Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already led the most left-wing federal government in our country’s history. That’s a widely accepted statement of fact. His working agreement with Jagmeet Singh’s NDP will push it so far to the left that it will be, as interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen observed, akin to “backdoor socialism.”
Several policies of mutual interest, including national dental care, pharmacare, reducing carbon emissions and a so-called “fairer tax system.” are multi-billion programs that will undoubtedly continue to escalate on an annual basis. This will enable the Trudeau Liberals to continue its reckless trend of spending taxpayer dollars like drunken sailors. If some of these policies find a home in the April 7 federal budget, those tipsy seafarers could be left in a permanently inebriated state.
The Conservatives, who are in the midst of a leadership race, can’t stop the financial bleeding if the Coalition of the Left runs its course. Fortunately, they’ll have time to rebuild the party into a desirable political alternative. To accomplish this, the new leader should utilize a successful electoral strategy from the not-too-distant past.
There are four main leadership candidates. Two are classified as Blue Tories, or right-leaning Conservatives: Pierre Poilievre and Leslyn Lewis. The other two, Jean Charest and Patrick Brown, are classified as centrists by some, and Red Tories (or left-leaning Conservatives) by others.
Conservative party members have gradually become more right-leaning. They favour Blue Tory principles like small government, low taxes and more individual rights and freedoms. Charest, a former federal PC leader and Quebec Liberal premier who raised hydro rates, auto insurance fees, set provincial, Kyoto Accord-like targets and imposed a carbon tax on businesses in the latter role, is therefore completely out of step. So too is Brown, a former Conservative MP and Ontario PC leader who supported a provincial carbon tax and likes to tout his “pragmatic Progressive Conservative” roots.
Poilievre, a Conservative MP since 2004 and cabinet minister under then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Lewis, a lawyer and rookie Conservative MP who ran in the 2020 leadership race, both offer a more succinct political message. Nevertheless, the former stands head and shoulders above the latter – and all other candidates.
I’ve known Poilievre for years. He’s intelligent and media savvy. He admires great Conservative thinkers and leaders, including Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. He’s a strong fiscal conservative who supports free markets, private enterprise, trade liberalization and oil and gas development. He has a clear foreign policy vision, and wants Canada to be a leader and not a follower.
In many ways, Poilievre is similar to Harper. He’s also starting to face the same sort of media scrutiny his predecessor did. That is, he’s “too conservative” for Canada, “out of touch” when it comes to funding social services and protecting society’s most vulnerable, and has an “unwinnable” strategy.
Poilievre, as a good student of history, knows differently. Canada is a Liberal-leaning country, but not a socialist monolith. They’ll vote Conservative if they tout a positive, forward-thinking message. Hence, he needs to implement Harper’s successful electoral strategy of incremental conservatism.
University of Calgary professor Tom Flanagan originally defined incremental conservatism as “endorsing even very small steps if they are in the right direction, and accepting inaction in areas that can’t feasibly be changed right now, but opposing government initiatives that are clearly going the wrong way.” An informal 10-year plan was then crafted by Harper to shift Canadian conservatism into a positive political force for change – and build a “conservative Canada” in its place.
Harper favoured targeted tax cuts rather than broad-based tax relief. Small private reforms to health care were championed, but a firm commitment to universal health care was maintained. He increased military spending and defended veterans, apologized to Chinese Canadians for the discriminatory Head Tax, supported farmers, amended the vetting process for immigration, and allowed free votes on issues like gay marriage. In foreign policy, Harper took a leadership role in Afghanistan, publicly condemned totalitarian regimes like Syria and Iran, defended Israel and told Russian President Vladimir Putin to “get out of Ukraine” at a G20 meeting in 2014.
Harper won three elections (2006, 2008 and 2011) with incremental conservatism as his guiding force. He showed that Conservative ideas can become part of mainstream thinking in Liberal Canada. Existing myths and concerns some Canadians had about conservatism could also be chipped away and, in many cases, permanently dismantled.
Poilievre has a significant lead among Conservative supporters. A March 15 poll by Angus Reid found he had 54 percent support, followed distantly by Charest (15 percent), Lewis (9 percent) and Brown (5 percent).
If Poilievre becomes the next party leader, he should immediately channel his predecessor’s winning electoral strategy. This would be the perfect counter to Trudeau, a tax-and-spend Liberal who formed a Coalition of the Left to stay in power, and would help make Canada’s Right an attractive political alternative once more.
Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.
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