Stand For Something
by Paul Albers
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Uniting the right was never intended as a vehicle for one party to take over the other, it was an effort to create a new party that welcomed a broader range of viewpoints than either the Canadian Alliance or the Progressive Conservatives did. The last step in accomplishing that goal takes place this weekend in Montreal, but success is not certain.
In the eyes of the mainstream media 'Liberal Lite' and 'Radical Right' are the only options the Conservative Party has. Both options are losers, and the job of finding a path between them lies on the shoulders of both the delegates and the party leadership
A Liberal Lite party would alienate many of their most dedicated and committed members. The election of Stephen Harper over Belinda Stronach in the leadership race shows that the majority of party members are not opposed to socially conservative views and the only way the party can become a Liberal clone is to suppress or ignore the grassroots. This might win them a small handful of soft Liberal voters, but only at great expense. This was the path that caused the Progressive Conservative Party to split in the 90s and lead to their dismal electoral record ever since.
On the other hand, a radically right-wing party would also fail at the polls and drive off members and political operatives with a wealth of expertise and experience. Many conservatives realize the need to find another solution. As delegate Rebecca Hudson said: "Marriage is the issue that has driven me to active involvement. The issue on which we have to win. How do we say to the Brian Mitchells of the Party that they're needed and appreciated, that we respect them although we can't give them marriage?"
Democratic reform, fiscal responsibility, government accountability, respect for provincial rights, rebuilding the military, property rights, tax reform, and criminal justice issues are all areas where Conservatives offer Canadian voters a true alternative to Liberal corruption, duplicity and mismanagement. These issues will have to form the bedrock of the alliance between Red and Blue Tories, but apart from this, it is a grave mistake for the party to avoid taking a position on important social issues.
As Harper said in 2003, "Do we actually stand for something, or don't we?... Serious conservative parties simply cannot shy away from values questions." Ducking these issues treats both sides with disrespect, and it undermines the call for free votes in Parliament when there is no free debate allowed within the party. Worst of all it makes the party appear weak, cowardly, and it leaves them wide open to accusations of having a secret agenda that they are ashamed of revealing before they are elected. That alone will ensure defeat. Nobody gets enthusiastic for a party that lacks the courage of their own convictions.
That is why it is encouraging to see the grassroots win a minor skirmish with the party brass over resolution P-90, or to be accurate, over the consequences of the resolution. P-90 calls for the formal adoption of the Conservative position of allowing its Members of Parliament to vote against party policy when their conscience or constituents demand it. This is something widely accepted by the grassroots, but somehow a note was attached to the resolution stating that if it passed, then the subsequent resolutions on same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia would not be debated or voted on. Conservatives on both sides of those issues objected and the restriction was quickly lifted.
P-90 is now certain to pass, and with Conservative MPs free to vote their conscience, there is no reason for the party to avoid crafting social policies that reflect the will of the membership. Even if the most socially conservative resolutions pass, the Tories will still be inside the comfort zone of most voters. Canadians are willing to accept upholding traditional marriage together with civil unions, and only the most hardened abortion fanatic is comfortable with partial birth abortions after finding out exactly the procedure is.
Without a party willing to take a clear stand against Liberal social policy, the Liberals will get their way by default. Resolutions P-91 to P-95 are clearly to the right of the Liberal party, but they are not radical. They needed significant backing from party members just to make it this far. The debate will be passionate, but as long as delegates can agree to disagree, the Brian Mitchells of the party will still have a home where stating their views won't become a career limiting move as it has been for Liberals like Pat O'Brien. Liberals may preach tolerance and inclusiveness, but Conservatives have a chance to show it in action.
What remains after the convention is for the party leadership to unflinchingly and unapologetically be the Conservative Party its members want it to be. If they have the nerve to do that, they may find they are closer to the center than the Liberals, just on the right instead of the left.
Paul Albers is a freelance columnist living in Ottawa