The sad state of conservatism in Canada

Commentary, Politics, Robert Murray

Senate scandals, admissions of smoking crack, threats to fight in the legislature, and an overall lack of innovative ideas: the crisis facing Canadian conservatism today span from the local to the federal and is being felt across the country.

There are a variety of reasons for this sad state of affairs but there is no single person who can be held responsible. A major cause, however, are the poor decisions being made by the movement’s leaders that reflect badly on the ideology as a whole.

For instance, take Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. His unsurprising admission that he smoked crack-cocaine in one of his self-described “drunken stupors” is in no way connected with him being a conservative. Yet his behaviour and outrageous belief that he is still fit to govern has damaged conservatism at both the municipal and provincial level. In fact, Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak has had to face criticism for Ford’s actions in the Legislature.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, the conservative brand has been damaged by the Senate Scandal, not only because of the rather mundane expense scandal involving Senators Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and Mike Duffy, but more importantly because of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s unwillingness to take responsibility for either his own actions or the actions of his party. The recent suspensions of the three Senators without due process or the conclusion of criminal probes – a public relations strategy whose aim was to convince Canadians that the situation was being dealt with seriously (when precisely the opposite seems to be the case) – have only exacerbated an already horrendous situation.

It’s obvious that Canadian conservatives need to start demanding more from their leaders. They also need to start asking serious questions about what it really means to be conservative in Canada and to tackle the underlying beliefs that are defined as traditionally conservative.

American conservatism has not done Canadian conservatives any favours by constantly injecting radical social beliefs into political movements, thereby fundamentally altering the nature of conservative values.

While Canada is not immune from these types of debates, they tend to be more moderate in nature. That said, as Canadian conservative leaders continue to damage their ideology either by their behaviour (poor) and/or by implementing policies that have no traceable foundations in conservative thought, the demands for change, for a higher standard, will become more forceful. The fear is that, as unhappiness with the current state of affairs increase, radical ideals could begin to flourish. Canadian conservatives then run the risk of a Tea Party movement of their own springing up and replacing the moderate voices. Such a radical movement will never resonate widely in the Canadian political context and will only breed further distrust and fear among non-conservative voters.

There is nothing new, or course, in the fact that there are different variants of conservatism. But there are limits to what can be considered a legitimate political ideology. Anti-homosexuality, racism, sexism and a belief that government has a role to play in the bedrooms of the nation are not conservative. Bigotry and discrimination are not conservative.

Unfortunately, particularly in the U.S. sense, the overarching label of “conservative” has become a haven for hate and beliefs that are fundamentally antithetical to what conservatism has historically stood for.

Small government, fiscal responsibility, reduced government intervention in the economy, efficiency and national pride are what have defined Canadian conservatism to date. The movement should not lose sight of the ideals that have guided it for so long.

It is time for Canadian conservatives to return to their ideological roots.