In the earliest days of the blog I said that we should look to Louis St Laurent, a mid 20th century Liberal, as a model for modern Conservative political leaders. My point was that the Liberal Party that St Laurent led, in the 1950s, was fiscally prudent, healthily nationalistic, socially moderate, mildly, progressive, committed to national unity, and was even concerned about finding the best possible mix of economic growth and environmental sustainability … and that was in the days before Silent Spring. Louis St Laurent had little interest in politics, he was a very successful commercial and constitutional lawyer, until, in late 1941, Mackenzie-King, who knew St Laurent ““only as a distant and rather chilly lawyer,” … appealed to his sense of duty,” as a Quebecer and as a Canadian and asked him to join the government, as Attorney General and Minister of Justice, and seek a seat in the House of Commons. St Laurent was, at best, a reluctant candidate in the 1945 election but by that time he was being persuaded, against, very likely, his own self interest ~ his personal financial position suffered greatly between 1942 and 1957 ~ that, yet again, he had a duty towards Canada. St Laurent, as former Clerk of the Privy Council Gordon Robertson wrote, in his Memoirs of a Very Civil Servant: Mackenzie King to Pierre Trudeau, “St Laurent’s administration, from 1949 to 1956 probably gave Canada the most consistently good, financially responsible, trouble free government the country has had in its entire history, before as well as after Confederation.” The operative word is “gave,” Louis St Laurent was a reluctant politician, but once committed he gave it his all … his considerable leadership and management talents and his personal fortune and, eventually, his own health.
Readers will have noted that I continually exhort the many good, honest, sincere Liberals to take back their party from the Laurentian Elites. I want the Liberal Party of Canada to survive and prosper because Canada needs it, just as much as it needs a good, honest Conservative Party of Canada. Parties, representing the principled policy and political disagreements between factions in a country have been with us since ancient times, but they became somewhat standardized in England, around the time of the Glorious Revolution, in 1688, when the fairly conservative (Royalist) Tories (Pitt the Younger) and the more liberal Whigs (Pitt the Elder) arose. There are echoes of those factions in our modern parties, today, although both the more or less classically liberal 21st century Conservatives and the present day progressive Liberals each share some 18th century Tory and Whig views.
Some (Personal) History
I used to vote Liberal … in the early 1960s, when I cast my first vote, I supported Lester Pearson’s Liberals over John Diefenbaker’s Conservatives, in 1962, ’63 and ’65, because I believed, then, that the Liberals had the better programme for Canada. That changed when, in 1965, then opposition leader Pearson brought Quebec labour leader Jean Marchand, journalist and ‘communications’ theorist Gérard Pelletier and law professor and anti-nationalist Pierre Trudeau, all social-democrats, if not actual hard-line socialists, into the staunchly capitalist, and liberal Liberal Party and into his government. I thought then, and still believe now, that none of the three was a real Liberal, as Laurier, King, St Laurent and Pearson were, and I did not trust any of them to lead Canada in a direction that was socially moderate, fiscally prudent, and showed international leadership. In fact, of course, Pierre Trudeau became prime minister and changed Canada into a nation that was socially radical, economically backward and an international hanger-on to the coat-tails of American power.
I believed then, and I still believe now, that Mike Pearson did what he did, the wrong things, for the best of reasons, but he condemned the Liberal Party of Canada and Canada, itself, to almost 50 years of statist, socialist, illiberalism, broken only by a brief spell of modern liberal capitalism in the early 2000s.
But, as much as I was, generally, but never totally, content and even happy with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s custodianship of our national government, I know, with absolute, 100% certainty that no political party can run a national government for much longer than about 12 years, three terms, without running out of good ideas and running into a culture of entitlement … sometimes, as with Justin Trudeau’s Liberals there were never more than one or two half decent ideas* and they displayed their culture of entitlements almost as soon as they took office. Andrew Scheer is not a miracle worker or a messiah; he might lead a good, even a very good government for eight years, but even if he was to be elected with back-to-back-to-back majorities I know, and so do you, dear readers, that by about tear 10 his government would start to stink.
That’s why we, all Canadians, need a strong Liberal Party, and a strong and resilient Conservative Party, too. We all know that our democracy works best when we “throw the rascals out” every few years. I a pretty sure that, starting in 2019, we will need (but not all of us will want) back-to-back-to-back Conservative governments because I am fairly certain that Justin Trudeau will leave a huge fiscal mess. But I know, and so do you, that even if Andrew Scheer is an extraordinary leader with a super team, by 2029 we’ll all be looking forward to “real change.”
Political Reality ~ As I See It
Canada is, in my estimation, a somewhat left of centre country … not too far left, but just far enough that we actually need a second left wing party to ensure that the two large, moderate parties, one moderately conservative (classically liberal) and the other slightly progressive and statist, can, on a regular basis exchange leadership roles.
I have ranted on and on about the bell curve in politics. I believe that in most thing, most people are in the centre:
But I think that in politics we look a bit more like this:
I believe there are more voters who lean to the left (centre left, left of centre and social democratic left) than on the right but I also believe that the left vote is concentrated in urban areas while the conservative vote is more evenly distributed.
The exception to my, very general, 12 years and out rule, was was the long (1935 to 1957) Liberal government, but two factors made it different:
- The war (1939-45), the conduct of which Canadians, perhaps reluctantly, trusted to Mackenzie-King, possibly because they could not bring themselves to trust Robert Manion, but more likely because they were unwilling (in 1940) to change horses in mid stream; and
- Louis St Laurent was so different from King that he might well have been leading a new party, not just a new government.
John Ibbiston, writing in Globe and Mail, brings us to today’s situation by saying that “Federal politics is likely to get very ugly in the months ahead … [because] … The latest polls show the Liberals falling dangerously far behind the Conservatives. The Grits must find ways to bring their numbers up and Tory numbers down. Part of their strategy will include accusing the Conservatives of racial intolerance, a charge to which Andrew Scheer has made his party vulnerable [my emphasis added] … [and, he days] … There is nothing uglier than playing the race card. But the Liberals have little choice. Ipsos released a poll Thursday that has them trailing the Conservatives by 10 points, with the Liberals fighting the NDP for second place in Ontario and British Columbia.“
The biggest problem, Mr Ibbitson writes is that “Mr. Trudeau is now viewed much more negatively than the other major party leaders. According to an Angus Reid poll [link above] that also came out Thursday, 47 per cent of voters now “strongly disapprove” of the performance of the Prime Minister. Only 9 per cent strongly approve … [and] … The reason, clearly, was the resignation of former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould and fellow cabinet minister Jane Philpott to protest what Ms. Wilson-Raybould alleged was pressure from Mr. Trudeau and his advisers to reach a deferred-prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin, which has been charged with bribery and fraud … [and, to make matters worse] … The controversy “really hits at the heart of Trudeau’s governing proposition, which is ‘I will do politics differently,’ ” said John Duffy, a management and communications consultant with close ties to the Liberal Party. The promise to conduct politics differently “has been a huge part of what the Trudeau government has offered, and largely delivered, and it’s terribly important,” he said in an interview.“
John Ibbitson says that “With almost seven months until the next election, the Liberals have time to recover, if they start doing things differently … [and he says, quoting Conservative insider Amanda Galbraith who is a principal consultant at the public-affairs firm Navigator] …
- Step 1 “is to get this SNC issue off the front page every day” … [but] … That could mean revoking solicitor-client privilege and permitting Ms. Wilson-Raybould to speak about events surrounding the cabinet shuffle that removed her from the office of attorney-general. Any political damage that resulted would be preferable to the party’s current unending agony;”
- Step 2 would centre on a big nationwide crusade over something like a pharmacare plan, to woo back disaffected Liberals; and
- Step 3 must focus on doing as much damage as possible to Mr. Scheer. That will mean accusing him of plans to cut Liberal spending programs and of having no interest in combatting global warming.“
So far, so good, “But,” he says Step 3 “will also include accusing the Conservatives of tolerating racists within the party.“
John Ibbitson says that “Mr. Scheer appears spooked by …Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party [which] derides “extreme multiculturalism,” and he suggests that incidents like not using the words “Muslim” or “mosque” in his initial reaction tot he Christchurch NZ shootings or speaking “at a rally where alt-right protesters were present, though not in the majority,” are signs that, as he says, “the Conservative coalition …[according to Liberal strategist John Duffy] … “includes far too many people who really represent profoundly negative points of view” … [and no-one should] … expect the Liberals to shy away from pointing this out.”
Mr Ibbitson concludes that “If middle-class immigrant voters conclude that Mr. Scheer’s party is hostile to them, then Mr. Trudeau is likely to win the October general election, scandals notwithstanding … [but] … if those same voters decide the Conservatives are not intolerant, that they will do a better job of managing the economy, and that the Liberal Leader can no longer be trusted, then tough times await the Grits … [and, therefore] … The question is how far the Liberals are willing to go to poison the Conservative brand. The answer to that question will decide how ugly this election gets.“
In my opinion Justin Trudeau is a weak man who is surrounded by a coterie of people who lack strong moral and ethical compasses. He is NOT a leader.
But I also fear that John Ibbitson and John Duffy are correct and Andrew Scheer might not be a strong enough leader to stand up for the best Canadian values.
For example, faced with the odious new Québec laws regarding la laïcité, while it is too much to expect that any leader will come straight out and promise to disallow Premier François Legault’s proposed new law, someone, perhaps Andrew Scheer, should stand up and remind Canadians that the Canadian Constitution, in §55, 56 and 57, allows the Governor in Council, essentially the federal cabinet, to disallow any provincial legislation. That provision was last used in 1943, but it is there, in part, to safeguard the rights of minorities everywhere in Canada. Would making such a statement drive some (more) voters into Maxime Bernier’s arms? Perhaps. Might those lost voters cost the CPC a seat or two or three in Quêbec (where Conservative seats are already scarce)? Perhaps.
What would a real leader do?
Leaders, as the title of this article suggest, give, as Louis St Laurent did, they do not take. Justin Trudeau is, it seems to me, above all, a taker; he seems to give little, because, in terms of e.g. talent and example, he has nothing much to give; and he seems to feed off the public’s idolization of his name. Andrew Scheer, on the other hand, seems, to me, to be a fundamentally decent man with good, solid, fair-minded values, but he, too, appears to be guided by political professionals who put expediency ahead of principle. In this time, as we face divisions in Canada and as we cope with a seismic shift in the global political power structure, Canada needs leaders who will stand on principle and who will give good, solid leadership, even if (and, perhaps, especially when) the consequences of their words and deeds will be painful.
We saw, just days ago, how Justin Trudeau leads, when he was forced to apologize for his smug response to First Nations protestors who wanted to draw attention to continued mercury poisoning in their waters.
Andrew Scheer has not fallen to anywhere near that level, in anything, but he has not risen far enough above Trudeau’s politics as usual standard, either. There are many issues where Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh and Justin Trudeau can show real, principled leadership: China, environmental issues, immigration, la laïcité, pipelines and taxes. There are, equally, many issues which each can fumble.
We have seen, over the past few weeks that Justin Trudeau is NOT a leader, not in any useful sense of that word, he takes and Takes and TAKES but he gives nothing in return. Jagmeet Singh has, thus fair, failed to impress. Andrew Scheer remains out of focus, I think … he has, in my opinion, thus far, failed to give enough … he needs, in my opinion, to offer, to give a few big, bold, exciting ideas and to offer to take Canada in better directions.
* For example, it was never a really bad idea to borrow a bit of money, say $5 to 10 Billion extra per year, even when the economy was hot, at very low interest rates, to invest in long term infrastructure programmes, like pipelines and shipbuilding and clean water for First Nations; but, of course that’s not what Prime . Minister Trudeau did … his deficits were five times what he promised and they will last for 40, not four years, and the money is being wasted not invested in useful projects.