Maintaining The Conservative Majority
April 1st, 2012 - J. Hodgson
"Every great movement in the history of Western civilization, from the Carolingian age to the nineteenth century, has been an international movement which owed its existence and its development to the cooperation of many different peoples." - Christopher Dawson
On May 2nd, 2011, Canadians handed Stephen Harper's Conservative Party a majority mandate. This was the first time since 2000 that an election produced a majority result and, on election night, the euphoria at the Conservative Headquarters in Calgary was electrifying.
Electrified euphoria doesn't last forever though, and with any new accomplishment in life, new problems arise. There are fundamental problems facing the Harper Conservatives and it's up to individual conservative supporters to provide the solution.
The Three Wings of the Conservative Coalition
The Conservative Party of Canada is made up of an ideological coalition consisting of three main brands of conservatism. Most conservatives are some combination of all three.
The first brand is a distinctly Canadian creation know as Red Toryism. A Red Tory is typically associated with Brian Mulroney's brand of conservatism from the 1980's. A Red Tory believes in big government and all the social welfare entitlements that are associated with big government. Unlike modern liberalism, however, a Red Tory believes in capitalism, law and order, and a strong military.
The second brand is Libertarianism. In Canada, Libertarianism was best expressed in the creation of the Reform Party. Small government, low taxes and the pursuit of freedom are the foundations for this brand of conservatism.
The third brand is Social Conservatism. Canadian So-Cons are traditionalists with a strong emphasis on cultural issues and human rights. Their worldview is typically informed by an orthodox religious faith and dedication to idealism.
When the Progressive Conservative Party shattered after the 1993 election, different brands of conservatism found homes in a variety of different political parties. At the time many people thought these splits in the party were along regional lines, however, ideology played a bigger role than location. Lucien Bouchard took a French libertarian team to the Bloc Quebecois, Preston Manning took the English Libertarians and So-Cons to the Reform Party, and the Red Tories either stuck with what was left of the Progressive Conservative Party or else joined Jean Chrétien’s relatively right-of-centre Liberal Party.
After a decade in splintered opposition, Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay finally reunited these three brands of conservatism into one unified party. Any trepidation felt about uniting these different types of conservatism was made subservient to the desire to finally reclaim the reins of government. When those reins were reclaimed in 2006 with a minority mandate, the unity of this coalition was solidified. The constant threat of a no-confidence vote and an increasingly hostile and left-leaning opposition ensured that the Conservative Party of Canada was a disciplined, rock solid team.
So why would a majority mandate change this dynamic?
The Demands of a Majority
A majority offers the Conservative Party the luxury of four years of uninterrupted leadership. The problem with luxury is that it can soften the spirit and weaken the resolve to maintain the fundamentals that provided success in the first place. The increasingly leftward drift amongst opposition parties helped to bring conservative supporters together in order to pursue tangible success. With a majority and a weak, extremely leftwing opposition in place, the danger for the Conservatives is factional self interest led by ego and conceit. The unity that allowed for compromise and teamwork may give way to pet issues and power positioning.
“I liked when Max Bernier was speaking out on some issues. Now he’s in cabinet, he can’t. I’m not going to replace him on those things. But it doesn’t hurt if we have a few people speaking out on issues to broaden the debate.” - Brad Trost, MP for Saskatoon-Humboldt, 2012
The above quote is by Social Conservative, Brad Trost, in regards to Libertarian Maxime Bernier. Both are serving members of the Conservative Party of Canada. Both have created minor furor in the past for daring to break the party line and speak their minds in public. In the past they quickly fell in line, in order to create a unified front. With the pressure of a minority Parliament eliminated, the different brands of conservatism will feel empowered to speak more often and more boldly. This freedom is of course, vital to any democratic political party that intends to compete in the marketplace of ideas, however, juggling the demands of various party factions is extremely difficult, especially when demands from one wing of the party, run contrary to the ideology of another. The danger arises when the contrary demands are either ignored or in any way permanently divisive. If this happens, it breeds alienation and resentment, which undermines party strength and solidarity. Without strength and solidarity, the party will be ripped to pieces from the inside out. This is exactly what happened to Progressive Conservative Party in the 1980's, when Brian Mulroney failed to sufficiently involve all brands of conservatives.
People Control the Party
The best way to prevent these problems from arising within the party once again, is for Conservative Party members and supporters to lead by example individually. We should not allow differences of opinion to undermine the team. Conservatives tend to be very business friendly and thus, entrepreneurial. The thought of striking out in a new direction with a new team happens a lot more frequently on the right, than it does on the left. In the long run, this just serves to undermine power potential and the void allows leftists to push their agenda into motion.
People must also extend their influence to the authorities in charge of the party. If people, at a grassroots level, can focus the attention of the political leadership towards winning more territory for all conservative minded people, then we can avoid the shallow-minded, weakening of the party that so often follows in the wake of a majority. We must remind party brass that the grassroots of the conservative movement will not tolerate losing for the sake of factional, ideological purity. This will ensure that we are not locked out of the agenda and that the agenda is not stolen by leftists. Recognizing this as a top priority will ensure that opportunity for all conservative concerns is available under one official political brand.
The Harper/MacKay unification has shown that a minimum of 30% of voters are centre-right in their preferences. If the brand stays united, it will be very difficult for leftists to seize power. Preventing that seizure alone is worth co-operating with one another despite our differences.