So, I see, according to an article in the Ottawa Citizen, by Shachi Kurl who is Executive Director of the Angus Reid Institute, that “In a trend reminiscent of Sally Field’s famously misquoted Oscar speech, “You like me … you really like me!” let there be little doubt that members of the Liberal Party base still like Justin Trudeau. They really do … [and] … Probably to the chagrin of his critics, they still like him for being the leader the Conservative Party worked so hard to mock. They embrace that “nice hair,” that exuberance, those sunny ways.” Even though he has stubbled and bumbled and lied and failed to keep most of his promises, his base is still loyal to his ideals. The report says that Andrew Scheer’s potential “base” ~ those who did not say that they would never consider voting Conservative ~ is larger, but it is less firm. Those who believe Justin Trudeau believe in him, quite firmly; those who believe in at least some of the Conservative or NDP leaders’ ideas and ideals are far less firm. It got me to thinking about ideas and ideals and, inevitably, institutions.
On my daily walks about the city, our nation’s capital, I often pass the Supreme Court, the Parliament buildings, several churches, the Bank of Canada, the Prime Minister’s Office building, the National War Memorial, National Defence Headquarters, many banks and government agencies like Export Development Canada and city hall and the court house … each has a function in our society; some are trusted by almost everyone; others are trusted by only a few.
I have also been reading former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s new book, Right Here, Right Now, and one of the points he makes about e.g. Brexit and the the election of President Trump is that people, ordinary, average working people like our friends and neighbours all over the West, which includes Australia, Japan, Europe and North America, have lost faith in many institutions and in the ideas and ideals behind them. When people lose faith in one institution they, almost, automatically, start to mistrust many others in the same field; thus when people lose trust in, just for example, elected civic officials that same mistrust spreads, quickly, to all others, at all other levels, because “they’re all the same, aren’t they?” And sometimes it’s not at all hard to understand why some many people say that …
… our politicians do not always hold themselves to high enough standards.
Sadly, there is a spillover of mistrust to institutions, like the Bank of Canada ~ which gets tarred by the same brush used by opponents of the Federal Reserve in the USA ~ and even the courts. Once again, attacks on Canadian courts often parrot attacks made by Americans who mistrust a much more politicized judicial system. There is also a growing mistrust of other institutions …
… and it spreads until we lose faith in all of the institutions which are meant to bind us together in parishes, communities and nations precisely because they can be trusted.
I believe that one of the main differences between principled conservatives and the progressives who, for now, control the Liberal Party of Canada is a belief in the importance of institutions …
… churches, parliaments, universities, banks, libraries and other institutions have shaped, nurtured and preserved our cultures and our societies. To many progressives they are just something to be used as they try to advance their ill-defined, ever-changing social goals. To conservatives, they are anchors that keep society secure and stable in storm-tossed seas.
Not all vital institutions are public, it’s not all about government, after all … many of our most important institutions are private, as they should be, and they are organized and directed and managed and operated by people like you and me for our own purposes as well as for the general good of society.
Institutions, public and private, are, it seems to me, integral to a conservative (and Conservative) mindset. Prime Minister Harper has said that real conservatives are pragmatic incrementalists who, essentially, want to do the best with what’s available to achieve that old utilitarian goal of providing the “greatest good for the greatest number,” and that means working within the established, institutionalized, rules and systems to make things work somewhat better for more people. This is in contrast to the progressive mindset which aims to redress every single perceived grievance of every individual by rewriting each rule, over and over again, in a hopeless search for perfection. The rules by which we live, together, in reasonable harmony, in functioning societies are set by institutions ~ again large and small public and private; the institutions are central to a modern, functioning, progressive society … one wherein most progress is made, in Canada, anyway, incrementally, by pragmatic, sometimes even quite progressive conservatives like Stephen Harper, Lester B Pearson and Louis St Laurent, even though that latter two were Liberal prime ministers they were socially moderate, fiscal conservatives who both put great values in Canada’s institutions.
Credo (I believe)
I believe that Conservatives must embrace institutions, again, despite what Prime Minister Harper says, in his new book, ‘Right Here, Right Now,‘ about being pragmatic and tailoring the Party’s platform to the wants and needs of working and middle class Canadians, because I believe that Canadians value their institutions and I believe that one of the things Canadians fear is that the institutions they want to trust, need to trust, have become overly politicized and, now, serve the ideological goals of e.g. the Laurentian Elites, or have become the servants of the infamous 1%.
I believe that Conservatives must be cautious about making the media into the enemy. It is no doubt quite true that many in the media are more interested in challenging Andrew Scheer on his (lack of a) carbon reduction plan than they are one challenging the government’s carbon tax regime; it is also irrelevant because, while it may work for Donald Trump in the USA, it did not work for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in 2015. I believe that the media is biased: some of it, rather a lot of it has a progressive, left of centre, bias; some, not much, but a bit, is centrist, and some ~ both media outlets like the Sun chain and some individual journalists ~ is/are quite markedly conservative. I believe that the Conservative Party must accept and even assert that a constructively critical media is an important institution in our liberal democracy and deal with, all of it, fairly and honestly. To do otherwise risks too much and it also makes Conservatives look like they are trying to hide something. One constant theme of both the Liberal and New Democratic Parties and of the progressive media is that Conservatives have a hidden agenda. Attacking the messenger, rather than the message plays into that.
I believe that being honest works. I believe that it is OK, for example, to say something like “the geopolitical situation that obtained when Prime Minister Harper set our, Canadian, carbon reduction goals ~ the goals that Prime Minister Trudeau has accepted, unchanged ~ has changed. Prime Minister Harper set those goals when the US (Obama) administration was committed to a set of policies and programmes, including carbon pricing, to reduce America’s carbon footprint. Canada’s proposals were in line with that, as they had to be because we live and work on a shared, cooperative continent. But now President Trump has upended everything and it is no longer clear that we can meet our Paris targets without doing serious damage to Canada’s economy. We, Conservatives, don’t think it has to be a one or the other, take it or leave it situation and we are consulting with thoughtful people on how to balance both the environmental and economic (jobs) issues.” Canadians are, I believe, ready and able to understand that policies might need to change to meet the changing political and economic environment.
I believe that Canadians are ready and able to differentiate between immigration policy, refugee policy and the measures that might be necessary to curb illegal or, at least, irregular migration. I believe it is possible, even politically smart to be in favour of increased, but well-controlled immigration and, at the same time, to want to slam the borders shut in the faces of those who want to abuse our laws to jump the queues.
I believe that Canadians can understand principles in policy, especially in foreign policy and that they are well aware that Justin Trudeau is flinging money around, rather like a drunken sailor, in an effort to buy a second class, temporary seat on the broken United Nations Security Council even as it ignores other international obligations and its traditional allies and friends. Once again, I believe being honest works and while I am not one of those who support withdrawing from or defunding the UN, I believe it is OK to say that reforming the UN, not joining the ‘high table,’ is Canada’s priority.
Finally, I believe, that Conservatives must look out for what has been termed the precariat, described as “the growing mass of Canadians who are in precarious work, precarious housing and hold precarious citizenship: the perpetual part-timers, the minimum-wagers, the temporary foreign workers, the grey-market domestics paid in cash, the young Canadians who will never have secure employment, the techno-impoverished whose piecemeal work has no office and no end, the seniors who struggle with dwindling benefits, the indigenous people who are kept outside, the single mothers without support, the cash labourers who have no savings, the generation for whom a pension and a retirement is neither available nor desired.” The precatiat is not to blame for the woes that face Canada but it may give power to a populist leader who exploits its suffering for his or her own political gain. The precariat are our neighbours, our co-workers, our friends and our families; they are Canadians, mostly, or they want to be … I believe that Conservatives need to and can help them.