It’s time for Canada’s conservative movement to stop focusing on what’s wrong and to start making things right.
And I make that plea as someone who fully understands that for those of us who believe in free enterprise, smaller government and individual freedom, lots of things are going wrong.
Indeed, everywhere you look it seems conservatism is either on the retreat or the defensive.
In the United States, for instance, President Barack Obama is busy imposing what some consider a socialist agenda on the “land of the free”.
And here in Canada, things are not much better. Prime Minister Stephen Harper who, given his background as president of the National Citizens Coalition, was supposed to be a true champion of conservatism, has proven to be a major disappointment.
Rather than giving us a true conservative government, the Tories under Harper have given us what can only be called “Liberal-lite” leadership.
The January federal budget, with its massive spending increases, bailouts and deficits was particularly galling for the conservative movement.
The Fraser Institute called the budget “irresponsible”; conservative commentator Tasha Kheiridden said it was a “betrayal”, while the Canadian Taxpayers Federation bewailed how “eleven years of surpluses and debt reduction were wiped out in one big budget deficit binge.”
Even before that budget came down the Tories hadn’t exactly exercised much in the way of spending restraint. According to the Fraser Institute, program spending under Prime Minister Harper increased by an average of 7.2 per cent per year. That was no improvement–and in fact was marginally worse than his Liberal predecessor, Paul Martin who increased spending by an average of 7.1 percent.
As former Harper speech writer Michael Taube put it, “the Harper Tories have spent more time propping up bloated social programs they previously opposed, and tearing down political positions they formerly supported.”
It’s this feeling of ideological unfaithfulness which has demoralized so many Canadian conservatives. If even Prime Minister Harper can’t provide true conservative leadership, who will? After the January budget, columnist Andrew Coyne suggested the Prime Minister had finished off “what remains of conservatism in Canada.”
But Coyne is wrong. Conservatism in Canada isn’t finished. And Canadian conservatives should not give into pessimism. The situation is not as dire as some portray.
Yes, we have run into some roadblocks and suffered serious setbacks, but we need to remind ourselves how far we have come.
Recall that 40 years ago, our leader, Pierre Trudeau, was essentially a socialist. He openly admired communist leaders like Fidel Castro, nationalized our industries, regulated our economy with misguided programs like the National Energy Program and actively undermined Canada’s values and traditions.
Internationally we faced a committed and determined ideological enemy in the Soviet Union, a nuclear-armed super power with one goal: the destruction of freedom around the globe.
Now flash forward to the present. Conservatism and freedom are in much better shape today than they were in 1970. For one thing, the Soviet Union is gone and its Marxist ideology is largely discredited. The only entities which still embrace state control of the economy are North Korea, Cuba and Canada’s NDP. Even communist countries like China are now adopting elements of a free market economy.
All of this is reason for hope.
And while the economic situation on the domestic scene could certainly be better, at least neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals are talking about the kind of massive state intervention which characterized the Trudeau regime.
The bottom line is that the old “big government is the answer to all our problems” brand of Trudeau Liberalism is dead.
Plus today in Canada we have strong voices standing up for freedom which did not exist forty years ago. I am talking about excellent think tanks such as the Fraser Institute, the CD Howe Institute and the Montreal Economic Institute.
And of course, we have vibrant watchdog organizations like the Canadian Taxpayers Federations ready and able to expose government wrongdoing.
Again, this is reason for hope.
No one should sugar-coat the problems we conservatives face. There is no question we have lost a lot of ground gained in the last twenty years or so and the country is definitely headed in the wrong direction.
To be blunt, the Left is setting Canada’s agenda and it will be difficult for conservatives to turn things around. But fighting for freedom has never been easy and now is the time to redouble our efforts to win the war of ideas.
To start, Canadian conservatives should let Conservative party leaders know they can’t take our support for granted.
And the best way to get that message across is to attack the party’s pocket book.
Simply put, stop giving the Conservative party money. Do it as a form of protest.
The next time the Tories send you a fundraising letter, write them back a polite note indicating you no longer wish to financially support a political party which acts more Liberal than Conservative.
Then take the money you would ordinarily contribute to the Conservatives and give it to movement organizations which are actually standing up for free markets and less government.
Second, and more importantly, the movement needs to start doing better job of communicating conservative ideas to the Canadian public.
We need to convince Canadians that less government is better than more government that free markets are superior to socialism and that individual freedoms are worth preserving.
If we don’t make the case freedom no one will.
Of course, progress might be slow. But we need to recall the words attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”.
One day, we will win.