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Life after Harper: Reimagining the Conservatives

Potential Conservative leaders are vying for a tarnished crown, writes Paul Wells


 
Conservative leader Stephen Harper pauses for a moment as he addresses Conservatives on election night in Calgary, Ab. Monday Oct. 19, 2015. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

(Jonathan Hayward, CP)

The Civitas Society will meet this weekend at the Delta Ottawa City Centre to mark the 20th anniversary of its founding. I have friends who will attend, but because I am not reliably conservative I’m not invited and my friends are keeping mum about what they’ll discuss. Civitas’s website bills the group as “a non-partisan ‘society where ideas meet’ ” and specifies that the ideas in question are “conservative, classical liberal and libertarian.”

Beyond that one is left to guess: without a log-in and password, you can’t get any more information from the website. I’m told Barbara Kay, the National Post columnist, will be there, and that Conrad Black generally attends. Its founding directors included Ted Byfield, Michael Coren and Ezra Levant, and the genesis of the group is generally attributed to author William Gairdner, who has been urging me politely to tell you about his new book, The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree. Consider it done, Bill. On the Civitas website you can spot photos of Andrew Coyne, who used to work here, and Brian Lee Crowley, who runs an Ottawa think tank.

Also Stephen Harper.

In 2003, Harper used a speech to Civitas to launch his bid to reform Canadian conservatism. He was already the leader of the Canadian Alliance, but that was of no particular use to anyone, and he wasn’t yet sure the rival Conservatives were worth a merger. But whichever party carried the standard for Canadian conservatives, Harper had strong opinions about what it should stand for.

Harper’s Civitas speech, published after the event, stands as a sort of manifesto for Harper conservatism. Let us look at what that entailed one more time, as the contenders to replace Harper as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada start to cobble together their own philosophies.

Calling for tax cuts wasn’t enough, Harper said in 2003, because any Liberal could cut taxes if backed into a corner. Jean Chrétien had done just that in the most recent federal election. No, the Conservatives needed to make their stand on ground on which no other party would want to encroach.

“Serious conservative parties simply cannot shy away from values questions,” Harper said. “On a wide range of public policy questions—including foreign affairs and defence, criminal justice and corrections, family and child care, and health care and social services—social values are increasingly the really big issues.”

When he talked about family, what did he mean? “Banning child pornography, raising the age of sexual consent, providing choice in education and strengthening the institution of marriage. All of these items are key to a conservative agenda.”

Harper always believed that the positions that upset his critics the most were among the keys to his success. Chantal Hébert wrote in 2007 that while many people like to call themselves fiscal conservatives and social liberals, Harper’s new government was fiscally liberal and socially conservative. It was a good line. But the inversion was no accident, it was the plan.

The plan fell apart in the end. Harper used the majority he won in the 2011 election to spend four years indulging his worst instincts. His decade at 24 Sussex makes him the longest-serving Conservative prime minister since Sir John A. Macdonald, but his successors must reimagine the Conservative party for its next chapter, if there is to be one.

Early progress has been shaky. Maxime Bernier, who was once actually Canada’s foreign minister, probably has the strongest brand identity in the early going. He is for the opposite of Harperism: socially laissez-faire, fiscally strongly libertarian. He leads a small, fervent faction in the party, too small to do him much good. He faces an uphill climb.

But at least he has a philosophy. Kellie Leitch, the Ontario pediatric surgeon, has an experienced campaign staff of Ontario Tories, no perceptible support in the federal caucus and a hard time explaining why she proposed a telephone tip line for “barbaric cultural practices” during last year’s election campaign. She is now sorry she did it. It’s not really a platform.

Jason Kenney, the architect of the Conservatives’ ethnic outreach, had a bad 2015: his party did everything but drive immigrant voters to the polling station so they could vote Liberal. On Twitter you can see him test-driving elements of a new appeal: resentment at lefty media bias, nostalgia for a “special relationship” with the U.K., and persistent Ralph Klein hero-worship. That last should deliver Kenney most of the party’s Alberta and Saskatchewan support. Kenney is at least trying to block off areas he can secure against other candidates.

If anyone uses Civitas to test-drive leadership pitches, the rest of us won’t hear about it. But no pretender to Harper’s tarnished crown has much time. The party’s national convention is in Vancouver at the end of May. The party will elect a new leader a year later. The next campaign against Justin Trudeau will be two years after that. If that seems like a long time to you, it’s because you don’t have to do it. To the one who does, every day of it will feel like a sprint.


 

Life after Harper: Reimagining the Conservatives

  1. Any organization involving Levant in its direction suggests we stay far far away. I describe him as very unstable, and should be kept on a leash when near humans. No question in my mind the chap is mentally unbalanced in the extreme.

    • I can’t believe that people would want Levant anywhere near them….

  2. As the great man was wont to say Paul.
    The longer I’m not prime minister.

  3. It will take at least 2 elections before the cons will ever get the smell of Harper off of them, that’s a generation. The whole attitude has to change in the conservative party and show they can be progressive, but by using faces of the future, not faces of the past, if none of that happens, they will always be a party of the right, with no clear vision of the direction, where real progressive Canadians want to go. Divide and Conquer is a thing of the past in this country, driving wedges all the time just makes people angry, and when you get angry, you tend to get nasty and say things you didn’t really mean to say. Balance is the key to keeping power in Ottawa, if you can’t find that, you shouldn’t be running a country.

    • They could invite Bill Davis and Brian Mulroney to speak at the convention.
      Preston Manning and Mike Harris maybe not.

    • I say baloney. The Harper track record for things that matter was great. Lower GST, pension income splitting which my parents enjoy, family income splitting to let parents make a choice, TFSA’s, MP pension reform, no new taxes and surplus this year even after the forced stimulus spending post 2008 recession. Pretty good track record. Do you know that virtually everyone has close to $50K room to invest with no taxes. Did he lack charisma, yes and did he get tainted with the years in minority status getting attacked every day by media and the oppostion, yes. But the track record is very good.

      • No pipelines even though he practically talked pipelines 24/7.
        An unnecessary, fiscally unsound GST tax cut that was done solely for ideological reasons.
        Legislation too innumerable to mention that was, and continues to be, overturned by the S.C,
        Bullying everyone in his line of sight from the President of the United States on down the line.
        Almost nobody that I know has $50K to invest with or without a tax break. His is a party for the rich and/or ignorant voting their biases.
        The media and opposition were not “attacking” him on a daily basis, they were doing their jobs.
        The track record will keep his party in opposition for the next eight years at least, unless they do what they do best – split, die and resurrect themselves under a new, untainted by Harper banner.

        • Swan,

          Just because the media doesn’t report it…doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

          While the Conservatives were in power, they oversaw the building of 17 new pipelines. The pipelines that were NOT built, are the ones the media discusses, Keyston, Gateway..etc.

          And those pipelines which were not built, were halted simply by political shenanigans. BC wanted a cut, First nations wanted a cut, Quebec wanted a cut..etc..etc…..

          Frankly, the reason they didn’t get built, is because harper wasn’t prone to capitulating to blackmail, either from the USA, or Canadian interest groups.

          Trudeau’s brain (Gerald Butts) doesn’t want any pipelines built, and unless Trudeau grows a set….they won’t be.

          As for the GST cut…it may not have been necessary in your mind, but for folks who are struggling, it helps them. You may not be aware of this Swan from Coole, but the people who EARN the money are allowed to keep more of it, they invariably find the best way to spend it.

          Certainly a better return for taxpayers than another junket photo-op to the USA, Alberta, or NB, as Trudeau and his crew seem to be fond of doing.

          And if you don’t know anyone with $50K to invest, why do you begrudge those who do have it? It is not their fault you aren’t doing as well…it is YOUR fault. It is the result of YOUR actions, and YOUR decisions. Don’t blame those with better financial skills for your lack of them.

          Your envy is showing.

          • “As for the GST cut…it may not have been necessary in your mind, but for folks who are struggling, it helps them.”

            For those struggling it did the least to help.

            If your struggling you don’t have much money to pay on GST taxable items. Food and shelter aren’t GST taxable. If he wanted to help those struggling a refundable tax credit would have been much more effective, even an increase in the refundable GST tax credit.

          • Re the GST cut: Pretty much every cent of those tax “savings” were added to our debt. So ultimately we’ll pay a lot more for it down the road.

            Why begrudge those with 50K to invest tax free? Simple: all that money invested without being taxed means less income for the government. That means either we cut services, or we tax those who can’t afford to shelter their money just that much more. i.e. – people like me and Swan. I really have no desire to subsidize the wealthy.

            I guess you’re in Joe Oliver’s camp: let our grandkids worry about the resulting additional debt.

          • J. Edwards wrote:

            ” If he wanted to help those struggling a refundable tax credit would have been much more effective, even an increase in the refundable GST tax credit.”

            And KeithBram wrote:

            “Re the GST cut: Pretty much every cent of those tax “savings” were added to our debt. So ultimately we’ll pay a lot more for it down the road. ”

            And Keith also noted:

            “Why begrudge those with 50K to invest tax free? Simple: all that money invested without being taxed means less income for the government. That means either we cut services, or we tax those who can’t afford to shelter their money just that much more. i.e. – people like me and Swan. I really have no desire to subsidize the wealthy.”

            Which is a pretty clear indication that NEITHER one of them understands the basic truth of taxes.

            Keith, this is NOT Government revenue…..it is government CONFISCATION. Politicians are TAKING money from those who have earned it.

            You say you are concerned about people who are struggling….but don’t seem to grasp the basic fact that some people who are now STRUGGLING..wouldn’t be if they were allowed to keep more of their own money.

            Taxes for services are vital, and I have no problem with providing for those who cannot afford the basics.

            Instead of complaining that government is losing on REVENUEs…you should complain that the Government wouldn’t need as much REVENUE, if they stopped pissing it away on stupid policies.

            Green energy act – Billions wasted, and billions more soon to be wasted.
            Carbon tax – will do squat to save the planet, but does allow trudeau to go to Paris, Washington, and wherever else he wants to take selfies….and brag that Canada (ie. Taxpayers) have so far promised $3BILLION……and more to follow.
            “JUnkets”…how many millions to fly Trudeau and his cabinet around the country, when they could have used the state of the art facilities in Parliament.

            The issue is NOT shortage of revenues available for government. The issue is government wasting money, which requires them to take more from us when they don’t really need to.

            Keith, YOU are not subsidizing anyone. However, given that the Government takes almost $100K per year from me in taxes, it is pretty clear that I am the one doing most of the subsidizing.

      • Yeah, that’s pretty much all he had.

        Your overview of his “legacy” reveals him as the one-trick pony that he was: reduce taxes (mostly for the rich) and, after that…um…reduce them again. Aside from its inherent limitations as fiscal policy, it’s completely bereft of any kind of principled approach addressing the myriad other spheres of governing a complex, modern state. In those other domains, he pretty much made it up all on his own as he went along, with little evidence that he consulted anyone else while he did it.

        • And his election platform was- ‘more of the same’ (but we’ll bring in the Fords to shore up the base).

          Can’t see anyone connected to Harper ever winning an election.

    • The man child Justin is making any smell Harper had disappear pretty quickly. His two major accomplishments so far;
      -developing a budget $20 billion higher than he had promised, and
      -dropping his promise to balance the budget by the end of his four years. Like father like son!!
      I can hardly wait for the runaway inflation and 19% mortgage rates that were his father’s legacy.

    • What’s all this bad stuff about Harper? He was a very good PM, just had a lousy PMO. Balance is the key to keeping power in OW? The kind of liberal balance that funnels money into Quebec, courts Ontario while ignoring or laying on punishing policies one the West? The Liberal governments WERE balanced governments until Pierre the First came along; Justine looks to be even worse. You guys rag Harper but what about this hair-do wonder we have now! However, I go with Jason Kenney as the next real leader.

  4. What about Michael Chong? Is there a place in the Conservative Party for someone who resigned from Harper’s cabinet on a matter of principle? Or does the principle he resigned on make him a non-starter in Quebec?

    • I expect Michael to run and to get a lot of interested attention from Conservatives, especially self-identified progressive Conservatives.

      • Agree.

        I think Mr. Chong is a good choice, and will certainly bring a lot to the table. He seems to be able to work with everyone regardless of political stripe, AND he is a Conservative able to explain what he wants to see.

        I wouldn’t classify him as a “progressive Conservative” as the two are not really compatible and never have been. The word “Progressive” today has stopped meaning what the word originally meant. Today, when you read about “progressives” they are usually mobbing a University demanding that a speaker with opposing views be kicked off campus under threat of violence.

        I would also go for Jason Kenney, though he may not appeal to Ontario or Quebec voters who associate him too closely with Harper.

        Granted, Harper was a fine PM, but his only problem was NOT doing what he wanted to do.

        • If conservatives cannot handle the term ‘progressive’- they will never get back to the centre- which is where the votes are.

          Using ‘progressive’ as a pejorative term is merely pandering to the poorly educated voters- you know, the ones that Trump love!

          • Peg,

            Watch the news, or frankly, just pay attention.

            It is the self-described “progressives” who have just finished Trashing montreal. It is the Progressives, who are committing violence, and using outrageous tactics to silence opponents.

            In fact, today’s “progressives” act a lot like yesterday’s fascists. They use the same tactics, only they can pretend they are morally superior to justify their violence.

            As for poorly educated voters…..just go to Starbucks if you want to find them. They all vote Liberal or NDP.

  5. I am Whig, libertarian tendencies, and I will vote for a Conservative only if leader promises to get Canada moving in direction of how England was 100 years ago.
    ————–

    AJP Taylor –

    Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police.

    • Sounds like Harper, trying to get less government. But I dont agree with this “For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police.”

  6. How much has to be re-imagined?

    Justin Trudeau’s economic policies are going to fail miserably. Many of this “social” initiatives probably will too.

    The Conservatives have to stand for fiscal conservatism and the efficient delivery of government programs and lean against social fads. i.e. Stick down a big flagpole a shade right of centre economically and socially. Argue for a government that is capable and not-in-your-face. The opposite of Trudeau who will soon prove to be incapable and always-in-your-face.

    • WhyshouldIsell wrote:

      “Justin Trudeau’s economic policies are going to fail miserably. Many of this “social” initiatives probably will too.”

      But his (we know they aren’t his ideas) policies are not the goal. Trudeau’s goal is NOT to make Canada a better place, HIS goal is to be a celebrity like his dad. He is all about the selfies and adoration by the masses.

      He and his wife just wanted to be famous. They are Canada’s version of the Kardashians….only not as accomplished.

  7. Keep the “values” out of it

    Nobody is interested in having their life determined by the TEA PARTY

    This is not Donald Trump country.

  8. Just barely contained contempt here

  9. Well, they can start by trying to get rid of their mean streak. One only has to go on Twitter for a few hours to see the hard-core, Conservative base, continue to attack Trudeau 24/7.
    Their Reform, evangelical rump with 18th century mentality, which also occasionally pops up (bringing back the abortion file) also doesn’t help.
    Bring back the PC and then, we can have an electable Conservative party.

    • Lou,

      I’m a Conservative, but I don’t match your description. I know there are folks who are opposed to abortion (and they are allowed to believe that, and their arguments vary. Some are extreme and don’t approve of abortion under any circumstances, but others are less so) and some are religious.

      I’m neither religious, nor opposed to abortion under any circumstances. I do believe their should be a time limit set for allowing abortions, and I don’t think taxpayers should fork out to pay for it if the woman seeking one can afford it herself.

      I’m more of a Libertarian-Conservative. I want to be able to do what I want to do without having some beaurocrat telling me what to do. If I want to sit on an outdoor patio and have a cigar, I should be allowed to do that. I would like to have “property rights” and I would like to be able to say what I want without worrying about some spiteful A-hole telling me it is illegal or “hate speech”

      Basically, I will pay my taxes for health care and education, etc. I won’t cheat, I won’t steal. All I want, is to be left alone to do what I want to do without someone who assumes they have all the answers telling me what to do, how to act, or what to think.

      Frankly, I am convinced that most of the folks in positions of authority are not as smart as I am, and I simply resent them imposing their will upon the rest of us.

      • Lou: “Well, they can start by trying to get rid of their mean streak. One only has to go on Twitter for a few hours to see the hard-core, Conservative base, continue to attack Trudeau 24/7.”

        Jameshalifax: “I’m a Conservative, but I don’t match your description.”

        Jameshalifax (previous comment): “Trudeau’s goal is NOT to make Canada a better place, HIS goal is to be a celebrity like his dad. He is all about the selfies and adoration by the masses. He and his wife just wanted to be famous. They are Canada’s version of the Kardashians….only not as accomplished.”

        Lou: “Their Reform, evangelical rump with 18th century mentality…”

        Jameshalifax: “Frankly, I am convinced that most of the folks in positions of authority are not as smart as I am, and I simply resent them imposing their will upon the rest of us.”

        Yeah, Lou’s comment was waaaay off the mark. Heh.

        • The ‘mean streak” is just too evident-
          Try reading ANY CBC comment post about the Trudeau government. You feel as though you need a hot shower afterwards. There is nothing that the new government can do to make these people any less bitter and twisted.
          Until the conservatives realize that the rest of Canada has moved on- and that they had better get over their antipathy; the better for them. Red Tories are the only way to go.
          (I think that last poll showed them at 25%)

        • TJ, as usual, you manage to completely miss the points. Granted, you had to use two different arguments, but you did manage to misinterpret both.

          There is nothing “mean streak” about pointing out Trudeau is not qualified to be PM, even though he is the PM. To date, his only accomplishment is taking more selfies in the first six month of office, than you can find on the internet.

          As for me pointing out that I am smarter than most of the folks in authority……..I’ll stand by that. Have you even watched Question Period?

  10. The Conservative party has few leaders who can win an election because they remind voters of Stephen Harper. The Party has only one option; a search outside the ranks of the party for a progressive conservative candidate with a reputation earned in the media, finance, or business.

    Andrew Coyne is one example but there are others. Nobody in the Conservative party today has a chance to win a general election.

    The next election is winnable if the candidate is likeable. In election campaigns, ideas are not as important as personality.

    • GeoffreyJOhnBritton pointed out:

      ” In election campaigns, ideas are not as important as personality.”

      And that is why we get rid of competent PM’s, and elect folks like Trudeau.

      Who needs to be accomplished, when you have Sunny ways.

      Of course, when the economy tanks and thousands lose their jobs, they may reconsider their priorities.

  11. There seems to be lots of the tory hierarchy trying to distance themselves from Harper and his policies these days. And yet not one of them had anything to say when they were in power. They all just spouted talking points vetted by Harper’s PMO. But now they want us to believe that they have found the light and see they were wrong. I don’t believe them.

    • Of course you can’t believe them. They are a mirror of the “Tea Part” Republicans.

      O’leary= Trump
      Kenney= Cruz
      Leitch= Carson

      and so on……

      • And:

        Trudeau = Courtney, or Chloe? (Kardashian)

        Or more likely, “Caitlan”

        • What is that supposed to mean? That PM Trudeau is transgendered? He is the farthest thing from a Kardashian since he is attempting (somewhat clumsily at times) to effect real change in the world.

          You appear to epitomize the mean spirited Harper people-

          It is indeed unfortunate that you are the only smart guy in the room; but I suspect you had better get used to the fact that we will have a Liberal government in place for at least the next two election cycles. As far as your pejorative use of the word ‘Progressive”; your ‘examples” are simply that- your examples. The progressive people I know are concerned about others, and attempt to make the world a better place.

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