There will be days and weeks of discussion about why the election turned out the way it did. There will be endless commentary on why Harper lost, why Trudeau won and why Tom Mulcair and the NDP saw their vote collapse.
Those are not the lessons learned that I want to talk about today.
Justin Trudeau took his Liberals hard left this election. He carved out his position and proudly proclaimed it. Once in office he will not be shy to enact his policies regardless of how radical they are.
These are the lessons the Conservatives need to learn and act on as they seek a new leader and rebuild the party to once again seek office.
Conservatives will be prompted by many in the chattering classes and by many within their own ranks to move even further to the centre, to be more like Liberals, be more progressive to win.
The Conservative Party didn’t lose this election because it was too far right. After a decade in power there are many reasons for the loss, some attributable to the party, some to other factors including the appeal of a new leader, a new party taking power.
And if we are honest we should all be able to agree that Stephen Harper ran a centrist government. He didn’t govern from the right.
I think he moved Canada incrementally in a conservative direction but Stephen Harper was not by any objective measure the radical right-winger his opponents claimed he was.
The lesson going forward isn’t to run away from the policies and successes of the last decade but to build on them, to define a conservative movement in Canada and a Conservative Party in Canada that is distinct from what is being offered by the so-called progressive parties.
In 1975 Republicans in the United States were assessing what happened in elections the previous year. The party had been hammered and many were claiming the GOP had to build a big tent by moving in a more liberal direction.
Ronald Reagan offered a different prescription saying instead that America needed a revitalized Republican Party “raising a banner of bold colours, no pale pastels.”
Informed by Reagan, and by Trudeau’s example this election that is what Conservatives must do.
Having a big tent doesn’t mean having a tent with no walls, a party so open that it has no ideals, no principles. The party and the movement that supports it need to clearly define what conservatism is and then present that to Canadians.
So what does define Canadian conservatism today?
A desire for small government, to be sure. We didn’t get as much of that as I would have liked during the Harper years but we did get rid of the Wheat Board and the country did not fall. We stopped jailing people for refusing to disclose personal details in a census and the country did not fall.
We need to keep moving in the direction of questioning at every turn whether government is the answer, whether a program that exists should continue to exist.
On justice, the push for a more victim-oriented system is near complete and unlikely to be undone. There may need to be a rethink for new policies outside of expanded mandatory minimums, but putting victims ahead of pampered criminals needs to be at the centre of any future policy.
In foreign affairs, the Harper years were a breath of fresh air in my view, an end to the go along to get along era. Canada didn’t abandon the United Nations, much to my chagrin, but we no longer had a government that worried about upsetting dictatorships.
Not everything was good, not everything should be replicated going forward, but on the whole the Harper years and the policies put forward provide a solid foundation that should be built on.
Canadian conservatives want and need bold colours, let’s learn from Reagan and Trudeau.
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