Moderate Conservatism works; Right wing, less so

With the Ontario Progressive Conservatives choosing Doug Ford as their new leader, a lot of Tories seem to think the best way to win an election is by moving further to the right. But, if you look at our history, there is little evidence to suggest Canadians in any part of the country wish to take a sharp turn to the right, just some wishful thinking. Even if moving further to the right was a winning strategy, it is not one I could endorse, as I believe it would be bad for the country in a number of areas. I will outline why right wing conservatism rarely wins elections on a geographical basis; even if it could, there are several far-right policies that I could not endorse because I believe they would be bad for Canadians.

Occasionally, parties well to the right win elections under unique circumstances, but those victories tend to be short lived, and rarely work out well in the long term. With the Liberals moving leftward, I believe it is vital we have a strong conservative alternative, but it should be moderate and mainstream, not a hard right one. If conservatives continue to swing rightward, I fear they may go the way of the Union Nationale in Quebec, or Social Credit in Alberta, both parties that were once dominant, but no longer exist today because they refused to adapt to the changing times and stuck with outdated policies. Some have claimed I am a liberal and should just leave the Conservative party; my views may not be in line with the Republican-style conservatism of the United States, but I definitely fall within the realm of conservatism as it has been defined in Canada for much of its history. I also believe that, the Liberals have moved too far left for me to be comfortable with them, which (I will write about in a future blog). Likewise, outside the United States, most developed countries have moderate centre-right parties that I can advocate for. In my view, the Canadian Conservative party can choose to become a pup tent and appeal to the angry fringe, or a mainstream big tent one; I am hopeful that they choose the latter.

In Canada, there are 338 seats in the House of Commons, and a party forms a majority government by winning at least 170 seats. Likewise, in provincial elections, a government is formed by winning at least half the seats. While there are a few constituencies where right- wing conservatism is popular, it is nowhere near enough to constitute a majority. Atlantic Canada has a long history of Red Toryism and until recently, conservatives usually got above 40% there, and sometimes even over 50%. Nowadays, reaching the 30% mark is a struggle, and in some cases, like in 2015, they could not even crack the 20% mark. Some argue that Atlantic Canada is too small to matter, but one has to remember that Harper would have fallen short of a majority in 2011 had he been shut out of Atlantic Canada. Quebec is not usually considered a Conservative friendly province, but as we saw in the 80s, they can break through in La Belle province with the right leadership, although yanking the party further to the right will only prevent these types of breakthroughs never materialize. East of the Ottawa River represents one third of the seats in parliament, so if the Tories do not win many seats there, they have to make up for it by winning two-thirds of their seats west of it; a very steep hill to climb, if not an insurmountable one. Some may point to Mike Harris and his two terms as Premier in Ontario as evidence that right wing conservatism sells, but the reality is when the Ontario Progressive Conservatives were more centrist, they governed for forty-two years straight. Since swinging rightward, the conservatives have spent 75% of their time as the opposition. The ghost of Mike Harris has created fifteen straight years in opposition, even with an unpopular Liberal government. Why not try what has historically worked instead of something that only works when the alternative is extremely unpopular?

In Manitoba, one can run on a strongly right wing platform and win in rural areas, but 55% of the population lives in Winnipeg, so you must win seats there to form a government, and you won’t do that on a strongly right wing platform. Even Saskatchewan, which many claim is a place where the right has made big gains, is a challenge. Brad Wall was wildly popular, but contrary to popular perception of some outsiders, he was quite careful to not stray too far to the right. He recently adopted a mild austerity budget and his poll numbers plummeted, suggesting even in Saskatchewan, there is a limit to conservatism. Many view Alberta as a bastion for conservatism, yet since 1971, the Alberta Progressive Conservatives have had six premiers, and five out of the six (Lougheed, Getty, Stelmach, Redford, and Prentice) were all Red Tories. Ralph Klein was more right wing, but he could connect with people on a personal level in a way many politicians cannot, never mind that was twenty years ago and the demographics have changed radically since then. In 2012, Albertans were presented with a choice between the more right wing Wildrose Party and the more centrist Progressive Conservatives, and they choose the latter. In 2015, when they were finally ready to toss out the Progressive Conservatives, they swung leftwards to the NDP, not rightwards to the Wildrose. In British Columbia, the pro free enterprise coalition, be it the Social Credit or BC Liberals has usually won, and while the likes of Bill Bennett or Gordon Campbell were not Red Tories, they were careful to not stray too far from the right, and made sure they included more centrist types in their cabinet, such as Joyce Murray and Linda Reid. The Reform Party’s strong showing in B.C. in the 90s was primarily a protest vote, as people knew they had no chance of winning nationally, so one could safely vote for them without having to endure any of their more extreme policies.

In the most recent federal election, only 30% of voters voted Conservative while provincially, 57% voted for parties on the left, suggesting there is little appetite for a sharp turn to the right. Some may point out that Doug Ford, Jason Kenney and even Andrew Scheer (in some cases) are leading in the polls, suggesting that Canadians are ready for real conservatism. However, the elections are still to come, and there are no guarantees they will win; if they do, it could be more a backlash due to the unpopularity of current governments. If they are as right wing as some think they are, they will likely be One Term Wonders at best. Those three candidates will likely only win and remain in office if they present themselves as more centrist than many expect.

Some people believe the times are changing and the right is gaining traction, even though most evidence suggests the contrary. Even if conservatives did win with a more right wing platform, I would have zero interest in supporting them. Below are some examples of right wing policies I do not support, and if adopted, I would have a hard time voting Conservative. I will also lay out some conservative policies that I think they can and should support.
1.I don’t believe we should have looser gun control lawsas all evidence shows looser gun laws means more murders. I will elaborate on this in a future post.

2. I believe climate change is real, not a hoax, and support reasonable action to combat it, while still sticking with market solutions where possible, such as a carbon tax.

3.I believe the war on drugs has been an abject failure and thus support legalization of marijuana. I also believe that treatment, not jail time, is the solution for addicts.

4.I believe moral issues like gay marriage and abortion are settled and we should not re-open them, although unlike the Liberals and NDP, I still respect the right of someone to hold a different opinion; I just don’t believe it is a policy any government should pursue changes.

5.On foreign policy, I believe Canada as a sovereign country should pursue its own interest and not blindly follow the United States, but instead judge each action on its own merit and neither blindly oppose or support them.

6.I believe immigration is largely a positive and we should continue to be welcoming of people from around the world, while I also believe that tweaks and changes to the system, so long as they are not discriminatory, are fine.

7.I believe the free market is the best system, but like any system, it is imperfect. The government should not interfere unnecessarily, but where it fails, it should intervene.

8.I believe we have a moral obligation to look after those who are less fortunate. While I do not support a cradle to grave system like the Nordic Countries have, I do not support a system where far too many fall through the cracks, either, as is the case in the United States.

9. I do not believe all taxes are bad; to have a civilized society and a high standard of living, we need a certain level of taxation, so the debate ought to be about what is the right mix and what is the optimal level. We should only advocate cutting when above the optimal level, which I believe is currently the case, Some tax cuts, like reducing GST or eliminating the carbon tax are misguided.

I realize it’s unlikely I will agree with any one party on every issue so taking a more right wing stance than I prefer on one of these issues is not necessarily a deal breaker, depending on the issue. My expectation and hope with the conservative party is that policies are made based on evidence and what has proven to work best, not on blind ideology.

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