The lacklustre race for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada is further evidence of the impossibility of conservatism in our time.
A confluence of health, economic and political crises has rendered the right irrelevant. When asked for answers to the challenges we face, conservatism is mute.
Former senior Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay and Durham MP Erin O’Toole, the leading contenders, are reduced to claiming that, if elected, they would run things better than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. Not much different, just better. Oh yeah? Sez you.
This is why, if an election is held anytime within the next 12 months, the Liberals are probably destined for four more years.
Canadian conservatism rests on three pillars. The first pillar is freedom. We should be free to live our lives as we choose, and we alone are responsible for the consequences. This is the conservatism of small government, low taxes, minimal regulation. This is libertarian conservatism.
The second pillar is fairness. Sensible conservatives know some people are held back by poverty and prejudice. While promoting individual freedom, governments should also help those who need help most. The rational half of this pillar is known as Red Toryism; the irrational half is populism.
The third pillar is respect: for history and tradition; for the institutions that sustain faith, community and public safety; and for the family as the anchor of society. Social conservatives embrace, but too often distort, these values.
Conservative values anchored Western society through much of its history. But they proved inadequate to the crisis of the Great Depression and were rendered irrelevant by the social revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s.
A renascent conservatism rescued the dispirited West in the 1980s and 1990s: reviving stagnant economies, ending the Cold War, launching the information revolution and lifting billions out of extreme poverty through globalized trade and commerce.
But in this century, conservatives have struggled to meet the challenge of climate change. Conservative governments wasted lives and treasure in a mostly futile war on terror. Globalists were far too dismissive of the costs of lost manufacturing jobs at home. And then came COVID-19.
The only answer to the pandemic was to close businesses and schools, keep people at home, enforce physical distancing and, more recently, mask up. The only answer to the profound recession that resulted was government support for workers and businesses. To the extent conservatives resisted any of this in the name of individual freedom or smaller government, they looked like fools.
And there is no conservative response to the challenge hurled by the Black Lives Matter movement. Anyone who denies systemic racism has failed to examine their soul.
Conservatives have no prescription for the future. Mr. O’Toole and Mr. MacKay offer sensible proposals for gradually eliminating emergency subsidies and moving toward a balanced budget, while targeting investments in technology, energy and infrastructure. Much of what they propose you will find in the next Liberal budget or Speech from the Throne.
Conservative provincial governments, such as Doug Ford’s in Ontario, are matching the Liberals policy-for-policy. Conservative governments outside Canada – the Republicans in the United States and Conservatives in Great Britain – have bungled the pandemic, causing needless deaths and needless damage to their economies.
Conservatism’s time will come again. Already the outlines are beginning to emerge. A conservative can march in the streets for greater equality for racial minorities – freedom and equal rights are at the heart of the conservative agenda – while defending the legacy and values of those who built this country and this civilization.
Conservatives can argue powerfully for defending democracy in places where it is under attack, especially from China.
Speaking of democracy, Mr. Trudeau treats Parliament as an inconvenience, and there are fresh signs of cronyism, such as funnelling a summer jobs program through the Trudeau-family-friendly WE Charity. If the Liberals mismanage the economic recovery, then a sensible Conservative alternative focused on boosting the private sector while reducing the size of government to create jobs and balance the books may again become popular.
And the search continues for a coherent conservative approach to protecting the existing energy sector while transitioning to a greener one. (Hint: it includes carbon taxes.)
The Conservatives will once again have their day in the sun. But not today. Today, they simply have nothing to say.
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