Monday, November 13, 2006

Can the Conservatives win the Red Tory vote?

Was watching Hugh Segal and a bunch of Conservative bobbleheads on TVO, talking about the next election and the last decade of Canada's Conservative party. It got me thinking about the legacy of Red Tories in Canada.

Let me preface this whole discussion with the acknowledgment that anytime a writers says "victory is guaranteed by adhering to my specific political views", they're probably blowing smoke. Nevertheless, I think Harper's impressive feat in unifying the right has left an imbalance in Canadian politics that needs to be filled - a unifying force on the left.

As it is, the left in Canada is divided nationally between the left wing of the Liberals and the NDP, while in Quebec the Bloc is also on the left of the spectrum. So you've got three parties that are competing, in different areas, for the left voter.

I've also said of the Liberal Party that their best chance for success is to reach out to the left, simply because Harper's Conservatives have a pretty solid lock on center-right voters in the next election. But it's worth pointing out that voters - unlike political junkies - don't, by and large, make their decisions based on party labels and ideology, or at least not at the margins. And in our electoral system, it's the marginal voters that count.

Which brings me back to the Red Tories - an nebulous label used to describe any Conservative politician who's been out of office for about 25 years: compared to the modern variety, they all look like Marxists.

Hugh Segal, on The Agenda, advocated for a more nurturing conservatism, including a guaranteed annual income and other assistance for the poor. It's been a long, long time since Conservatives in Canada have advocated for a truly universal social assistance program, so this intrigued me. But what intrigued me more was the idea of the Canadian Conservative Party stealing a march on the Liberals and the NDP - grabbing soft voters on the left by proposing serious social programs that neither the Libs nor the Dips could propose, for fear of the market melting down amid cries of "planned economy".

I hasten to say that Stephen Harper is not, in my estimation, the leader to do this. Even if he were inclined to advocate such a thing - and I don't believe he is - people wouldn't trust him to actually carry it through. However, there's no reason that the voters of the left will be loyal to any one party over the other, and frankly the Conservatives don't need many more voters to win a majority. The obstacle for the Conservatives will be to not listen to the type of people who say "we win when we're extra-super-duper-conservative... abolish the Canada Health Act!"

The other fundamental question is whether this type of vision - government as a positive force for the country - is even compatible with conservatism anymore. Ever since Reagan said government was the problem, I fear far too many conservatives of all stripes have drunk the libertarian Kool-Aid.

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