Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ted Byfield on the Challenge of Compromise

Byfield encourages social conservatives to lobby the government

At a recent event Wynyard, Saskatchewan commemorating Joe Borowski's Trial for Life, Ted Byfield addressed the crowd with a speech entitled "How Did We Get into This Predicament?"

The "predicament" in question is somewhat obvious -- Dr Henry Morgentaler's ascension to the Order of Canada was clearly taken as a slight by so many social conservatives especially because individuals such as Borowski, and all the opposition they offered, have meanwhile been discarded to the scrap heap of history. For many social conservatives, the Morgentaler OoC was treated as yet another symbol of the ideological dominance the pro-abortion lobby demands on that particular issue.

Which isn't hard to understand -- many pro-abortion activists flaunted it as such.

The story of Borowski's Ttrial for Life is actually a fairly intriguing one, and could never be done justice in the course of a post about Byfield's comments. There are other times and places for that.

In this particular video, Byfield addresses a question asked concerning what social conservatives can do to reassert their influence on a government that, in the eyes of many social conservatives, has all but abandoned them.

Byfield's response is actually somewhat surprising -- although some individuals are almost perversely unembarrassed to misunderstand them.

Byfield actually opens his answer with some remarks about the importance of compromise in politics:

"I think that the Conservative government has to walk a line, as we all know, between its principles and its practical necessities. It exists through compromise. That is one of the great charms and weaknesses of the democratic system.

No single candidate, no single party, anywhere will ever completely represent what you think the government ought to do.

Therefore everyone you come to vote for is going to have to compromise on some level.
One should likely assume that Byfield is advising his audience that any political party would have to be open to compromise on their particular issues (in this case, abortion) in order to get elected and remain electable -- certainly, its these very "practical necessities" that are at the core of the Conservative move to scrap Bill C-484, offering instead a legislatively redundant alternative.

Of course, not only social conservatives have to accept compromises after an election. For all their rhetoric to the contrary, it's highly unlikely that the NDP would put a stop to the Fort MacMurray oilsands -- nor are they likely to satisfy the demands of their most extreme left-wing supporters and start nationalizing industry in Canada.

Such voters would either have to be prepared to accept the inevitable post-election compromise, or consider casting their votes for a different party -- in the NDP example, perhaps the Communist party.

Yet, as Byfield points out, too much compromise can have a negative impact on the prospects of any political party:

"However, the Harper government has to walk a very, very careful path because it assumes it has the votes of what it calls 'social conservatives'. That's you and that's me.

They will compromise as far as they can with the other side. But they will always be watching what organizations like this say about what they do. If you see them compromising too far, tell them, because they are very, very alert to any possibility of rebellion from the small-c conservative side.
Inevitably, a party has to govern at least partially to its base. While governments can take this entirely too far and alienate the rest of the electorate in doing so -- the example of George W Bush is a cogent example -- it can only remain viable so long as it remembers who elected it in the first place.

Byfield knows this well, having been front-and-centre during an episode of Canada's political history that underscores this for any politician willing to take an honest look at the federal politics of the 1990s:

"They're aware of one other thing: the old Conservative party ignored the social conservatives, and the consequence of that was the rise of the Reform party. And the consequence of that was many, many years of Liberal government, because the conservative vote split -- part to Reform, part to [Progressive] Conservative.

They don't want that to happen again.

So when you see them doing things that they are now doing and you believe goes too far away -- too much of a compromise -- tell them. Write your MP. Get on open line shows when issues like this come up. Call in. Say what you think. Because they will listen. If at any time they get the idea that they've gone too far, they'll pull back again.

My message would be to make sure the Conservative government remains a conservative government. Let them know what you think all the time.
The solution, Byfield insists, is rather simple: lobby the government. Apply pressure. Stand up for what you believe in.

And while the necessary big-tent nature of the modern Conservative party renders it unlikely that social conservatives will ever attain everything on their "wish list" from a Conservative government, the party inevitably has to respect the basic democratic prerogatives of its supporters -- namely, the right to make their views heard.

Of course, there are those who believe social conservatives should not speak -- that they should relent to going quietly into the good night.

Many of these are the same people who tried to prevent the formation of the modern Conservative party because they weren't willing to even consider the notion of discussion -- let alone compromise -- with social conservatives. Likewise, there were plenty of Reform party supporters who rejected the modern Conservative party because they, too, were unwilling to accept any compromise.

Clearly, Ted Byfield's message wasn't really meant for either one of these two camps. Instead, Byfield's message is to those social conservatives who are willing to accept compromise but aren't willing to outright capitulate.

Intriguingly, this is a message that applies equally to left-wingers with a similar predisposition. Whether or not any of them care to hear it from the former publisher of Alberta Report is another matter entirely.


  1. I've never said that. But don't let me stop you from LYING.

  2. "Of course, there are those who believe social conservatives should not speak -- that they should relent to going quietly into the good night."
    SoCons should be allowed to speak...and sane people should be allowed to refute their arguments.

  3. Please, Marty. It's all in the subtext of your comments, and you can't even begin to deny it.

    But if you want to refute the arguments of social conservatives, as Mr Murney insists, then here's an idea for you:

    Maybe you should start actually refuting their arguments, instead of simply labelling them as "wingnuts" or "insane".

    Perhaps you've deluded yourselves that labelling them as "insane wingnuts" is sufficient for intelligent debate. Anyone who understands the meaning of these words will assure you it isn't.

    And while you're at it, maybe you should get out of bed with people whose sole goal in blogging is to exact the greatest personal cost possible from anyone who dares disagree with them.

    Or at the very least stop cheerleading for them.

    But, hey: I certainly don't blame you for swinging by here to read the opinions of someone who actually has something to say about the video in question.

    I may not agree with Ted Byfield on a great number of things -- in fact, most of his social conservative views -- but I appreciate his encouragement of democratic debate.

    Which is something Martin Rayner could never be accused of.


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