Monday, January 24, 2011

Five years of Conservative rule

There is debate among conservative pundits regarding the effectiveness of the Tory governments of the past five years: whether or not they’ve been too liberal and not conservative enough. On the one hand, there are those like Blogging Tories’ Stephen Taylor whose defence of the Conservative government has included these comments:

“A political party’s first and last job is to get elected. … A political party, in practice, is not much more than a marketing machine to sell ideas to an electorate looking to buy them. … If a Conservative party does form government—especially a minority government—the long term goal is the same: keep the upper hand, survive when strategically beneficial, and win elections.”

On the other hand, the Canadian Republic blog once wrote:

“… a political party’s first and last job is to do what is right. What benefit is there in the Conservative Party forming government if their primary concern will always be retaining power at the expense of representing the values that they were elected to defend?”

Both sides of this divide have a strong following, and I’ve felt drawn to both at one time or another. But my preference is for some middle ground.

As I see it, a political party with no ideological grounding—an ideological compass, so to speak—must surely have difficulty plotting a path for its members to follow. Here I think of the Liberal Party of Canada which is campaigning against the current Conservative plan to cut the corporate tax rate, when its (Liberal) 2008 election promises included the following, which is taken from a Liberal press release of June 19, 2008:

“We will accelerate and deepen the currently planned corporate tax cuts, reducing the general corporate tax rate by an additional one per cent within four years. That means the federal corporate tax rate in Canada will be only 14 per cent by the 2012.”

Such pure pragmatism seems crass and grasping—so devoid of idealism. And yet, if one does not grasp at power using whatever weapons come to hand, there is the hard fact that they may never have access to any of the levers of power, leaving one’s ideas on the sidelines where they will almost certainly be ignored. It may very well be more honest—in the purest sense—to place ideology ahead of pragmatism; however, at what cost does one ignore common sense in favour of political dogma?

For me, a political party should be well grounded in ideology, with a well-balanced moral compass and a firm sense of where to draw its line in the sand. Room to maneuver politically is essential for, after all, a democratic government is supposed to represent all the people and not just those who vote for it.

The Republicans under George Walker Bush seemed to have forsaken those who were not of their core supporters. Consequently, if I could have, I would certainly have voted against George W. in 2004 and with Barack Obama in 2008. Yet I am a conservative and have voted PC, Reform/Canadian Alliance or CPC in every election, federal and provincial, since the late 1960s.

Rather than our elected representatives sticking to a pure conservative agenda—whatever that would look like—I’d settle for more consistency, more promises kept and more frankness between caucus members and rank and file party members and, for that matter, the general public.

Ideally, I want a government that will govern conservatively within reasonable bounds, deviating from time to time but, for the most part, keeping on the “right” side of things. This the Conservative party of Canada has done for the past five years.

Having said that, the current Stephen Harper government has, at times, operated barely inside the boundaries of the sort of government I’m comfortable supporting. Though I cannot help wondering how much of a mess we’d be in if someone like Jack Layton ever got his hands on any one of the levers of government [shudder], as he well might have done as a member of cabinet in a Liberal-NDP coalition, such as the one proposed by Stéphane Dion a couple of years ago.

As to Michael Ignatieff: it’s no time for training wheels. Ignatieff and his group keep reminding us of the fiscal conservatism of Paul Martin, and I don’t disagree that Martin did a good job as finance minister—though he was a mean-spirited failure as prime minister. And, anyway, Martin is long gone and now we’d get Scott Brison, Ralph Goodale and John McCallum [triple shudder].

My reading of our Conservative leadership in Ottawa is that the backroom unelected politicos have too much influence on policy, strategy and tactics. Oftentimes, they’re too cute by far, choosing television ad campaigns instead of political debate. There are times when we seem to have too many advisors and not enough wisdom—too much spin and not enough truth. Too often they skirt the borders of what is appropriate behaviour for a government that is supposed to give a damn about our country and its citizens.

As for the Conservative record over the past five years, there’s plenty to be thankful for, especially when one considers the Tories have been in a minority for the entire time. Here are a few examples of the things I’m thankful for:

  • Canada’s war in Afghanistan has been well managed under trying circumstances.
  • Immigration, citizenship and refugee files have been managed adeptly.
  • Our military is in the best shape it’s been in for half a century. It still has a way to go in terms of size and resources for it to be on par with the more responsible members of NATO, but its on track to be so.
  • Our “AAA” government bond rating remains intact, despite record deficits and surviving the worst international financial crisis and recession in over 70 years.
  • The projected deficits for the next few years sound reasonable under the unusual circumstances we have faced.
  • The growth in Debt-to-GDP Ratios still leaves Canada in an envious position compared to many nations with similar size or larger economies.
  • Canada’s economy stood ninth in the world in 2010, measured in nominal GDP (millions of USD), according to the International Monetary Fund—despite a population (34.3 million) rank of only 36 in the world. No country with a population even close to Canada’s was ahead of us in nominal GDP.

Other Canadians share my general view. In a poll asking Canadians whether, over the last five years, they felt PM Harper had been an excellent, good, fair or poor prime minister, 75 per cent of respondents said they believe the PM has been fair or better.

Oh, there’s plenty to nitpick in the Tory record of the past five years, but then there always will be. The record has been moderately conservative with several nods to our liberal/progressive fellow citizens. So, notwithstanding my own biases, I believe this record is about as good we could have expected under the circumstances.

As to the alternative: a Bloc-supported Liberal-NDP coalition government? Far better the devils we know. I’ll keep rooting for the PM and his team.

Note: The above contains portions of an essay I wrote two years ago in response to a recession-fighting budget presented by the then three-year-old Conservative government.

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.


  1. Excellent post.

    I am not ideological and was not shocked to see the good numbers on how our PM and his team have managed the affairs after the Liberals.

    Choices were made, I don't like all the choices and don't expect to ever expect to regardless of who leads.

    Paul Martin had Manning and Day cooperate with making those cuts. The CPC don't have a natural ally in making "big" cuts.

    I don't think we are in a similar situation to play with the books or offload billions back to the provinces.

    I am happy the military is starting to get their due. I do believe nationalism and pride in Canada is always there, just under the surface.

    The Olympics helped bring it out on the International stage.

    I am looking forward to the next five under a Conservative majority.

  2. I agree with your analysis as it seems to me the polar opposites of 'power at all costs' versus 'ideological purity at all costs' are far too simplistic as a basis of governing. That being said I do have a concern that we really do not have a conservative option and have to be satisfied with soft socialism as opposed to a more hard core version.

    I understand picking which hill to die on for issues and that really does go to those matters over which one would want to hazard an election over. No doubt my favorite ones (dumping the HRCs, political party subsidies, and funding of advocacy groups) are probably not winners but I sure wish they would be part of an election platform.

  3. I wonder what people will say if the Harper Government actually goes through and pays for an arena for Quebec!

    This better not happen. What on earth is the PMO thinking?