When Tories agree to disagree - Macleans.ca
 

When Tories agree to disagree

Paul Wells on how Harper told his party that Canadians think like they do. The hubris was almost Liberal in its scope.


 
When Tories agree to disagree

Fred Chartrand/CP

My Big Book of Columnists’ Clichés contains only two templates for covering a political party convention. That’s all we need, usually. The first carries the suggested headline, “Internal division splits a once-great party in two.” The second is headlined, “Party brass clamps down; well-oiled machine squeezes out dissent.” Just pick the form that fits, fill in a few blanks, and you can be at Hy’s by 5.

Unfortunately, last week’s Ottawa convention of the Conservative Party of Canada didn’t fit either of the Big Book templates. A few commentators tried to squeeze it in under Well-Oiled Machine, but it didn’t really fit.

Conservatives gathered for the first time since they met in Winnipeg in 2008. It was the party’s first important event since Stephen Harper won his majority on May 2. The PM was in a good mood. He spent a surprising amount of time onsite. On Friday night he skipped an NHL playoff game so he could party-hop. The delegates were in a good mood. Reporters were free to wander around the convention floor unhindered. Even Terry Milewski.

Clamp down? On important questions it was hard even to find a party line. The debate that got all the press attention was over rules for selecting a future leader. Should every riding get an equal number of votes as it did when Harper became leader in 2004? Or should ridings lose clout if their membership fell below a given threshold?

The question was heavy with symbolism. The equal-riding group included Peter MacKay, who demanded the equal-riding rule as the price of unifying his Progressive Conservatives with Harper’s Canadian Alliance in 2003. Alberta riding associations had, and have, huge memberships; in Quebec and the Atlantic, membership rolls were shorter.

Behind MacKay at the microphone in the closing plenary was a group who’d sit today as the Progressive Conservative caucus, if there were still such a thing. Mike Chong, every Liberal’s favourite Conservative leadership hopeful. Pierre Claude Nolin, whom Brian Mulroney put in the Senate, a fan of marijuana legalization. Opposing them were a group of not-particularly-Progressive Conservatives, including Doug Finley, a key campaign organizer for Harper.

Finley warned that the equal-riding system makes it easy to steal a leadership race by stacking riding associations in underpopulated ridings. Then the vote came and Finley lost big. The MacKay group won a clear majority of delegates’ support, repeating a similar victory on the same issue at the party’s Montreal convention in 2005.

Now here’s the thing. A control-freaking, risk-averse party would have done whatever it took to keep a key Harper operative from openly disagreeing with the minister of national defence on a convention-hall floor. But this division was no big problem because it wasn’t symptomatic of deeper, more pervasive division. Having clashed on this question, the Conservatives divided in other ways on other issues. There were no durable fault lines. Opponents on one question found themselves allied on another.

Most of the motions I watched carried with 30 or 40 per cent of delegates opposed. It was a change from New Democratic Party conventions I’ve attended, where proposals often pass with near-unanimous support. (At Liberal conventions, policy plenaries were never much of a draw. Which may explain some things.) There was real debate here, but its contours shifted depending on the question. When a party functions like that, its members feel a stake in it because nobody is consistently frozen out. It’s an important strength.

But this party’s heart still beats on the right. On the convention’s first night the keynote speakers were John Baird, Jason Kenney and Stockwell Day. Kenney and Day would not have been allowed anywhere near the stage at a convention under the leadership of Mulroney or Joe Clark. Peter MacKay did manage to get to the microphone—just long enough to thank Day, who didn’t run for re-election, for his years of public service.

Harper’s Friday-night speech emphasized that victory is not his party’s only purpose. “By saying what we will do and doing what we say, one step at a time, we are moving Canada in a Conservative direction,” he said, “and Canadians are moving with us.”

He talked about lower taxes “for kids’ sports and artistic activities, for students, tradespeople, immigrants, transit users, volunteer firefighters, caregivers, for seniors.” That list of entitlements has made a mess of the tax code, but it makes for a long list of Canadians with a stake in Conservative government. He talked about strong armies and tough justice. He drew a distinction between reducing taxes “permanently” and raising spending “temporarily.”

“After all these years,” he said, “I can stand before you and tell you this: Conservative values are Canada’s values.”

It was a bold line. Familiar too. “I believe that this election has seen the creation of a new, durable and diverse Conservative electorate for a very simple reason,” Jason Kenney told the same room a night earlier. “Because Conservative values are Canadian values.”

For chutzpah, the line was matched only by Kenney’s claim, a moment later, that as Conservatives, “we have the immense advantage of seeing things as they are.”

The hubris was a lot to swallow, until I remembered that Liberals used to tell themselves the same tales, often in the same convention centre. Conservatives have put the old feuds behind them. They are free to disagree, politely and fleetingly, because they are at last free to govern.


 

When Tories agree to disagree

  1. Almost Liberal?

    Jebuz, the Liberals were accused of hubris for using the tagline “Canada’s Liberals” in election ads. Accused by Harper Conservatives, no less.

    Is that the smell of wing-wax melting?

  2. I did notice that I was voting with some people on one question and others on others at my plenary table.

    And we were just six random delegates from Southern and Central Ontario!

  3. “For chutzpah, the line was matched only by Kenney’s claim, a moment later, that as Conservatives, “we have the immense advantage of seeing things as they are.”…

    …reality has a liberal bias.

    hmmm, close. The transformation is well into the: we know best because we know best phase. Man! I can almost see the end game here. The liberals are resting, they’re just worn out from a surfeit of hubris.So, naturally the tories now are picking up the slack…how long before Harper starts to wear a rose in his lapel? [ he’s been making progress on the shrug] There’s nothing new under the sun. All we need now is for the liberals to retool as the party of the principled, and we’re off to the races again. 

    • “All we need now is for the liberals to retool as the party of principled, and we are off to the races again”

      Oh you are being funny today : )

      Seriously though, one of the reasons Harper has succeeded is by adapting with Canadians political views and it works, any smart leader who is hoping for real permanent changes and not be just a one hit wonder has to adapt, Harper wasn’t so willing first he is evolving and get’s it.

      The Liberal Patry has a long way to go, they didn’t listen, they need to so they can adapt.

      I saw Mark Holland, Gerard Kennedy and Scott Brison on Power Play a couple of weeks after election, Brison completely out of touch with what’s going on, Kennedy and Holland ( I was truly sorry to see those two gone,btw!) they get it and how the LPC has to approach the canadian voters, how they need to reinvent the party and most likely abandon some of the party’s principles to be more center left.

      I will search for a speech that mark Holland made a week or so ago, to post it later, it was excellent!

      • I’ve only heard Brison a couple of times and i agree, he needs to lose his angry man shstick. I’m also sad to see Kennedy in particular go – he looked like he has/had a bright future as a liberal – Holland i’m not so sure about. To me he seems like a slightly politer and smarter version of the Baird doll…er political model. Takes all kinds i guess.
        Libs do need to listen and adapt. To get out from under their past[ some of which has become a burden to them, no matter how glorious it was] and create a new future. I’m curious as to which principles you think they need to abandon and become CL. I’m more of the view they need to become a radical party again[ a la Coyne] – we already have a party that’s trying to become CL. Not that i’m all that convinced they will be successful. IMO Canadian politcs is going to be pulled right if the libs die, and i don’t feel that’s in our interests, or good for social justice in the long run. It’s fascinating to watch it play out though.

        • If the Libs die, eventually we get an NDP government, and that will be interesting times indeed.

        • Takes all kinds i guess.

          I prefer this revision of that old saw:  It doesn’t take all kinds, there just are all kinds.

          • LOl…i stand corrected.

  4. I’ve never been fond of phrases like “Conservative values are Canada’s values”.  Once you repeat that to yourself often enough, you lose the instinct of survival you need to survive long-term.  It was arrogant when the Liberals said similar things and it’s arrogant now.  Whenever a sports team starts thinking about how wonderful they are, that’s when they start losing all the time.

    That being said, I don’t think it’s such a big deal in this case, since he’s really saying that Canadians have values, Conservatives have values, and at this time those values coincide quite a lot.

    Anyway, it’s good to hear there is a lot of spirited debate.  That’s very healthy for a party.  It helps keep the party together (contrary to popular wisdom), in the same way that democracy helps to keep a country together.

    • I agree re: values. I, for one, always choked when Liberals said the same thing as our values aren’t even parallel, let alone coinciding.

      Regarding member votes, I’d prefer one member/one vote rather than the current situation, which closely resembles our non “rep by pop” House situation. Maybe that’s because I’m from Alberta, but I don’t think so. I really think that 1 member should equal 1 vote, just as I’d like to see each MP represent close to the same number of citizens. (Never going to happen w/Quebec & PEI promises written in stone, I know, but a girl can dream, can’t she?)

      • I prefer the current situation of ridings being equal, because I think it helps to win elections.
        The goal is to win the most ridings in an election, and to achieve this goal I think it is better to give each riding an equal say in policy.

        That way you end up with policies that are not only desired by today’s Conservative voters, but are also more appealing to Canadians as a whole. For instance, in a Quebec riding you may have a small number of Conservatives, but you still want to find a way to make the party appealing to the citizens of that riding so that you might have a change to gain more votes in that riding. Since all ridings are equally important in an election, this is beneficial to the party.

        I guess it boils down to this:
        either you want the party to craft policies for the existing members, or you want the party to craft policies that will make the party more appealing to all Canadians. If you want the party to be more appealing to all Canadians, and also more likely to win elections, then each riding should have equal weight. If you want to make the party more appealing to its current members, then you want each vote to have equal weight.
        Personally, I feel that I’d prefer to have a mildly conservative party in power than a more strongly conservative party in opposition, as long s one of the primary goals of the mildly conservative party is to move the country to the right, paving the way for a more conservative country.

  5. One of the funniest comments I heard was from Mike Duffy interviewing Chris Alexander about winning his Ajax Pickering riding. Duffy intones thanks for freeing us from Holland. It was a great shot at the loud mouth Mark Holland who the Conservatives had little use for and really wanted to beat. They succeeded and now it is Mark Holland…who?

    • Yeah, thanks for the corpulent Mr Duffy using his position as a publicly funding faux newscaster for the Conservative Party.

      • Jealously is not becoming my friend. Accept your defeat with grace. The Libs will live to fight another day.

        • I’m not going to stop calling a spade a spade. Macleans had it right when
          they said that Mike Duffy is a despicable human being.

          • You should be ashamed of yourself. A typical leftie who has no real argument but to personally attack and insult someone with different beliefs. Pls. fwd the quote where MacLeans said this about Duffy. I would like to see the context.

          • I believe Macleans has since deleted the comment for legal reasons. It was
            during the 2008 election when Duffy released the Dion flub tape on his show,
            before receiving his kickback in the form of a Senate appointment.

            I’ll first note the irony of someone complaining about ad hominem arguments
            while attacking the character of the person supposedly making the argument.
            Then I will note that I was making no argument, just expressing my contempt
            for the turd. I think it rather reflects worse on you that you are defending
            him just because he a Conservative toadie, despite his character.

          • “You should be ashamed of yourself. A typical leftie who has no real argument but to personally attack and insult someone with different beliefs…

            … Duffy intones thanks for freeing us from Holland. It was a great shot at the loud mouth Mark Holland who the Conservatives had little use for and really wanted to beat…”

            Yeesh do you even read some of the inconsistent bilge  you come out with from time to time?

  6. “Conservative values are Canadian values”
    I too heard this as the voice of arrogance, and deja-vu.  It’s borrowed from the worst habits of the Liberals, although in this case, the Tories may be saying it to convince themselves, rather than because they are already convinced of its veracity, as the Liberals remain.

    It was also the central thesis of Dryden’s speech at the leadership convention in 2006 – which some in the media cited as the greatest speech of the convention, or for some longer period. To me, his speech exhibited an infuriating hubris of the highest order. 

    To hear it now from Tory mouths no more excusable, and perhaps more disappointing.

    • Only disappointing to the incredibly naive. 

  7. “By saying what we will do and doing what we say, one step at a time, we are moving Canada in a Conservative direction,” he said, “and Canadians are moving with us.”

    When a political party’s purpose is to move citizens in the preferred direction of that political party, citizens are no longer being represented by that party – they’re being  controlled by it.  

    • I dunno – I think what the quote is describing is leadership, not control.

      I say this at someone who’s sickened at the direction Harper is taking, and even more sickened by the destructive tactics he’s using to lead Canada. But this is what leaders are supposed to do. The alternative is for leaders to follow the polls and I think even our apathetic voters can see through that approach.

      • Funny that this is the alternative to governing by poll. This government spends astronomical amounts on opinion polling.

    • Yes and no.

      What the Conservatives are doing is presenting a conservative policy alternative. This wasn’t the case for many years in Canada. When the case is made, the arguments presented, lo and behold it often is the preferred policy by voters.

      All political parties do this. The NDP was making an argument for union rights when they filibustered. The Liberals for years moved the country to the left by presenting and implementing left leaning policies.

      This has been Well’s point since Harper was elected, even as a minority. A gradual change in direction, even simply by not doing things will lead the country in that direction.

      Mitch Daniels, a conservative governor in Indiana said once that it is amazing how much government you don’t miss. 

  8. ” There was real debate here, but its contours shifted depending on the
    question. When a party functions like that, its members feel a stake in
    it because nobody is consistently frozen out. It’s an important
    strength.”

    Doesn’t this fly in the face of “Harper controls everything” mantra that we have been hearing?

  9. What are Canadian values?  How is it media allow Harper to get away with hollowed legged, meaningless rhetoric that sounds exactly like (not kinda like; exactly like) a traveling evangelical preacher obscuring the hell out of Jesus to extract a few more fanatics and their money for the cause.