Boessenkool Gives Conservatives Bad Advice

February 1st, 2021 | JH

[Conservatism] is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution; to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. – Robert Lewis Dabney


I subscribe to an email newsletter called The Line. It appears to be a new attempt by a collection of established pundits and op-ed writers to find a (hopefully paying) audience online. There have been some good pieces recently, and one that caught my eye was by Ken Boessenkool.

Ken is a long-time conservative that has deep connections to Canadian conservatism and the Conservative Party of Canada. He was one of the signatories of the infamous Firewall letter sent to Ralph Klein and was a Harper advisor for many years. He pioneered the Harper alternative of providing childcare tax credit cheques to parents instead of the Paul Martin plan to build out a national daycare strategy. He is smart and accomplished and has a lot of gravitas, but unfortunately, he has been playing the same cards for too long.

His latest article for The Line is called, “A real climate-change plan will help O'Toole ... even in the west 

The article starts with his assertion that if the Conservatives had a carbon tax plan it would be a big winner in the 905 region of Toronto. He then tells us that his critics suggest that Conservative supporters in Western Canada might abandon the party if a carbon tax were adopted. A poll by Leger surveyed people to see if that was so.

The findings were basically this:Implementing a carbon tax plan is worth it because it will attract more voters than it will repel. If you suggest to Conservative voters that the carbon tax will make the cost of gas at the pumps and gas to heat homes more expensive, but it will be offset with cuts to personal income tax and you explain to them that this will help Erin O’Toole win in Toronto which will help the CPC win the election, then the whole scheme in the aggregate is a vote-getting slam dunk according to the science of polling!


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Not only will Conservative voters stay with the party despite this policy, but new potential voters will be willing to vote the Conservatives to victory! Guaranteed win, right?

Wrong.

When someone is asked a polling question, they are going to feel compelled to provide an answer. If you ask them questions about politics and policy and they don’t have a clue, then they are going to provide answers that sound good in the moment. It doesn’t matter what they say or even what they think they’d do, polling this stuff is pointless. People don’t vote rationally.

When Stephen Carter was shopping Nenshi around during his first mayoral run he branded him as the smartest guy in the room and yet Carter said…


Of the 130,000 unique visits to the Nenshi website during the election campaign, Carter told me, fewer than 3,000 stayed on the policy page for longer than five seconds.

"Five seconds!" he laughed.

"And we still got 144,000 votes! So there were even people, who never understood what his issues were, who voted for him, who thought he was the smartest candidate." - CBC

 

In other words, general branding travels.

In 2008, Stephen Harper’s team branded Stephane Dion as a professorial dork and when the Liberals planned a carbon tax, the CPC warned Canadians about Dion’s plan for a “Tax on Everything!” complete with a puffin taking a dump on Dion’s shoulder. The branding worked and Harper won a second term and the Liberals then ousted Dion. Do you remember the particulars of that Liberal carbon plan? I don’t. I don’t have to. I saw the billboards and the puffin taking a dump on Dion and that was enough. That’s where most voters live.

It’s also why the CPC has been branded as not caring about climate change. What conservatives thought might be a fad that would’ve run its course by now has been adopted as a progressive religion and, as the Overton Window shifts ever leftward, the CPC now finds itself in a position of trying to make the Conservative case for a carbon tax. It’s yet another progressive victory that conservatives must adopt and embrace as a part of their own principles or risk the dreaded cancel culture routine of being on the outside of mainstream orthodoxy.

So, the Conservative Party is in a bind. They spent years branding themselves against the carbon tax and are now at this late date, trying to jump on yet another progressive bandwagon. The second problem is that the bandwagon is already full of options. If people really do care as much about climate change as they tell pollsters they do; they’ll simply vote for one of the three more strident parties on offer. If you are a climate alarmist zealot, you’re going to vote Green. If it’s a big deal for you, but only one of many, you’ll vote NDP and if you kind of care, but not really, but want to be on the side of correct thinking individuals you’ll just vote Liberal.

No person claiming to be ‘open to voting Conservative’ is going to be won over by a tepid death bed conversion to the church of climate change. If they care enough for climate change to affect their vote, they’ll vote for one of the real deal parties on offer. If they already don’t care enough, then some bait and switch scheme like Boessenkool is advocating isn’t going to get anyone converted.

The value to a policy like this may be in pre-emptively defending against progressive criticisms that negatively brand the CPC as anti-environment. Gelding yourself in order to win over moderates tends not to work too well in reality however, and making the Conservative Party into a faux Liberal Party is usually a losing strategy.

It’s more likely that Boessenkool thinks this compromise is a crafty way to simply conservatize progressivism. Much in the same way that he helped Canada avoid a socialistic national daycare program with the child benefit tax credit; this climate change scheme seeks to do some neutral tax shifting so the low-info Ontario voter who has been propagandized into worrying about warmer future weather will feel comfortable enough to vote Conservative without being called a planet-killing science denier, while the economic effects of an income tax mitigate the progressive intentions of the carbon tax.

"People don’t vote rationally."

This may have been a worthwhile plan ten years ago, but it’s likely Boessenkool has gone back to the well one too many times for these kinds of compromises. We used to have a divide between red Tories and blue Tories, but in the age of polarization and increasing progressive hegemony, the divide is growing beyond the ability to bridge. Always working within the frame of your opponents and constantly ceding more territory to their interests has a label that Americans refer to it by: cuckservatism. The Conservative Party of Canada has become the party of cuckservatives advised by cuckservatives in the hopes that progressives will allow them to have a turn in power if they agree to play by the rules. Agreeing to the ideology of climate alarmism while actively trying to undermine the intentions of a carbon tax won’t be allowed by our progressive rulers.

With radically changing technology, demographics, geopolitics, and a culture in which Canada is rapidly moving into a “show me the money” late-stage democracy, these sorts of prescriptions by Harper party acolytes will prove to be no longer effective. In a post-CERB world, John Howard-style “middle-class welfare” won’t cut it anymore. These policies stopped working for Harper by 2015, and they were resurrected and tried again by Andrew Scheer for 2019… and failed again. Now Boessenkool is recommending a carbon tax version of the same stuff with similar incentives and expecting better results for some reason.

We’ll find out sooner rather than later how it works out for them.

© 2021 Poletical