Protecting the Soul of Conservatism

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With a Conservative Party leadership race in the offing, I think now is a good time to remind everybody about the differences that should exist between uppercase Conservatives and lowercase conservatives.

And yes, though they have the same “conservative” label, “C”onservatives and “c”onservatives are not necessarily the same thing.

Upper case Conservatives, for instance, belong to a political party known as the Conservative Party, an entity which basically exists for three purposes: a) to continually attack the Liberals as incompetent, b) to try and beat the Liberals in elections and c) if elected, to govern the country in pretty much the same way as the Liberals.

Lower case conservatives, on the other hand, exist for a grander purpose: to win the war of ideas.

That’s to say conservatives, with a small “c”, should be all about promoting the values and ideals they believe in, such as the free market system, traditional values, less intrusive government and the right to gripe about the CBC’s left-wing bias.

Or at least that’s how it should be in theory.

But sometimes small “c” Canadian conservatives will lose their focus on ideology and start to think the same way as large “c” Conservatives, i.e. they’ll set aside their principles, in the name of beating the Liberals.

In fact, I see this happening right now with the National Citizens Coalition, one of the country’s largest (if not oldest) conservative advocacy groups.

Indeed, recently I got an email from the NCC in which the group’s president, Peter Coleman, addressed the upcoming Conservative Party leadership race by writing the following: “It’s time to choose the right leader … It’s time for charisma.  It’s time to embrace economic populism”.

To me, that doesn’t sound like a small “c” conservative.

After all, for a small “c” conservative the “right leader” should be the person who embraces conservative ideals, right?

And I’m sorry, but “economic populism” or as it’s also called “economic nationalism” isn’t conservatism; it’s a vague, ill-defined ideology, underpinned by one simple idea: we need government to protect us from foreigners.

This mindset typically results in protectionism and in more government regulations and in higher prices for consumers – all stuff conservatives should oppose.

This, in fact, is why the NCC has always opposed economic nationalism.

As a matter of fact, in its early days, the NCC spent much of its time and resources battling against such economic nationalistic ideas as the National Energy Program and the Foreign Investment Review Agency and later on the group was also a staunch proponent of freer trade.  (I know all this because I worked at the NCC for more than 20 years.)

In other words, what I’m saying is, by pushing economic populism the NCC is betraying its past.

Of course, I know why the NCC is doing this; populism is currently a trendy issue for right-wing political parties.

Certainly it could be argued economic nationalism was a winning issue for the Republican Party under Donald Trump and also for the British Conservative Party under Boris Johnson.

But whether or not an issue is popular politically shouldn’t matter to the NCC, since it was created to promote principles.

Of course, it could be the current leadership of the NCC no longer believes in the ideals of economic freedom.

And sometimes that happens to groups founded on principles.

As American economist Benjamin Rogge, once put it about groups created to fight for free markets — “The real danger to an organization of this kind is not that it will simply disappear, but that its form will long survive its soul.”

And if the NCC has lost its soul, that would be too bad.

In my view, now more than ever, Canada needs strong voices to stand up for principles.

Let the upper case Conservatives worry about short-term goals such as winning elections; small c conservatives should be playing the long game, keeping ideas alive.

This is something they should keep in mind during the upcoming Conservative leadership race.

More from Gerry Nicholls.     @GerryNic

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