Brian Gable, drawing in the Globe and Mail, gets it right:
Until Canada gets some adult leadership at the national level and in the capitals of our two most important provinces we are screwed … and we’re looking at 2018/19 before we can change three weak, fiscally foolish, majority governments and replace them with good, sound fiscal Conservatives.
For Tories, a long list of difficult questions
The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015
Think about Shakespeare’s plays. The main actors are at the front of the stage delivering their lines. The audience pays attention to them, for they are the key players in the drama.
Behind them, sometimes, are arrayed various players garbed in togas, or breastplates, or peasants’ attire, or nobles’ robes. They don’t utter many lines, except for the occasional collective grunt or cheer. The audience pays them little, if any, heed.
So it will be in Canadian politics for a long time after the Oct. 19 election. Justin Trudeau’s government will be front and centre for many, many months, with Liberal dramatis personae delivering all the important lines. Conservatives and New Democrats will cluster at the rear of the political stage, grunting and muttering, with almost no one paying attention.
For the Conservatives, the former government, recognizing this forthcoming period of prolonged marginality could be a way of returning eventually to centre stage, but only if they think hard enough about why the vast majority of Canadians wanted to see their backs.
Having recently been centre stage, the Conservatives might be tempted to figure out quickly how best to return there. Nothing could be more counterproductive.
They should use their prolonged period of being marginal players to figure out what they should say when centre stage truly beckons again, because for now, and for the foreseeable future, the vast majority of Canadians don’t want to hear from or about Conservatives, so bitter is their memory of the Harper years.
Already, however, a list of former Harper cabinet ministers is being mooted, containing potential contenders. Media reports had suggested that former foreign minister John Baird was contemplating a return to politics, having declared not long ago that he was through with the game. Mercifully, he squelched that speculation.
All of the names being floated are holdovers from the Harper years. They were ministers in Harper governments. They helped frame the government’s policies – at least they did at the margin, given that so many decisions were framed by Stephen Harper. But they defended those policies. They did so in the verbally pugilistic, take-no-prisoners style so typical of the Harper party. They were, are and will be Harperites, although some will try to put some light between themselves and their past.
Leadership puts the proverbial cart before the horse. What the Conservatives need – this is the cart – is to ask themselves at length and in depth: Where did we go wrong? Was it just that we overstayed our welcome and “time for a change” defeated us?
Or was there something deeper about who we were, what we stood for, how we made decisions, how we communicated them to Canadians, how we related to other Canadian institutions such as provinces, the business community, aboriginals, the news media, officers of Parliament, the civil service, non-governmental groups?
Why were we at daggers drawn with scientists, civil servants, “experts,” journalists, the cultural community, even part of the business community (telecommunications, railroads)? Is that where we want to be as Conservatives?
How did we manage to fritter away about a fifth of the support we had secured in the 2011 election by voting day 2015? Why are we by far the least-favoured second-choice party, with the fewest number of people who would consider voting for us? Is it the correct strategy to try for a maximum of 40 per cent of the electors?
The list of questions runs much longer, and thinking through the list must take a long time. Only then will the Conservatives be ready to figure out which horse should pull the cart.
The debate must not be directed and led exclusively by Harper holdovers, because other voices might emerge. There might be sitting or former premiers. There might be someone who catches the party’s attention from among new MPs, a few of whom from Quebec had reputations beyond politics. There could be someone from outside politics, such as a lawyer and businessman named Brian Mulroney who contested the Progressive Conservative leadership in 1976. No one knows if he would have done better than the winner of that convention, Joe Clark.
The time will come when Canadians might be interested in what centre-stage Conservatives will say, but that time is far off. In the meantime, figure out the lines, rather than choosing the main actor.
Please, please, PLEASE Conservatives, ignore every single word after “Think about Shakespeare’s plays.” We should, all of us, think about Shakespeare’s plays more often than we do, that’s good advice for one and all, but everything that follows is intended to help the Liberals, not the Conservatives.
Do not worry about why the CPC government was “at daggers drawn with scientists, civil servants, “experts,” journalists, the cultural community,” those “communities” were “at daggers drawn with YOU before you turned on them.
“How did we manage to fritter away about a fifth of the support we had secured in the 2011 election by voting day 2015?” “Why are we by far the least-favoured second-choice party, with the fewest number of people who would consider voting for us?” and “Is it the correct strategy to try for a maximum of 40 per cent of the electors?” are interesting academic questions and party followers, not its leaders should worry over them.
Especially ignore Mr Simpsons concerns that the most likely leaders “are holdovers from the Harper years. They were ministers in Harper governments. They helped frame the government’s policies – at least they did at the margin, given that so many decisions were framed by Stephen Harper. But they defended those policies. They did so in the verbally pugilistic, take-no-prisoners style so typical of the Harper party. They were, are and will be Harperites,” he’s just annoyed because your, Conservative, opposition “front bench” is qualitatively superior to all but a tiny handful of Prime Minister designate Trudeau’s.
Read Mr Simpson’s column, “know your enemy,” as we used to say … then do the reverse.
What the CPC needs to do is to:
1. Reconnect with its legitimate values and ambitions, which are grounded in the families who live in the suburbs around Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa and in the small cities and towns that stretch from Vancouver Island to the Avalon Peninsula;
2. Enunciate those values, clearly to all Canadians;
3. Select a leader who personifies those values ~ and there are many useful candidates, including several “Harperites.”
Jeffrey Simpson says “Harperites” with a sneer of contempt; Conservatives need to say it with pride. Jeffrey Simpson represents a fast fading past of elites and croyism; Stephen Harper is the face that showed us the way to a better, more egalitarian society.
There is a lot more to “peacekeeping” than lightly armed troops in baby-blue berets handing out food to children in dirty, disease-ridden corners of the world. Keeping the peace starts with ensuring that global commerce can flow ~ free trade and prosperity do more to prevent wars than all the diplomats and presidents combined ever have. Keeping the sea lines of communication open and safe is a HUGE contribution to maintaining global peace and security. A strong, well equipped Royal Canadian Navy is an indispensable tool for the Government of Canada.
… conduct operations to ensure that we can always cooperate and interoperate with our traditional friends and allies to keep the seas free.
As I said a couple of days ago on Army.ca, the First Rule to remember is that we, the CPC, are not Liberals … so the advice we/the CPC do not want to follow is that which flows from e.g. the Laurentian Elites and the big city chattering classes.
There are real, identifiable Canadian Conservative values and goals which can be enunciated and which can attract a good, solid, 35% to 45% of the national vote base. Conservatives don’t need to wait for the Liberals to, as they inevitably have done since 1960, fall back into their old habits of cronyism and corruption. Nor do they need to disavow what Prime Minister Harper did for Canada. The voters decided that the Conservatives, but especially Prime Minister Harper, had been in power long enough (nine years); they want change. The Conservative Party can offer the change in style they are after without proposing to undo everything that was done in the past few years. Some policies and programmes (Bill C-51, for example) will change, and the CPC should not fight too hard for some of their old policies. (Getting rid of some ‘monumental’ projects would be a good idea, too, and one Conservatives ought not to oppose too strongly.) What Conservatives need to do is to offer most Canadians, especially those families in small cities and towns and in big-city suburbs, fresh, new, attractive policies.
The Globe and Mail is reporting that former Foreign Minister and Ottawa MP John Baird, 46, is, indeed, considering offering himself for the CPC leadership.
“A Baird candidacy,” the Globe and Mail opines, “would significantly alter the competitive landscape for the helm of a party now in search of a compelling challenger to stand up to prime-minister-designate Justin Trudeau. As things stand, the presumed heir apparent is Jason Kenney, 47, a veteran of the Harper cabinet who is still deciding whether to run.”
Further, the Globe suggests that “Mr. Baird’s political philosophy is not readily distinguishable from Mr. Kenney’s; were both men to run, the choice for voters would come down to personality and perceived winnability rather than a change in direction [and] like Mr. Kenney, Mr. Baird could be described as a small-government conservative who is hawkish on security and defence.”
I am a bit of a John Baird fan, and, as I have said several times, on Army.ca, I am unconcerned about the private lives and proclivities of politicians as long as they are within the bounds of the law and (reasonably) good manners, but I also agree with those who think that we need to change the public “face” (image) of the CPC, to a less stern, unyielding and secretive one, and I wonder if a female leader might not be a better choice to face off against Justin Trudeau in 2019.
But, CBC News quotes Mr Baird as saying “While I have indeed received expressions of interest and am tremendously flattered by the support, I will not be running for leader of the Conservative party of Canada … When I retired from politics, I spoke about starting a new chapter in my life. I am extremely happy with this new chapter and will remain dedicated to my work in the private sector.”
The obvious candidates, from amongst sitting MPs, are:
Rona Ambrose, Jason Kenney, Kellie Leitch, Erin O’Toole, Lisa Raitt and Michel Rempel ~ all minister in the last government.
Two recently retired ministers might, also, be drafted back into the contest:
Peter MacKay and John Baird.
I think Maxime Bernier will be in the race, but cannot win:
I would call Jason Kenney the front runner, but I think Dr Leitch might be a formidable challenger.
The good news is that the CPC has an embarrassment of riches in terms of potential leaders.
I’m an old, retired soldier with an interest in politics. I self describe as a classical, 19th century liberal ~ which means, in 21st century Canada, that I’m a Conservative.
I believe in four fundamental rights for each and every individual: Life, Liberty and Property, as described by John Locke in 17th century England, and Privacy, as defined by Brandeis and Warren in 19th century America, but expanded, to fully include absolute control over one’s body and the “right to be left alone.”
I was a Stephen Harper fan, of sorts, but:
I thought Prime Minister Harper was far too cautious on the small government, First Nations and corporate welfare fronts;
I opposed many (not all) of his “boutique tax cuts,” but I thought (still think) his cuts to the HST/GST was good public policy as well as being good politics, because it makes it harder for any government to spend wildly; and
I supported him, broadly, on foreign policy, especially on freer trade with all and sundry, and I have expressed the view, elsewhere, that it was the MND, DM and CDS of the day, back in 2012, who failed a test administered by the prime minister (in the form of direction to cut the fat in HQs), not the prime minister being “wrong” on defence.
My sense of the CPC’s base is shown in the diagram below. I believe that the next leader must aim to please the 90±% of Conservatives who are somewhere on the Social and fiscal moderates through to Social moderates but fiscal hawks segments on the spectrum. I think we can, even should, be prepared to jettison the Red Tories and the Social conservatives, if necessary to preserve party unity, and the two extreme fringes if they cannot stomach the “mushy middle.”