banner photo:

"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

Banner photo
Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Now is the time for all good conservatives to come to the aid of The Party

I've come out of blogging retirement to issue the following plea to small-c conservative voters:

I had dinner a few nights ago with two old friends, both libertarian-leaning conservatives, both long-time Conservative voters. One is a lawyer; his wife is the CEO of a small company. Both are highly educated, each with graduate degrees in their fields.

The conversation inevitably turned to politics and the impending election. I was surprised by what I heard from them. My lawyer friend, "Bob", went on a rant about Stephen Harper that was quite vitriolic. "He's no conservative," Bob harrumphed. "A conservative would never have bailed out GM and thrown all that 'stimulus' money down the drain in 2008. And he's certainly no libertarian. All this law and order nonsense. Shocking."  He went on and on. The one thing that got him most riled up was Harper's spat with Chief Justice McLaughlin over her public warning about the appointment of Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court. "A shocking attack on the independence of the judiciary," he fumed.

"Alice" got in on the act. "I can't stand Stephen Harper. I think he's an asshole."

"Why's that?" I asked.

"He's a bully and a dictator," she replied.

"That's a little harsh, calling him a dictator," I said. "A dictator doesn't run in free, open elections every four years. A dictator doesn't have to get his agenda passed by a democratically elected legislature."

"Well, he's a bully. Look at the way he treats his MPs, and how he runs his staff," she said.

"The way he treats his MPs is called 'party discipline'," I said, "and it's the way every PM since Macdonald has run his caucus. And as far as his staff is concerned, so what? The PMO is not an elected body and serves at the pleasure of the PM. It's his office, that's why it's called the 'Prime Minister's Office'. He's entitled to run it any way he wants to." I didn't add that it was the same way she ran her company; she had a reputation for being a ruthless boss, and took pride in making employees cry when they screwed up.

The exchange with Bob and Alice is an example of something I've noticed in a lot of my conservative friends; annoyance with Stephen Harper. They don't like his style, and he's not "conservative" enough. I can understand their views, but I can't support them. Conservatives of all stripes: libertarians, socons, old PCs and Reformers - we all need to come together on October 19. There's a lot at stake, and if one of the opposition parties wins, it means Canada will become in effect a one-party state run by the left for the foreseeable future.

I share some of the concerns of my friends Bob and Alice. As a gay libertarian, I've always had an uneasy relationship with the Conservative Party of Canada. I find the CPC's relentless focus on "law and order" and "family values" problematic. However, for me, it comes down to this; which party is likely to intrude the least into my personal life and allow me to keep as much of my hard-earned money as possible? There's no question that both the Liberals and the NDP would subject us to intrusive social engineering projects designed to remake the country as a left-wing utopia, while taking my money and redistributing it to those they've deemed have-nots. The Conservatives? Not so much. So, the CPC it is.

I'm also not a little disturbed by what's going on in the world, and Stephen Harper's blunt muscular diplomacy is exactly what I want Canada to be doing right now. I don't want a government that will airlift winter parkas into ISIS territory, or make our foreign policy subservient to the corrupt and impotent United Nations. I want a Prime Minister who will tell Vladimir Putin to fuck off, drop bombs on terrorists who are trying to kill us, and keep bad people out of our country. So, the CPC it is.

But the most important issue for me in this election is one that hasn't been getting enough attention. If the Conservatives win anything less than a majority on October 19, it means there will be no possibility of Conservatives ever holding power for decades to come. Trudeau has stated that the Liberals will never support a CPC minority government, and Mulcair says there's not "a snowball's chance in hell" that the NDP would prop up a Tory minority. If  the election results in a CPC minority, Trudeau and Mulcair will engineer a de facto coalition to oust the Conservatives after the first Throne Speech. A Liberal or NDP minority government would also lead to a Liberal/NDP coalition.

One of the first acts of such an alliance in Parliament would be to change our electoral system to some form of proportional representation. In such a system, none of the major parties would be able to elect an outright majority. Like Germany, Italy, or Israel, every election would be followed by weeks of negotiations between the parties, trying to cobble together a legislative majority. Since the CPC is the only right-wing party, and none of the left-wing opposition parties will ever cooperate with the CPC to form a government, the right wing in Canada will be shut out of government for a generation.

I can hear leftist trolls right now saying, "So what? That's a feature, not a bug. Imagine a world without conservatives!" Well, let's, for a moment, imagine a world where conservatives can never form a government. A properly functioning parliamentary democracy operates under the assumption that the ruling party can be turfed out of office by the voters periodically. It keeps political parties honest if they worry about being defeated every election cycle. If one whole side of the political spectrum is excluded from ever holding the levers of power, then elections in Canada will simply become a matter of who gets what cabinet positions and who gets to live at 24 Sussex; the governing coalition will never change. Is this what Canadians really want?

The last time a political party formed a government in Canada with an absolute majority of the popular vote was in 1984, when Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives took power with 50.0%. Before that, the last time it happened was in 1958, when John Diefenbaker's PCs won 53.7% of the popular vote. Absolute majorities are rare in modern Canadian history.

A structural change in the electoral system, which is inevitable in any scenario other than an outright CPC majority, will mean permanent government by the left for the foreseeable future. The two or three leftist parties will compete for control of the governing coalition by pandering to the electorate with ever more outlandish promises of  expensive government programs, knowing that they need not fear being turfed out of power. Is that what Canadians really want? Is that what leftists even want? Who will hold the government accountable if there is never a possibility that the political culture in Ottawa will change after an election? What's the point of even having elections if all they ever produce are endless NDP/Liberal coalitions, with the leaders horse-trading among themselves for the top jobs?

In my opinion, Canada would be best served by having two main parties competing for power, one on the left and one on the right. Each party would theoretically be capable of forming a government. I would be delighted if the parties on the left went through the same "Unite the Left" process that the right went through between 2000 and 2003, when the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Party united to end vote splitting on the right. The left and the right would coalesce around two main-stream national parties with broad appeal.

This is what I earnestly wish for on October 19: the Conservatives win a majority, and the two main opposition parties get off their high horses and negotiate a merger. The right did it a decade ago when they faced being permanently shut out of power; it's time the left felt the same pressure. The result would be healthy for Canadian democracy and, coincidentally, would put more pressure on the CPC to remain accountable.

I have an urgent plea for disgruntled conservative voters. We need to put our differences aside and come together, libertarians, socons, old Tories, whatever. We need to stop worrying about the media's obsession with Stephen Harper's alleged control-freak personality and brush off ivory tower debates about parliamentary procedure. Forget the minor-league scandals about robo-calls and Mike Duffy. Stop caring about what Naomi Klein and Blue Rodeo think about our party. Hold your nose if necessary, but get out and vote Conservative. The stakes are really high this time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dear Patrick Brown:

Dear Patrick:

Let me congratulate you on your victory in the recent Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leadership race. You ran a great campaign and out-organized your opponent, mobilizing support from a diverse group of party members. You deserved victory.

I'll admit I am no longer a member of the OPCP, and sat this leadership race out. After grinding my teeth in frustration during the hapless tenures of Ernie Eves, John Tory and Tim Hudak, I had given up on the party and let my membership lapse. I have only so much political stamina, and I preferred to concentrate on the federal Tories, who at least had a chance of electoral success.

The fact that I didn't renew my party membership is, I think, a sad commentary on the state of the OPCP. The party needs to attract people like me. I am in my late fifties and live in rural Eastern Ontario. I was a long-time active member of the party, going back to my days at university. I am retired from a thirty-year career in the public sector. I am well-educated and well-informed - a far cry from the low-information red-neck stereotype that our opponents use to demonize Conservatives. I am also openly gay. If the OPCP loses supporters like me, it is forever doomed to fringe-party status, a rural rump party howling with outrage and preaching to the dwindling choir, while a succession of increasingly inept Liberal governments drives the province over a cliff.

The media have attempted to portray you as a social conservative, dredging up out-of-context quotations from speeches and poring over your voting record as a federal MP, looking for smoking guns. I'll admit I bought into this narrative at first, but you have handled these issues deftly since winning the leadership. The Toronto Star is complaining that you're not cooperating with their attempt to pigeon-hole you, so you must be doing something right.

You are young, multilingual, urban, and reasonably telegenic - the polar opposite of the current Premier. From the few appearances you have made since the win, you appear articulate and quick on your feet. What a breath of fresh air. I have reason to be cautiously optimistic now for the first time in years. Please don't blow this opportunity.

After each of the party's previous election defeats I blogged my advice to the PC brain trust in a fruitless attempt to point out what seemed to me to be obvious reasons for the losses, hoping that the party would choose a different path. Now here we are again. I've come out of blogging retirement to give the new leader my unsolicited advice. Here, in no particular order, are my suggestions.

Stake out your place on the political spectrum

Stop trying to compete with the Liberals for the mushy political middle. You're a conservative: start acting like one. The right side of the ideological divide is completely empty in Ontario and there are two big-government interventionist parties competing for votes from the centre-left. People are yearning for a clear political choice - if your platform is indistinguishable from that of your opponents, why would anyone vote for you? The Progressive Conservatives need to be the party of the right and abandon the left to the Liberals and the NDP.

Social conservatism is a dead end
Sorry to all the socons who may be reading this, (and yes, some of my best friends are socons), but policies aimed at social conservatives alienate the centrists and libertarians that the party needs to win elections. In his first election, Tim Hudak tossed out some policies aimed at the socon wing of the party (chain gangs for prison inmates, public sex-offender registries, "foreign workers", sex education) and walked right into the same trap that snared John Tory when he proposed tax credits for religious schools. Policies like this make the PCs look mean and narrow-minded, and are political poison to a lot of voters. Matters of morality and religion are best left to individuals and families, and heavy-handed law and order policies, especially in a time of declining crime rates, make conservatives seem heartless. Give it up. Concentrate on the issues that unite all conservatives - socon and libertarian, urban and rural, gay and straight. We need a party that relentlessly advocates for smaller, less intrusive government, fiscal discipline, low taxes, free-market economics and personal responsibility.

Stop running away from Mike Harris
Hudak spent a lot of time avoiding his past as a member of the Mike Harris government, and laughed nervously every time the subject of the Harris years was raised. Huh? Lots of conservatives still support many of Harris' policies, and believe that Ontario's dire financial situation needs a dose of the same medicine. Going out of your way to distance yourself from a man who won two consecutive majority governments for the PCs alienates your base and confirms to independent voters that you're not that different from the Liberals. Stop apologizing for the Harris legacy - explain it, own it, and be proud of it.

The media are not your friends

The established media are hostile to conservatives and have a vested interest in electing a Liberal government - don't count on them to get your message out. Ignore the CBC, CTV, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star and concentrate on grass-roots politicking. Trying to suck up to the main-stream media is pointless.

Go negative

It's a mistake to think that the PCs can run a strictly positive campaign and still win an election. By all means, explain your platform and promote yourself as an alternative to the current government, but the McGuinty/Wynne years at Queen's Park have been a time of astonishing incompetence, fraud, mismanagement and outright criminality - it's time for the PCs to get personal and go for the jugular. Caledonia, ORNGE, eHealth, the gas plant cancellations, the Green Energy Act - there's a lot of anger out there and people are frustrated. Tap into it! And don't be deterred by Kathleen Wynne's inevitable attempts to avoid accountability by labeling her critics as homophobic misogynists; make her own her party's appalling record. Bring it up at every opportunity.

Don't attack civil servants

I spent my entire career in the public sector, and I can tell you without reservation that Hudak's promise to fire 100 000 of us was a serious mistake. Everyone in the province has a friend or family member who is a civil servant. Attacking these people and threatening their livelihoods makes the party seem mean and vindictive, and average citizens don't want to see next-door-neighbour Joe or Aunt Betty lose their jobs. I was a civil servant and know from personal experience that the public sector is bloated and inefficient, but trimming it has to be done sensitively and with respect. You had better have a plan to do this without coming across like Ebeneezer Scrooge taking away Bob Cratchit's Christmas dinner. The current system is unsustainable and costs have to be reined in - I don't think anyone sensible, including most government workers, disputes this. But there's a big difference between, say, promising a hiring freeze and a moratorium on new programs, and sending out 100 000 pink slips the day after the election. Most public employees are hard-working, dedicated professionals, and demonizing them is a mistake. From a purely practical perspective, you'll have to work with the civil service if you win an election, and you'll need its cooperation to implement your policies. Good luck with that if you've spent your time in opposition attacking the public sector and promising to fire thousands of government employees.

Don't try to be hip

You're young, so maybe this will come easier to you, but previous attempts to show that the PCs have street cred with the hip urban iPhone crowd have been a failure. Look - we have a Twitter feed! Look at all the "likes" we have on Facebook! An election is not a high school cafeteria, and no one except the CBC gives a damn if you've embraced social media, especially if you don't have any policies worth a tweet that are actually going to change anything. Fire your media consultants, clean out the cobwebs at party headquarters, figure out what the hell you stand for, and give people like me who are desperate for real change in Ontario something worth voting for.

March in a Pride parade

It pains me to say this because Pride parades irritate me to no end, but mainstream politicians are expected to publicly demonstrate their tolerance by showing up at this annual Carnival of Diversity. It shouldn't matter if you're there or not, but it does. Every single one of your left-wing opponents will be attending, and your absence will be noted, rightly or wrongly, as evidence of bigotry and intolerance. Rob Ford was pilloried for stubbornly refusing to attend Toronto's Pride parade. Then of course there's the fact that Premier Wynne is Ontario's most famous lesbian - she will certainly be there in her role as the Angel of Progress. Your attendance at Pride will go a long way to blunt criticism of the party, and show potential voters that you're not going to impose a puritanical regime on the province if you're elected.

There is tremendous frustration among the citizens with the current government of Ontario, and voters like me are desperate for a credible alternative. The PCs have failed to provide that alternative for too long.

Now, young man - go to it. I wish you well. I may even re-join the party.