A few weeks ago I suggested that “To win in 2019 the Conservatives … need to think boldly and to think big.” One “big idea” I put forward, just as an example, was a guaranteed annual income or negative income tax, because, I said, it is a very conservative idea of a libertarian sort. I have also suggested embracing the notion of having 100 million Canadians by the year 2100 … becoming, I said, an increasingly “brown” nation because I am about 99% sure that most newcomers will be from China, India and the Philippines. I have also suggested aiming, again, to be a leading middle power even though that is unlikely to be a political “bestseller” because it would mean spending a lot more on our national defence.
I have also talked on and on about health care and about free(er) trade and CANZUK. Any of those issues could be massaged into a “big idea” that will excite voters, especially younger voters in the suburbs around the big Canadian cities.
I remain convinced that Prime Minister Trudeau is going to continue to stumble and fumble and fail because he is, very simply, just not up to the job. I remain convinced that Andrew Scheer doesn’t have to beat Justin Trudeau in sex appeal or even “likability” but he can and must beat him on sensible, achievable, popular policy grounds. I remain convinced that Conservatives can form a majority government in 2019 … can but not necessarily will unless they can excite voters.
To win in 2019, assuming that voter turn out will remain, roughly, the same, the Conservatives and the NDP, primarily, need to take about 2,000,000 votes (that’s about 11% of the votes likely to be cast) and those two million votes have to “swing” 85± seats away from the Liberals ~ 75± to the CPC and 10± to the NDP. Those seats are pretty much all in the suburbs around Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Toronto and in the “Golden Horseshoe” around Toronto. That should give us some idea about what kind of big idea is needed. It’s probably NOT about foreign or defence policy.
Who is in those suburbs?
Of course, the majority of suburbanites are still “old stock” working and middle-class Canadians but the suburbs, especially around bigger cities, are getting much more diverse in ethnicity and family structure. But we are, more often than not, talking about people with slightly better than high school educations, who live in small (3 or 4 member) families in which both parents work ~ often one works full time and one part-time and, of course, there is almost always a second full-time job in the home.
Issues that matter:
- Health care ~ availability, coverage and cost;
- Immigration ~ especially “family reunification” which is one part of a solution to another major concern ~
- Child care;
Polling indicates that most Canadians still trust Conservatives to deliver sound fiscal programmes.
The big difference, it seems to me, between Conservative and Liberal social spending and tax issues is that the Liberals, being essentially progressive, want to give everyone everything they need but, since they will not tolerate “means testing” they end up giving “entitlements” or tax breaks to those who don’t need them which makes the programmes inefficient and too costly. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are happy to use the tax system as a kind of invisible “means test” and, thereby, to give “boutique tax cuts” that target specific groups ~ parents of school-age children, for example. This philosophical divide means that the CPC has an advantage in explaining to suburbanites how it will, simultaneously, “contain” social spending and give working/middle-class families tax breaks. The suburbanites understand basic budgeting, they are good household managers themselves and they know that balanced budgets are necessary, even as they, personally, want tax breaks.
The same issue might make a sane discussion of health care possible. My sense is that many young families are frustrated by the current health care system: by the wait times, by the difficulty in finding a primary care, family physician ~ and some of the examples are horrible ~ and by the fact that neither dental care nor pharmaceuticals are adequately covered. A “big idea” health care reform proposal might say that Canada needs a coast-to-coast-coast comprehensive health care system that:
- Does what Tommy Douglas proposed back in 1947 … which wasn’t “free” medical care for everyone for everything, it was a health insurance scheme that would save people from the catastrophic expenses that often accompany a serious illness; and
- Covers all medically necessary treatments;
- Provides essential dental care;
- Covers high-cost prescription drugs; and
- Doesn’t threaten provinces with financial ruin.
Providing balanced budgets, lower taxes and better services requires both:
- Better, more businesslike management in Ottawa: and
- New revenues.
Government isn’t a business and managing a G7 government is not like managing, say, the Royal Bank of Canada or Imperial Oil, but that doesn’t mean that governments have to be bloated bureaucracies tied in knots with red tape. Government can share the management of e.g. health care with efficient private sector groups including insurance companies and hospital management companies.
For health care, especially, new revenue is essential … but Canadians are unwilling to pay higher and higher and higher taxes when they se little or nothing in return for them. Canadian know that nothing is really “free.” They, those working and middle class suburbanites understand that they are the “single-payer” for everyone. They will listen to sensible proposals to make things work better.
The Conservative Party must hang on to the 95+ seats it has now and earn 75+ more in 2019. Those seat are all out there, they are all winnable IF the Party can build a platform that will appeal to a couple of million more people than it reached in 2015. Those people have voted CPC in the past and they will again IF they are persuaded that the CPC has real answers to their real issues.