The prepared text of former Reform party leader Preston Manning’s keynote address to the Manning Centre conference in Ottawa, March 1, 2014.
Thank you (Chris Warkentin, MP) for that kind introduction. Who would have supposed that when I first met you as a high school student on a horse trek into the Rocky Mountains, that you would have become interested in federal politics, one of the youngest riding presidents in the history of party politics, and today the elected representative of Alberta’s Peace River region in the Parliament of Canada?
Sandra and I are immensely proud of you. Congratulations and thank you for all you’ve accomplished thus far and for your kind words today.
And while we are on the subject of supposing:
• Suppose our long-term goal is good government for Canada at all levels – federal, provincial, and municipal – with good government defined as government in accordance with conservative values and principles.
• And suppose that to achieve that goal conservative oriented parties and politicians need to consistently win elections and then govern in accordance with those values and principles once elected.
What are the Next Steps toward those goals?
• What are the Next Steps for the Economy, Civil Society, and Democracy in Canada as our speakers have discussed over these last two days?
• But what at the Next Steps for Canada’s Conservative Movement, which is the subject of this session?
Let me begin by drawing a helpful distinction between the role of the Conservative Movement in achieving those objectives and the role of conservative parties.
Like most of you, I am a believer in and supporter of the concept of political parties, and of conservative oriented political parties in particular.
But for those parties to be successful – in the narrow sense of winning more elections, but more importantly, successful in providing good government once elected – the parties need certain resources which it is increasingly the responsibility of others outside the parties to provide.
In particular, they need:
• A steady stream of ideas, policy proposals, and policy critiques – a stream that conservative oriented think tanks, academics, interest groups, and consultative assemblies with interested Canadians – sympathetic to the parties but outside them can and must provide.
• An ever growing and constantly replenished pool of trained people – constituency executives, campaign managers, campaign volunteers, political staffers, candidates and prospective candidates – much of the recruitment and training of which needs to be conducted year in year out, in between elections and not just in election years, by mentors and training organizations specifically dedicated to doing so.
• Supportive communications activity – magazines, journals, talk shows, public affairs programs, commentators, webcasters, bloggers, tweeters, etc. to constantly develop and distribute conservative oriented perspectives, rebuttals, ideas, and messages to even broader and more diverse audiences than the parties themselves can reach.
All of these “other” conservative oriented instrumentalities – sympathetic to the parties and desirous of their success but financed and delivered outside of them – constitute what we are calling The Conservative Movement.
Thus we think of this annual Networking Conference as a meeting of the Movement, our School of Practical Politics and the C2C Electronic Journal as Movement components, and our research and training Centre in Calgary as a home base for the Movement. We think of you and your organization – whoever you may be – if you’re in some way committed to conservative values and principles – as an important part of the Conservative Movement.
The Movement is the extended conservative family which nurtures and supports its members. The Parties run the family’s business which is to win elections and govern. The Movement has a broader, softer, relational side. It provides an honored place for the veterans of the political wars and a training base for new recruits. It provides a place for conservative activists to rest, think, and rejuvenate between elections. It provides a place of shelter when the political storm clouds burst and the electoral tides are unkind, and a place from which to celebrate when the sun shines and conservatives live under the rainbow of political success.
So what then are some Next Steps for the Conservative Movement in Canada that will strengthen it and in turn contribute to the health and success of Canada’s conservative oriented political parties?
The Manning Barometer – a national public opinion survey conducted annually for this conference and presented at a breakout session yesterday by Dr. André Turcotte – shows that conservatism in Canada has suffered some setbacks over the last year:
• A slight decline in support for conservative ideology generally.
• A slight decline in support for the Conservative Party federally, particularly in BC and Ontario.
• And a decline in the perceived ability of conservatives to deal with key issues such as the
environment, health care, and even the economy.
With respect to the economy – the number one issue in all parts of the country – our surveys show that large numbers of Canadians want the very things that conservative economic policy offers them: balanced budgets, lower taxes, and expanded trade. But unfortunately, decreasing rather than increasing numbers of Canadians identify conservative parties as the best vehicles for pursuing these policies.
So how should the Conservative Movement respond to such polling numbers? We could ignore them or dispute them. We could always fire the pollster. We could get discouraged and down on ourselves and try to find someone to blame. Or we can frankly and honestly face up to these political realities and say to ourselves: “What these numbers show is that there’s work to be done.” And that the Next Steps for the Conservative Movement include rebuilding on our strengths and addressing perceived weaknesses.
I. Next Steps: Rebuilding on our strengths, i.e., economic policies.
First: The Movement through its research and communications work can more specifically and effectively target the four main groups of Canadians most likely to want and benefit from the four main planks of conservative economic policy as reflected in the federal government’s recent Throne Speeches and Budgets. Those groups are:
• Investors whose confidence is strengthened by steady progress toward eliminating the federal deficit.
• Taxpayers whose confidence is strengthened by holding the line on taxes. • Workers whose confidence is strengthened by investor driven private sector job creation and government investments in workplace training.
• Consumers whose confidence is strengthened by tax policies which leave more dollars in their pockets, and competition and trade policies which expand consumer choice.
By focusing on the communication of conservative policies designed to ensure that the Canadian economy is firing on all cylinders – generating investor confidence, taxpayer confidence, worker confidence, and consumer confidence – the Movement can assist the parties to more effectively address
the number one concern of a majority of Canadians.
Second, while we are rebuilding on our strengths – substantive policy and action on the economy – let us continue to hope that the Liberals, buoyed by their polling numbers, will continue on their present path of attempting to substitute charisma for substance, particularly with respect to the economy.
Now personally I have never been afflicted with charisma – in fact Tom Flanagan once said I had reverse charisma. But I would never disparage its utility in certain circumstances. Charisma has its place, particularly if the intention is to capture attention and entertain. This is especially true with the visual media, who have always favored charisma over substance for obvious reasons.
But when it comes to the economic concerns of Canadians, let us vigorously make the case that you can’t eat charisma. You can’t wear charisma. You can’t pay your mortgage with charisma. You can’t put it in the bank.
And when it comes to the attempted projection of charismatic attraction via the social media, let us vigorously argue the case that there is no website or blog that can create a sustainable pension for a senior. And there is no tweet nor YouTube video, no matter how viral, that can create a new sustainable job for a young person just entering the work force.
The Movement has a role in urging Canadians to appreciate charisma where it belongs – in the entertainment sector – but to entrust government to those with substance on the issues that matter most.
II. Next Steps: Identifying and Honestly Addressing Weaknesses
But I must hurry on. Where the Conservative Movement can be of significant help to the parties is not simply by identifying and levering strengths but by also identifying and honestly addressing weaknesses and potential weaknesses.
This is something that is very difficult for the parties themselves to do, but less so for the Movement because we don’t speak for the parties and they are free to ignore, disagree, or agree with our findings and suggestions. If and when, however, it comes to a choice between telling conservatives what we want to hear or what we need to hear, the Movement should err on the side of the latter so that we can deal frankly and openly with obstacles to increasing conservative support.
To illustrate, two weeks from now the Broadbent Institute – which is trying to become the left wing equivalent of the Manning Centre – will be holding a major conference in Toronto. But I wonder how frank they will be in sharing some of the polling data that came out of the defeat of the NDP in the last BC election or respecting their federal leader’s vulnerabilities in Quebec?
In BC, as you will recall, the NDP appeared to be leading by a substantial margin in most of the polls right up to the last week of the provincial election. But once BC electors got face to face with the possibility of an NDP government, they came to the same conclusion electors in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia have come to: if it’s the economy you’re most worried about, and your economy is frail or languishing, the last thing you want to do is elect an NDP government because managing the economy simply isn’t their competence or strength.
And in Quebec, last year we did a poll which asked among other things what attracted Quebeckers to the late Jack Layton in the last federal election. 43% of respondents said because he was a positive, likeable person. Another 27% said it was because they were fed up with the Bloc and other parties. But most significantly, less than 7% said they were attracted to Layton and the NDP because of they liked their policies or ideas. And when these same respondents were asked if Mr. Mulcair possessed the same characteristics that attracted them to Mr. Layton, over 48% said No.
Identifying and addressing those negative realities is the NDP’s problem. But what about perceived deficiencies on the conservative side of the spectrum that the Movement has an obligation to acknowledge and address? Let me deal briefly with three of them:
1. The Environment
While conservatives are generally seen to be competent on the economy, we continue to be seen as defensive and weak on the environment. In our Quebec poll, for example, perceived weakness on the environment was given as the number one policy reason for not supporting conservative parties.
Of course, what is most exasperating is that this need not be so. I know, you know, all kinds of people – especially ranchers, farmers, loggers, fishers, hunters, hikers, out-door people who either work or recreate in close communion with their physical environment – who are fiscal or social conservatives and environmental conservationists all at the same time. They hold all of these commitments and positions in common.
And this shouldn’t surprise us. Conservative and conservation come from the same root. Living within our means financially is easily and logically extendable to living within our means ecologically. And market mechanisms, which conservatives prefer to excessive regulation by governments, can just as readily be harnessed to environmental protection as to economic development.
But this perceived weakness on the environmental front needs to be more seriously addressed if conservative support is to be broadened, especially among the young. The philosophical and policy means for doing so exist in the growing body of literature and activity on the “green conservative” theme”. And the appointment of Leona Aglukkaq as Canada’s Environment Minister is a most positive and welcome step as the Arctic, with which she is intimately identified, is seen by many Canadians as the place to make a “fresh start on the environment” and the better management of the environment/economy interface.
2. Municipal Politics and Governance
A second area where the Conservative Movement, as distinct from conservative political parties, needs to become more proactive is with respect to municipal politics and governance.
As most of you know, while there are 308 (soon to become 338) elected federal officials in Canada, and about 760 elected provincial/territorial officials, there are well over 25,000 elected municipal officials in our country.
And despite the fact that some of these municipal governments are larger than many provincial governments; despite the fact that on many issues they have a more direct impact on the lives of citizens than federal or provincial politicians; and despite the fact that local politics is often the training ground for many who later go into provincial or federal politics, there are relatively few think tanks, support groups, or training programs dedicated to the municipal field.
Left wing think tanks and interest groups, including public service unions, are becoming increasingly active at this level and conservatives need to become so as well, while respecting the desire of most municipal electorates to keep traditional parties and party politics out of the municipal arena. Thus municipal involvement is more a task for the Movement than the federal or provincial parties.
This subject was thoroughly discussed yesterday at the session addressed by Dimitri Pantazopoulos and Jeromy Farkas. It is an area in which the Manning Centre itself intends to do more work in future. And municipal politics and governance is an arena in which conservative oriented thinkers and activists in all parts of the country need to become more engaged going forward.
3. The Democracy Front
And then there is the democracy front where perceived weaknesses on the part of conservatives are most worrisome for me and call for immediate and serious attention.
According to our most recent national public opinion poll: • 62% of respondents feel that Canada could do a much better job in making our
democratic institutions more responsive to voters and in ensuring that candidates for
political office are better trained and better prepared for their jobs. • 65% feel that Canada (which includes all of the political parties) could do a much better job in getting citizens more directly involved in the public policy process and improving
voter turnout. • And over 90% of Canadians support strengthening the powers of election officials to
investigate electoral wrongdoing, requiring full disclosure of how election funds are
spent, and making party leaders more accountable to their respective caucuses. In some more recent public opinion surveying conducted for our Centre by Dr. André Turcotte, 70% of Canadians had a negative perception of political parties – all parties. At the same time, less than 6% had any idea of what political parties really do, especially between elections. And because the vast majority of Canadians have no idea what political parties do, 42% of respondents couldn’t think of a single thing that would improve their performance, acceptability, or popularity.
This is not Afghanistan or the Congo I am talking about, where democratic illiteracy is understandably wide spread. This is Canada I am talking about, one of the oldest and ostensibly most politically literate democracies in the world.
As I say, this is a problem for all parties but it should be a particular concern of conservatives who believe in democracy and who want to strengthen their support among those Canadians who are conservatively inclined but who are first and foremost democrats.
So, three immediate things that can be done to strengthen conservatism on the democratic front, and where the Movement should be proactive and supportive:
• One: Continue to push the government’s Senate Reform Bill (Bill C-7) eloquently championed by Secretary of State Poilievre at a session this morning, democratic accountability to electors being the real answer to dealing with Senatorial misconduct and ineffectiveness.
• Two: Since we are no longer in a minority government situation where government can fall because two or three MPs go offside, loosen the grip of Leaders and House Officers on individual MP’s, giving serious consideration to the intent and principles of Michael Chong’s House of Commons Reform Bill.
• And Three: Amend the Fair Elections Act (Bill C23) currently before the House – hopefully with all-party consent – to strengthen and expand rather than weaken the role of Elections Canada with respect to addressing the greatest challenge to the Canadian electoral system, which is not its unfairness but rather the steady decline in voter turnout all over the country.1
This legislation, which is a commendable democratic initiative, seeks to eliminate those practices – robo-calling, misuse of the vouching provision, misuse of election contributions, etc. – which discredit elections and parties associated with them. It also seeks to strengthen the enforcement of electoral law by separating that role from Elections Canada and making it the sole jurisdiction of the Independent Commissioner of Elections under the Director for Public Prosecutions. It can be improved, as I say, by strengthening rather than reducing the role of Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer with respect to promotional and educational activities designed to increase voter participation in Canada’s elections.
It was Alexis de Tocqueville in his famous treatise on Democracy in America who observed that political parties (or factions, as he called them) could be divided into two great categories: those which sought to limit the authority of the people and those which sought to extend it.2
Conservative governments, conservative opposition parties, and the Conservative Movement need to constantly affirm and re-affirm their commitment to extending rather than limiting democratic expression.
III. Next Steps: Political Education and Training
Finally, if there was only one function that the Conservative Movement could perform on behalf of the parties and those who seek elected office, I suggest that it should be the promotion and delivery of training for Canadians in general and conservatives in particular to more effectively participate in Canada’s democratic processes.
In other words, as a Movement we should make it our major mission to strengthen the knowledge, skills, ethical foundations, communications, and leadership capacities of our political participants – constituency executives, campaign managers, political staffs, nomination contestants, and candidates for elected office.
Some of you have heard me say it before, but I say it again. To become a barista at Starbucks you must take twenty to thirty hours of training. But you can become a lawmaker in our parliament or legislatures or municipal councils without one hour of training in law making. Is this in the public interest?
Cicero, the great Roman Senator, wrote in his diary, if you want to enter the Forum – the great political arena of his day – intrate parati (“enter prepared”). He himself took ten years to prepare before he ever set foot in the Senate.
But to how many of our lawmakers, candidates, or campaign managers have we provided the encouragement, the opportunity, the mentors, the materials, the resources to devote even ten hours to truly prepare for their respective roles, let alone ten months or ten years?
So two suggestions, for strengthening the human resources of our democratic institutions including conservative oriented political parties:
1. First Suggestion: Devote some small percentage of the operating budgets of our parliaments, legislatures, and municipal councils to the provision of ongoing training for their members and staffs.
There is a university student, Jim Billington, who has been helping out at our Centre in Calgary. And I said to Jim, suppose we think of our democratic institutions – just the fourteen senior legislatures in Canada and the Elections Offices that support the election of members to them – as a “service company.” How big a democratic service company would that be is in terms of revenues and expenditures?
So Jim figured it out – it’s at least a $1.7 billion dollar company – about $1.2 billion annually just to run the institutions and over $500 million spent in expenditures by the Elections Offices (not the parties) on the most recent elections that elected the members of those institutions. A 1.7 billion dollar service organization – actually much bigger than that if you added in the cost of party election expenditures and the cost of municipal government councils.
The American Society for Training and Development reports that US organizations spend over $150 billion per year or more than $1200 per employee per year on Learning and Development activity and infrastructure, but our democratic service organizations spend little or nothing on such activity.
So how about it? If our parliaments, legislatures, and municipal councils – recognizing that in reality they are democratic service organizations – took 3% of their budgets and dedicated it to providing training opportunities and skill upgrading for their elected occupants and their staffs – maybe start with lawmaking, or constituent representation, or in-depth interpretation of government financial statements and budgets – couldn’t we significantly increase the effectiveness of those institutions and public respect for their occupants?
2. Second Suggestion: And then to further make the training of people for participation in the partisan arena of federal politics a higher priority and more financeable, how about one more simple amendment to Bill C-23 (the Fair Elections Act)?
The purpose of that amendment would be to make it crystal clear that any training for political participation – by any party, electoral district association, nominated or prospective candidate, or third party – will not be considered an election expense or contribution-in-kind under the act.3
Have limits on campaign spending by candidates and parties – agreed. Have limits on who can donate and how much they can donate to political parties and campaigns – agreed. But no limits outside the writ period as to what can be invested in or spent on the education and training of people willing to participate actively in democratic political service.
Back in the days when I was engaged in political door knocking in Calgary Southwest, I was thinking about better ways to get citizens more engaged in elections when I knocked on the door of this house and the voter inside immediately asked, “What’s your platform?” To which I replied, “What’s yours?”
He said: “What do you mean?”
“Well” I said, “My party and I have a platform which I can show you. But what about your platform? What is it that you want to achieve over the next four years – for yourself, for your family, for your community, for your employer or business, for your country? Write that down, and judge me as your MP and my party, if we were to form a government, by the extent to which our policies and actions facilitate and enable you to implement your platform and achieve your goals.”
This is a conservative vision of government – government as a facilitator and enabler of others. And likewise the Conservative Movement is a facilitator and enabler – a facilitator and enabler of conservative thinkers and political activists to better serve their parties, their constituents, and their country.
“There is no such thing as an unassisted goal” proclaims that Canadian Tire commercial. And it’s true! Sid Crosby’s game winning, gold winning goal at the 2010 Olympics was assisted – by Jarome Iginla. Marie-Philip Poulin’s game winning, gold winning goal at the 2014 Olympics was assisted – by Laura Fortino.
There is no such thing as an unassisted election victory. There is no such thing as an unassisted policy achievement. There is no such thing as an unassisted political career. And no one is more conscious of this than myself – whatever I’ve been able to accomplish politically has always and in every instance been facilitated and enabled by others.
And so in recognition of this role of the Movement and movement people, we want to end this session by inaugurating an Award for Service to Democracy to be given each year to someone who exemplifies the role of the Movement in enabling and facilitating political achievements by others.
And we have decided to name it after a man whose contributions in this role are enormous, well known, and appreciated by all of you. He has been Chairman of Almost Everything to do with deconstructing and rebuilding the conservative movement in Canada, including for years chairing this Conference. His name is Cliff Fryers.
We will therefore conclude this session on Next Steps for the Conservative Movement by asking Cliff, accompanied by Blair Nixon, Chairman of our Foundation, and Chuck Strahl, Chairman of our Centre, to come on stage to receive the first annual Cliff Fryers Award for Service to Democracy, an award which he not only richly deserves but also has earned by years and years of toil, often in the shadows, so that others might succeed and bask in the limelight of that success. Cliff will have the last word of this session – please join me in welcoming and congratulating Cliff Fryers.