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"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

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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.