people who were any good at money management … in other words, ¾ of the 40% of the people who came out to vote knew, when they walked into the voting booth, that they were casting their ballots for a free spending rich kid who doesn’t know how to manage the nation’s finance, but they didn’t care. They were, in fact, just tired of Stephen Harper and austerity. … they wanted sunny ways, for a change. It was change for which they voted, not just Justin Trudeau. The Conservatives need to remind young voters, especially those who have just started a family or are thing about starting one that Justin Trudeau has already piled up bills that will be coming due when that baby turns 21. Young people, especially newly married young people are not fiscally ignorant nor are they irresponsible. But the Conservatives need to tell them the fiscal facts … without coming across like Ebenezer Scrooge (apologies to our distinguished Auditor General Michael Ferguson, but he does, sometimes deliver bad news with a scowl). There’s nothing wrong with laying out the bad news about Trudeau, and then promising to fix things, with a smile and a bit of warmth and understanding.
Many astute observers have said that the Conservative base of, say, 100 seats (the CPC and the former Canadian Alliance and PC Parties have averaged 118 seats since 2000), mostly West of the Ottawa River and fully half on the prairies, is pretty much secure, but the party needs to consistently win 75 more, and they are almost all in the suburbs around Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Hamilton-Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City and Halifax ~ where younger, hard working Canadian families live … many of whom are “new Canadians” and most of whom share at least some, usually many of the views and values I ascribed to the 15 to 20 white septuagenarians I discussed a few paragraphs above.
I believe that distinguished Canadian historian Michael Bliss was right, when back in May of 2000, in an article in the Globe and Mail, he drew a line, following the Ottawa River, “between Old Canada, which consists of Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces, and New Canada, which stretches from Ontario to British Columbia.” The Conservatives need to be, quite resoundingly, the party of Professor Bliss’ “New Canada.” That doesn’t mean writing off Atlantic Canada and Quebec, but it does mean that we need to look at these three graphics …
… and understand that the real, growing middle class is in “New Canada” and it has a high proportion of immigrants. Conservatives need to reach out to them, as I discussed yesterday, and persuade them ~ all of them, not excluding any group ~ that the party welcomes them and wants to work with them to help them and their children prosper in Canada.
The Conservatives need to have a platform that appeals to the firm base ~ a base that includes the religious right and the socially moderate and even progressive seniors like me. The platform must aim to expand the base to add millions of younger and middle aged Canadians, including many, many “new Canadians,” who live in urban centres ~ alongside many already Conservative seniors ~ and in the suburbs.
It doesn’t matter what individual Conservative leaders’ or members’ personal beliefs are: they ALL have to pass a handful of ‘litmus tests’ and one of them is, for example, marching a a gay pride parade. (Another is, somehow, being green in some moderate way shape or form.) Gay rights ~ equal rights for all ~ is a key test for many, many younger Canadians. If Conservatives even hint that the Conservative Party is less than 100% committed to equal rights for all then young Canadians will shun it ~ as they should. Most young Canadians are (relatively) colour blind when it comes to e.g. immigration ~ the Conservative Party must be, too. It is OK to enunciate an immigration policy that favours some regions ~ those like China, India and Philippines that consistently send us lots of first rate immigrants ~ but it is wrong to even hint that some immigrants are less welcome than others because of race or creed. It’s OK to be religious and to be anti-abortion and, in private, opposed to homosexuality; it is not OK, especially not with younger Canadians, to try to impose your personal, especially your religious, beliefs on others. Conservatives must remember that if the turban and kipa (yarmulke) are acceptable then there can be nothing wrong with the hijab (but, the niqab and, especially, the burka may be unacceptable when it is necessary to give proof of identity).
We, the old white folks in the Conservative base cannot have everything we want; we must ALL ~ fiscal hawks, social conservatives, free traders, pro-Israel folks, those wanting a strong military, Red Tories and social libertarians ~ compromise to make the big tent even bigger. The big tent needs to get the CPC 180 seats … and keep them, election after election. That means the party needs the white septuagenarians and young, Asian Canadian urban and suburban voters, too, and that means the party platform must address some of everyone’s issues.