January 4, 2020

Right Way Forward For Conservatives (political comment by Fr. John Gishler)

What conservatives should have learned from seizing defeat from the jaws of electoral victory in the 2019 election is that they had the wrong leader chosen through a defective selection process defending the wrong platform with the wrong marketing strategy. It was not just the leader’s fault so just putting a new face in place quickly is not the right way forward. The National Council has appointed a committee to oversee the selection process so let us hope they get it right this time. The basic flaw was too many candidates for proper scrutiny and a lack of clear criteria by which to judge candidates. Let me propose the following candidate ability and experience criteria, based on a wide review of media comment. In addition to already being a fluently bilingual established leader, candidates must have ability and experience in:

  • ·      Defining and defending modern conservatism
  • ·      Defining and defending a modern conservative social platform
  • ·      Defining and defending a modern conservative fiscal platform

1. Defining and Defending Modern Conservatism

Being the leader of the Conservative party in Canada is considerably more difficult that herding cats. Cats at least know and agree on who they are. Conservatives in contrast do not know and agree on who they are.  Some believe they must be more like liberals in order to get elected and others believe they should stand for a real conservative alternative.  Traditional conservatives are now oddities in our post-truth, post-Christendom liberal democracy. The good news is that they actually hold the key to rescuing Canada from the new politically correct distortions and cultural destruction of intolerant liberalism – freedom of speech and religion.

This is the crux of the challenge facing modern conservatives. Our opponents have managed to gradually back conservatives into a very small corner where any politically incorrect comment or criticism of their destructive and foolish “progressive” ideas is automatically dismissed as “not progressive” (whatever that is), possibly hateful and proof conservatives are dangerous, misguided and irrelevant. The real Enlightenment values of reason, freedom of speech and debate on which  liberal democracy is founded have been gradually replaced in Canada and the U.S. with an intolerant liberalism / socialism / Marxism which abhors debate, conflict and criticism as being hateful and offensive. Freedom of speech has been muzzled, turned around and weaponized by the political left. This has been an incredibly clever and successful bid for political power. As naïve intellectuals, the intolerant liberals / socialists /Marxists fail to see or care that the suppression, limitation or intimidation of free speech is the first step on the road to deceit, manipulation, control and ultimately dictatorship.

The consequence is many conservatives tend to take the easy route and think they must “fly under the radar” and look progressives to avoid ridicule and win an election. Conservatives need to ask themselves “How is that working for us?”.  It’s not. Conservatives are still criticized for some imaginary long past hateful policy or speech.  Conservatives were credibly accused of hypocrisy in the 2019 election campaign for trying to be electable as a party that stands for freedom of speech and religion by limiting what they say in public. It’s not very smart, successful or conservative.

The existential issue of our time is not climate change. It is the rise of an intolerant liberalism (an oxymoron) that is destroying liberal democracy in Canada and the U.S.  The point is that real liberal democracy depends on freedom of speech and religion. All the successful liberal democracies in our time were founded on the historic Judeo-Christian values of love of God and neighbour. This is the cultural glue that restrains human corruption and deceit for most but not all people and makes liberal democracy work.  The most painful part of the election campaign was watching our leader being destroyed by not being able to turn reporters questions around and claim the high moral ground for Conservatives – in contrast to Liberal candidates who do not have freedom of speech and conscience on issues like abortion. Our leader must be able to expose this intolerance of free speech and religion as the real existential crisis facing liberal democracy in Canada

One of the clearest definitions of modern conservatism is in Stephen Harper’s book Right Here Right Now (2018). Harper explained the key differences between liberals and conservatives is that “Conservatism begins with the issues it needs to address rather than the policies it wants to apply.” (p. 83) Conservatism is empirical – applying the lessons of human experience and insights into human nature to new challenges as they emerge. Conservatives work from problems and issues to solutions., Modern liberals / progressives start with dogma and look for policy applications of that dogma. Modern liberalism ”… is purely about abstract intellectualism not merely un-rooted experience but repelled by it.” (p. 84) In response to the “progressive” charge that we are somehow out of touch with the modern world and irrelevant, Harper quotes Disraeli who defined conservatism as not just fear and a brake on change, but as a “disposition to conserve” combined with an “ability to improve”.

Conservatives need to select a charismatic leader who can clearly explain modern conservatism and what makes us different from other parties.

2. Defining and Defending a Relevant Modern Conservative Social Platform

Our opponents’ platform will be dogma-based and driven by naïve intellectual idealism. The good news is that the mainstream of Canada is deeply conservative (Crowley NP Oct. 29 A9). He challenges conservatives to rebut misguided liberal / progressives identity politics with a positive practical conservative thinking. “In the conservative view people are not first and foremost black or transgender or Chinese or Muslim or Irish or Indigenous. They are Canadians who enjoy the freedom to choose the identities that matter to them. We do not protect only state approved opinions, behaviours and identities because we are not servants of the state, but the other way around.” “Diversity isn’t our strength; our strength attracts diversity. People from all nations come here because of the freedom, stability and opportunity Canada offers, not because people from all nations come here.”

Adam Daifallah, co-author of Rescuing Canada’s Right: Blueprint for a Conservative Revolution writes: “The first order of business is to renew and redefine Social Policy”. (NP Nov. 08, A9) He proposes we reposition ourselves as the champions of strong families – regardless of their makeup… and policies that encourage strong family units that get married, stay married and raise secure and loved children.  “Family units are the most basic bulwark against a big expensive state and the most important tool a society has in community building.”

The right social platform for conservatives must be based on conservative values:
·      Individual rights over government imposed affirmative action
·      Equality of opportunity over equality of outcomes
·      Free speech (within criminal law) over political correctness and protection from civil criticism.
·      What has worked well in the past over radical new ideas and untested “progressivism”

Since the magic leftist mantra of climate change was used to defeat us in 2019, conservatives need a leader with the courage to say the science of carbon emissions causing climate is very not decided and explain very clearly that the existing Conservative environmental policy would in practical terms (vs theoretical) actually be more effective in reducing greenhouse gasses globally – in the event the science does eventually become agreed. The Conservatives actually had the ball but we dropped it – another reason for selecting a new leader carefully.

Abortion is of course the killer Conservative social issue (pun intended). Intolerant liberalism has traumatized conservatives and muzzled civil debate and the search for a minimal compromise law in parliament. People fear human rights fines or political banishment for even saying Canada should not be the only developed country in the world that does not have any legal limitations on abortion. Recent surveys have indicated that a small majority of Canadians think there should be some basic limit on when women can have an abortion. Right now a child could theoretically be killed at any time up to their actual birth. This is highly offensive to many people in a country founded on traditional Judeo-Christian values and a motto from the Bible that promises God’s rule “from sea to sea”. (Psalm 72.8)

3. Defining and Defending a Modern Conservative Fiscal Policy

We should have nailed it after four years of liberal fiscal irresponsibility in trying to boost the economy and create jobs with massive debt loads that our grandchildren will be paying off - just as we took a whole generation to payoff the elder Trudeau’s fiscal irresponsibility. Alas instead of thinking it out the Conservatives (predictably) put out a rigid and obsolete “balance the budget” based plan, were flat-footed in getting the details out and the Liberals destroyed them in Ontario.

Conservatives have to frame and present fiscal policies that reflect modern economic thinking.  Most people (obviously) and most economists now believe that nations – like individuals, can live richer lives today if they borrow responsibly (especially when interest rates are low) invest the money wisely and do not go into debit beyond what they can reasonably expect to pay back in the near future. An obviously out of date fiscal policy is not a good ditch to die in as we discovered in Ontario.

A new Conservative leader needs leadership experience and credibility in defending a modern fiscal policy.

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