Thursday, June 11, 2009

Progressive Conservatism Is Not "Standing for Nothing"

Randy Hillier embraces small tent conservatism

When the Ontario Progressive Conservative party leadership candidates locked horns in a leader's debate at the University of Ottawa, it couldn't have possibly become any clearer that the 2009 Ontario PC leadership race is a battle for the very heart and soul of the party.

The battle lines seem to be drawn: Tim Hudak and Randy Hillier firmly favouring the socons, and Christine Elliott and Frank Klees carrying the banner for procons.

Perhaps no one in the field has embraced this apparent internal culture war as Hillier, who told Elliott that "watered-down conservatism" will not lead the party to victory, and power.

"When we stand for nothing, we lose everything," Hillier insisted.

Elliott had previously described herself as a "compassionate" conservative.

Hillier seemed to be thinking in a similar vein as Tom Long, who recently gave a speech to the Manning Institute's Networking Conference in which he took note of the fact that, in recent history, hardline Mike Harris' fiscal conservatism has been more successful than its more progressive counterpart -- as recently represented in leadership by John Tory.

Such ideas stand in stark contrast to the widely-disseminated beliefs of Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, who continues to insist that building consensus between the various strains of conservatism -- usually defined in Canada as fiscal conservatism, social conservatism, democratic populism, progressive conservatism, British Toryism and libertarianism -- in order to be truly successful. Segal has often added that the best way to do so is within a "nation and enterprise" model in which government collaborates with society's various institutions in order to produce an environment in which free markets can provide for the needs of Canadians.

As Lloyd Mackey noted of David Orchard -- who ceded the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative party to Peter MacKay only under the condition that he refused to merge the party with the stronger Canadian Alliance -- people like Hillier and Long represent a sense that their particular brand of conservatism is the only truly "pure" brand of conservatism. Consider the rhetorical implications of Long's description of his favoured strain of conservatism as "unhyphenated" conservatism.

Mackey brilliantly describes individuals with such small-tent notions of conservatism, such as Orchard and Hillier, as virtual mirror images of each other.

Hillier's particular brand of conservatism is best described as a fusion of fiscal conservatism with libertarianism -- a stark contrast to Elliott's mix of fiscal conservatism and progressive conservatism.

Whether Hillier agrees with it or not, Elliott's progressive conservatism is necessary to strike a balance with his particular brand of conservatism. Even though Long may disagree, the only conservatism that has ever proven sustainable in Ontario was a conservatism respectful of progressive values.

Though Long may not understand it, Mike Harris' hard fiscal conservative coalition was not sustainable without its progressive counterparts. If it had been, Ontario wouldn't be governed by the Dalton McGuinty Liberal party right now.

Randy Hillier's and Christine Elliott's strains of conservatism need each other. It's rather unfortunate that Hillier doesn't seem to have the wisdom to recognize this.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Lumpy, Grumpy and Frumpy - "Randy Hillier for Premier"

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