Thursday, July 09, 2009

Canadian Conservatism Needs to Save Itself

Adam Daifallah annoints Tim Hudak as conservative saviour

Writing in a blog post on the National Post's Full Comment blog, Adam Daifallah all but annoints Tim Hudak as the saviour of conservatism not only in Ontario, but perhaps in all of Canada:
"Tim Hudak's ascension to the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario is an important development in the Canadian conservative movement for several reasons. Most importantly, it represents a clean break from the rudderless and inept leadership that has guided the party for more than five years. Let's not mince words: Ernie Eves and John Tory were unmitigated disasters as leaders. Hudak represents a clear return to the conviction-based politics that vaulted the Tories to power -- and kept them there -- in the 1990s."
It would be unreasonable to suggest that Tory and Eves, as leaders, could not have done more.

That being said, it's unreasonable to overlook the fact that, as leaders, Tory and Eves had to work with what Harris had left behind him when he resigned as leader. It wasn't a pretty sight.

Mike Harris left behind him an extremely unpopular incumbent party, which had failed to deliver on its espoused fiscally conservative principles, had made controversial moves in relation to education and relations with municipal governments, and had often stirred up a wasp's nest of public protest against it.

To saddle Tory and Eves firmly with the failure of the Ontario Tories to retain power -- or win it back from Dalton McGuinty in the years since -- is partially unfair. While one cannot overlook their own failures as leaders, one also has to remember the position Harris had left them in.

Yet Daifallah seems to believe that only a leader practically hand-picked by Harris can deliver the Ontario Tories from the ignominous position they currently find themselves in.
"For the first time in recent memory, during the course of the leadership race no candidate ran on an explicitly centre-left platform. Hudak, runner-up Frank Klees and maverick Randy Hillier all staked out clear conservative ground. Christine Elliott ran a formidable campaign and was essentially forced into positioning herself as the centrist candidate due to crowding on the right. (Frequent cheerleading from the Toronto Star also helped burnish her image in that regard.)"
Daifallah seems to do everything but label Elliott Liberal-lite.
"Elliott miscalculated in making the policy of abolishing the Ontario Human Rights Commission -- a cause championed by Hudak and Hiller -- a wedge issue. This didn't sit well with Hudak's and Hillier's supporters, whose second-choice votes she needed to gain in the preferential ballot voting system. Her announcement that she would implement a flat tax if elected -- effectively outflanking Hudak on the right -- sent an electroshock through the other camps. In the end, Elliott proved to be a master of the air war, but lacked the ground game necessary to mount a serious challenge."
But Daifallah would be foolish to insist that the policy of abolishing the Ontario Human Rights Commission was not, in and of itself, designed to be a wedge issue.

Hudak used that policy as a method to determine those who were, allegedly, true conservatives from those who were simply "Liberal lite" -- a label he applied to both Elliott and Klees.
"The significance of the Hudak victory should not be downplayed. The Ontario Tories now have a leader who, unlike his predecessor, won't shy away from drawing clear distinctions between himself and the McGuinty Liberals. Hudak believes in ideas -- he won't be afraid of making bold proposals going forward. His mandate of presenting policies that respect conservative principles yet recognize the current difficult economic context will neutralize Liberal attempts to paint him as a reincarnation of Mike Harris."
And yet Hudak's branding of himself as a "common sense conservative" has already done so much to accomplish this very act.

Distancing himself from Harris will be a difficult act for someone who enjoyed such fervent support from Harris to do. And, really, one may wonder what reason Hudak would have to want to distance himself from who has proven to be his most valuable supporter.
"The McGuinty government is vulnerable on almost every important issue: Ontario's economy is in shambles, taxes are up, spending has soared with no correlative improvement in service quality, unemployment is skyrocketing and the deficit and debt have ballooned. Admittedly, not all of these problems are Dalton McGuinty's own fault, but in politics, the party in power wears the good news and the bad, regardless of its cause.

The next provincial election is still more than two years away. Anything can happen in that time, and it is still unknown whether McGuinty will run for a third term. But if he does, he will be ripe for defeat as an out-of-touch, tired leader who bungled the economy. In the meantime, the way Hudak conducts himself as opposition leader will have important ramifications far beyond Ontario politics.
Hudak has yet to accomplish anything during his (to date short) audition to be Premier of Ontario.

Yet Daifallah already seems to have Hudak pegged as a successor to Stephen Harper's leadership of Canadian conservatism, particularly fiscal conservatism:
"Small-c conservatives across the country are disheartened by the Harper government's numerous capitulations on a whole host of red-meat issues. They are desperately looking for a new champion for the conservative cause. If Hudak can make conservative policies stick and bring the Ontario Tories up in the polls -- and, in the unlikely event that the 2011 election occurs before the next federal campaign, win a government -- it will give great comfort to principled conservatives to know that their ideas still have traction. It would also discredit the Harper government's calculation that the public is only interested in statist solutions to the current economic situation."
Yet Daifallah seems to be overlooking what the historical trend in Canadian politics has tended to be.

That is, when Liberal governments reign in Ottawa, Conservatives tend to win power in Provincial elections. When Conservative governments are in power in Ottawa, Liberals and the NDP tend to win in the provinces.

While the Saskatchewan party claimed victory in the first post-Harper election in the Land of Living Skies and Danny Williams' Progressive Conservatives won in Newfoundland, it's worth noting that Rodney MacDonald's Conservatives were defeated by the NDP, Gordon Campbell's Liberals retained power in British Columbia and Gary Doer's NDP won the 2007 vote in Manitoba.

To expect that Hudak alone will be enough to buck this trend in Ontario and deliver salvation to the federal Tories is, in and of itself, a bit of a pipe dream. Hudak has to be up to the task, and we have yet to see if he actually is.
"Tim Hudak as Canadian conservatism's saviour? Someone needs to assume the role, and I know he would relish it."
Not only does Daifallah's analysis of Hudak's emerging role within Canadian conservatism seem overly Wagnerian, it's also deftly out of touch with the roots of the conservative movement in Canada.

Lloyd Mackey provides a reasonable list of the differing philosophical strains on conservatism. He classifies them as following:

1. Fiscal conservatism - This is the strain of conservatism that prefers controls on government taxation and spending. This is also the very strain of conservatism that Daifallah seems to appeal to most in this article.

2. Social conservatism - Social conservatives prefer family-friendly policies and government regulation -- if not outright prohibition -- of abortion. This particular strain of conservatism has found itself at odds with Human Rights Commissions as many of its most vociferous proponents find themselves paraded before them on an ongoing basis.

3. Democratic populism - Democratic populism insists that the spirit of democracy is found in the will of the people. It favours the "common sense of common people", and has been most strongly represented nationally by Preston Manning.

4. Progressive Conservatism - Progressive conservatism, as embodied by leaders such as Joe Clark, John Diefenbaker and the late Robert Stanfield, advocates using conservatism to moderate political and social change.

5. British Toryism - Proponents of British Toryism favour the preservation of existing institutions, including current parliamentary structures and offices such as Canada's various vice-regal offices such as the Governor General and Lieutenant Governors.

6. Libertarianism - Libertarians prefer that government stay out of the lives of its citizens as much as possible. Libertarians favour as much freedom as possible for citizens, and tend to be the strongest voices in favour of small government.

Of Mackey's six strains of Canadian conservatism, only one -- British Toryism -- arguably sets the table to favour the salvation of Canadian conservatism by a single leader.

Where the other strains of conservatism -- notably libertarianism and democratic populism -- weigh in on this topic, they weigh in against such an option.

Where Daifallah would argue that Tim Hudak is the one man who can save conservatism in Canada, democratic populists would rebel against the notion of any single leader leading Canadian conservatism without a strong consensus to back his direction. That was the act that Preston Manning accomplished so masterfully as leader of the Reform party.

Libertarians would point out the sheer scope of the power, influence and authority conservatives would have to grant such an individual upon being annointed as a conservative "messiah". Libertarians would reject such a notion outright.

Small-p, small-c progressive conservatives would find the urge to reject Hudak as a conservative saviour almost irresistable. To such individuals, Hudak represents the kind of ideologically-isolated neoconservatism that is utterly offensive to their particular values, even as fiscal and social conservatives would likely react favourably to Hudak in such a role.

Contrary to whatever Adam Daifallah may like to believe about Tim Hudak, no one man can save conservatism. Not in Ontario, and not in the rest of Canada. Rather, conservatives must save conservatism together by maintaining the common bonds between its varying -- although often over-simplified, by Lloyd Mackey's own admission -- strains.

Conservatism must save itself.

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