Sunday, March 20, 2005

Is there a conservative party in Canada?

The Conservative Party of Canada is winding up it's policy convention in Montreal. It was twenty years ago when a united Conservative party met there (I was there as a delegate - and a blast it was. It is true that the drinking age there is merely a suggestion). But after looking at all the resolutions and policies, which on one level don't mean much, it still does raise the question on what does the Conservative Party of Canada stand for? The sad answer is not much.
Some all my experience in Canadian politics at all levels have brought me to these truths about conservative politics in Canada (and are as relevant for Republicans on this side of the border too):
  1. Waiting on the other guy to screw up doesn't pay off. For the last century, the Conservatives in Canada have essentially got elected because the Liberals were in power too long and got arrogant and corrupt. So that gave the Tories how many years of majority government? Something like 16 out of 100? So running on a platform of "throw the bums out" works roughly less than 20% of the time. And even then, it is not good for the country that things had to get really, really, really, bad before it finally did happen.
  2. If you're not going to be conservative, then why the heck should I vote for you? This ties into (1) above. If I want high taxes, overregulation, and the status quo for big government, I'll stick with what I know and vote for the Liberals. Also, running as a more cost effective tax and spender doesn't cut it either. That is what Bob Dole was in the U.S. Senate, Joe Clark was in Ottawa, and Larry Grossman was in Queen's Park, none of them ever had the types of victories achieved by Mike Harris or Newt Gingrich. Those men won when the conventional wisdom said they couldn't or wouldn't. Ideas matter, and distinctions matter in politics. Better to be bold, make your case, and really differentiate yourself from your opponents. Give people a real choice and they'll vote for you.
  3. It is more important to have the right enemies than the right friends. The CBC, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star are not your friends. Let's not kid ourselves. Just because you got good press from castrating yourself policy wise doesn't mean they won't slander you come election time. Ditto for the elites in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. So you piss them off with your policies, so what? Look at George W. Bush: he has the right enemies, and it motivates his supporters. So pick your fights with that in mind. To use a Canadian example, look at Don Cherry - he knows this better than any politician in Canada: the more the CBC , Toronto Star, feminists, and what not go ballistic over his comments, the more his popularity goes up. This is because people intuitively know that Cherry is closer to their worldview than the CBC, Toronto Star, et. al. By the way, also be unapologetic of your views, as Cherry is. You are what you are, if they don't like it, well too bad.
  4. Make your case directly to the electorate. Mike Harris laid the foundation of his 1995 victory going around to every riding association, every Rotary Club luncheon, every Knights of Columbus meeting making the case for his policies. It was retail politics. Gingrich and the architects of the 1994 Republican revolution did the same thing. Harris was able to bring forth his policies and philosophy to the people directly, bypassing the media. He got to interact directly with the electorate and find out first hand what their issues were. He got to make contact with local business and opinion leaders to directly make the case. These are things that go under the radar of the media, the pollsters, and the opposition, and have major payoffs come election day. Harris used his 5 years in the wilderness to build a coalition that swept him to a majority government in 1995 when everyone thought it was impossible.
Steven Harper, of all people, is a student of history and should know this better than everyone. I know that this convention was a bit of a compromise with the Red Tories on policy issues. But events in the past few weeks, this convention, the budget abstention, the spinelessness on SSM, just raise red flags with me that this party doesn't have the fortitude to stand up for their beliefs and fight for them. I'll give Harper the benefit of the doubt for now. But the sad thing is that if I had to put money on this, I'd be betting against the conservatives right now.

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