Friday, March 16, 2012

The difference a word makes...

Progressive. "favouring or promoting political or social reform through government action, or even revolution, to improve the lot of the majority."

Of course, there are other definitions to the word Progressive, but I thought I would focus on this one, simply because it has so much relevance to Canada. I remember when the Tories in this country WERE progressive, when the average Conservative worked toward the improvement of life for the average person.

Let me clarify something right off the start here. When I use the term the 'average Conservative', I don't mean the trolls we all call the 'blogging Tories', for whom Steve could do no wrong, nor those whose single hotbutton issue is gun control, or abortion, damn the torpedoes, because it's our only chance at getting this passed. I mean the people who used to support the Conservative party because it WAS Progressive.

Progressive, at one time, wasn't just in the name, but in the way that the party approached the house of commons and actually worked towards solutions. I think specifically of the 'Port Hopefuls', trying to resurrect the Conservative party after yet another humiliating defeat to the Liberals, who actually put forward a charter that not only held a core belief in free enterprise, but also goals such as full-employment, low-cost housing, trade union rights, as well as a whole range of social security measures, including a government financed medicare system. The Conservatives used to be on board with such ideas, and actively pursuing them.

Shocking as it may seem to a present day Unionist watching the Lisa Raitt steamroller approach to bargaining, and Stephen Harper floating balloons to see how feasable it is to dismantle our Health Care system, Conservatism and Unionism are not mutually exclusive. Nor does conservatism mean government has to get out of the business of running a social welfare state. The last thirty years of Conservatives sharpening their knives in the name of big business profit have made it so. It seems, in the past decades, Libertarian ideals have taken over the agenda of the Centre-Right.

With a drop in the polls from 41% to near 31%, former supporters of the party number in the thousands. They can only face so much criticism before they start to question who they voted for. They cringe and weather the scandals as heavy-hearted as the most stalwart Liberals. It is painful to watch them go from defending the party six months ago, to now, where law after law, scandal after scandal, and having used closure more than any other government in Canada's history, they shrug their shoulders and blow past the subject each time their 'majority' brings in the political club to silence debate. The sheer numbers of voters last election shows a greater interest not because more people were interested in politics, but because more people saw a chance of their pet issue seeing movement. The problem is that with the hot-button issues solved, casual supporters are now looking at the party as a whole.

With two counts of contempt of Parliament, a guilty plea on the 'in and out' scandal, where they violated election spending laws, a robocall crisis blooming out of control, where all indicators point toward their orchestrated involvement, the F-35 crisis narrowly averted by a last minute blink by Julian Fantino, a casual supporter would be hard pressed to find much hope in their party's future.

But they are in power. In addition, a core group will always vote Conservative no matter what, and in that respect they will always exist as a party. How is there no hope in that? This government and its power are an anomaly, a momentary well-timed blip that put them just over the 40% threshold to give them that coveted majority, which then melted away, leaving them the seats without the support. Now, even their number of seats is in question, and with it, the question of whether or not those seats were ill-gotten. At the Canadian polling booth, any whiff of disrespect for fair-play can be the death of a party. It has happened before, where majorities were reduced to single-digit numbers of seats after a scandal, and with little warning in the polls.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that their present support, now, today, would give them a weak minority, but how long will that support last? Especially with 'robocalls' set to explode. If the very means by which they got their seats is put into question, we could be looking at an election within the year. A look at the history of the Conservative Party, and their times in power, gives us few heroes. What it does give us is managers, people who could take the issues and agglomerate them, just as Harper has done. This is why they do not hold majorities, because they do not, at heart, hold the same values as the majority of Canadians. Even now, it is important I think, to point out that even in their majority Parliament, 59% of the country voted against them. Harper would be wise to govern with that in mind.

However at this point the momentum seems to be going all downhill, and it is taking our political system, and more importantly the faith of the people in our political system, with it. Harper is unable to make Parliament work, except for rubber stamping everything and hoping much will stick after the next round of government gets in. This is the worst wheel-spinning that could happen. Instead of working to move forward, and agreeing on laws, we will end up with Parliament after Parliament using their first year to invoke closure to undo what the previous party did, then doing what they want for three years. If that's how they want Parliament to work, the Liberals will end up being much better at it. Sheer number of years in majority will come to bear, and it won't be pretty for the Conservatives.

I feel for the average conservative voter. Who else do they have to vote for? Their eggs are all in one basket. There is only one Center-Right party that is now looking more Libertarian than the Libertarians. In the Republican Party south of the border, there are many factions to the party, just as there are many breed of conservative there. They have designations for these internal divisions, and all are vying for power within the party, to then have their hopeful move on to secure the nomination and challenge the President. If this seems clunky, it is out of necessity, as, by the numbers, the majority of Americans are Social Democrats. Their pact is necessary to have ANY political power.

That is why the Conservative party seems somewhat schizophrenic (i.e. staying out of controlling laws like gun control, then turning to pass another that spies on people's internet habits, both ostensibly out of 'safety') That is because there are so many factions within, it has become impossible to impose one will for very long.

Within the Conservative party itself, here in Canada, we see former Reformers, who watched their 'movement' become slowly hijacked, Libertarians, including many in Parliament right now, who come from the 'leave us alone' Albertan grassroots movement, big money Cons, who put up the whole show to have a stake in the power politics, and finally the working people and professionals who drive the party forward with their votes. The money put in at the top by the big business fuels the production of votes through advertising. This is why the party is having such a hard time with limits to campaign spending. If they can't convince the little guy to vote for them, the whole gig will soon be up. The problem is, with only so many hot button issues, how do they keep the interest of the little guy while doing what the 'money' wants?

In the first year of a majority, each vying interest group pushed their own agendas, without looking at the long term effects of the overall political landscape. With their hot-button issues out of the way, they have no direction. Another ill side effect for them is that they have burned more bridges than General Patton, and in doing so have left the average Conservative supporter wondering what they actually voted for. This ship is not rudderless. No, on the HMCS Harper, there are one-hundred-sixty-odd rudders, and many of them pointing in different directions.

Without an ax to grind, the 'Harper Conservatives' will not have the support of the little guy who still believes the Liberals are mythologically "out of touch" or the party "of privilege", and it will only take the breaking down of that myth before the other parties win over the the people who put Harper in power. In my humble opinion, conservatism is confronting a real crisis of vision and focus running into the next decade, where it has to ask whether its rag-tag agglomeration of issues can really propel it forward, or if conservatives need to start defining their core values.

And poor Steve can't seem to find the compass.

Isn't it time that Conservatives showed Steve that the word Progressive still belongs in the party?

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1 comment:

  1. What a well written and insightful piece! Jon, you've hit the nail on the head - perhaps you should forward this to the mainstream press as an Op-Ed. I think a lot of "small C" Conservatives and red Tories are thinking exactly the same thing right now, but are unable to articulate their thoughts as well as this.