Welcome fellow Conservative Canadians, or at least Conservative-curious Canadians.
For many of us in Generation X, we grew up under a Canadian political duality. For working-class families such as mine, there were the Liberals, led by the charismatic and all-around good guy, Pierre Trudeau. For the rich and barons of business, there were the Progressive Conservatives, led by the dry as mummy bones Joe Clark. Of course, there were other parties, such as the NDP, Social Credit, and Marxist-Leninist, but much like today, the Liberals and Conservatives were the only two credible options. Certainly the other parties could influence policy, but it was near impossible to conceive any of them forming a government.
Certainly Trudeau the first was an ambitious man. He introduced the National Energy Policy. He brought in official bilingualism, and the metric system. He repatriated the Canadian Constitution (forcing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms through in the process, though whoops! Forgot to get Rene’s signature there….). He centralized the powers of the Canadian Government, and made deficit spending a credible economic strategy. Oh, and he alienated voters in Quebec and Western Canada with his centralist federalist policies.
Voters did rebuke him once, when he was exiled to nine months of Joe Clark minority government purgatory. However, this was forgiven in 1980, when he was given another mandate by the Canadian people (and no seats West of Manitoba). And when he finally took his “walk in the snow” and handed the reigns over to the as-exciting-as-dry-toast John Turner, the Liberals were primed for defeat.
However, to paraphrase the immortal words of Bob Dylan (Nobel Prize Winner Bob Dylan!), the Tories, they were a changin’. After the 1980 defeat to Trudeau, and in a bout of hubris, Clark decided having 67% of his party’s support was inadequate for him to continue, so he resigned and called for a leadership review. The party thanked him for his party-first loyalty by electing Brian Mulroney.
As Canada became more diverse, and as baby boomers grew up, the Progressive Conservatives needed to broaden their appeal to have a hope of being elected.So we ended up with a coast-to-coast coalition of East Coast conservatives, disaffected Quebec Separatists, Ontario purples (blue and red, depending on the political climate), and disaffected Westerners.
And for a time it worked.
This coalition held together for two full elections, delivering an historical majority to the PCs in 1984, and a strong majority in 1988 (my first federal election I voted in). There were wins and losses for the PC governments (FTA = win! Cod = loss! GST = win, yes it was a win! scandals = loss! Meech=loss! Charlottetown=loss!), but the party’s utter decimation in 1993 ended the Progressive Conservative party as we knew it.
We were now left with three parties as direct descendants of the PC amalgam – the Bloc Quebecois, the PCs, and Reform, each a fractured remnant of the coalition that spawned them. And despite all of the opposition, the PC party survived, though it never held more than 20 seats in parliament. Not to state they did not still get a good chunk of the popular vote (18% in 1997) but vote splitting between them and Reform/Canadian Alliance allowed the Liberals to walk to victory in 1997 and 2000.
So as one would naturally expect (and after some major promises broken to David Orchard), the PCs merged with Reform/Canadian Alliance to form the Conservative Party of Canada. After increasing its seat total, and helping cause a Liberal minority in 2003, the Conservatives were elected to their own minority in 2006, an additional minority in 2008, and finally, a majority in 2011.
And with every electoral step forward, the Conservatives became more socially conservative. With every electoral step forward, the Conservatives began engaging in very un-Canadian activities, such as robo-calling in contentious ridings, omnibus legislation (which included removing health care for refugees), crippling the state-funded broadcaster, muzzling state-funded research scientists, generally abusing the civil service, and experimenting with race and religion-based politics.
After witnessing this, it became clear to me that the the Conservative Party was no longer Progressive. The words and actions of the current crop of leadership contenders has only reinforced this (google Kellie Leitch or Brad Trost).
So as someone who grew up in an era where being Conservative did not mean one could not be Progressive, what is one to do?
Because I believe in fiscal accountability, it does not mean that I wish our most vulnerable citizens to be at risk. Because I disagree with paying people to not work, it does not mean that government should not invest in eliminating the causes of poverty. And although I believe government should have less a role in our lives, business alone should not be expected to provide the social safety net to Canadians.
Although the eventual fate of my blog may just be to allow me to publicly ruminate about the state of Conservatism in Canada, I want to encourage a discussion about its future. I’d like to explore what alternatives us old progressives still have while staying true to fiscal conservatism. And I’d love to encourage all of us progressive conservatives out there to take action for our country’s future.
Our current government spends like a sailor on shore leave, funding its public image on the backs of people fortunate enough to have made it to the middle class. The Conservatives continue the politics of division and scientific denial. And as it was forty years ago, there are no real other alternatives.
So I hope to update this blog weekly with my discussions, and I hope you all join in too. At least we have three years to try and figure this out.