In an otherwise nauseating political year, there was a glimmer of hope in the Canadian political electorate back in June.
After four straight electoral defeats by three separate failed leaders, the grassroots of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario gave a massive Tea Party-style kick-in-the-ass to the party’s downtown Toronto establishment. The grassroots rejected Christine Elliott, the party's favoured candidate for next leader, by a massive majority.
Proving the majority 100% right, by the end of the year Ms Elliott had quit the party she sought to lead, and accepted a patronage appointment from the party she claimed to oppose, the dreaded Death Star of Canada’s provincial governments: the Ontario Liberal Party led by Kathleen Wynne.
The beneficiary of the Conservative uprising was Patrick Brown, a backbencher from the federal Conservative Party who promised to come in from the outside, shake things up, and bring success back to the Ontario movement.
Brown had enlisted a group of bright young political organizers from federal circles to out-hustle and out-organize the stale, arrogant Elliott campaign. He sealed the deal by securing the endorsement of upstart grassroots favourite Monte McNaughton, who went from virtual unknown to kingmaker in the course of a few weeks by leading the principled opposition to Premier Wynne’s pornified Sex Ed curriculum, and by embracing the grassroots power of Ford Nation.
With new leader Brown now firmly settled into his seat at Queen’s Park, and a honeymoon fall session behind him, we’re starting to get a little itchy for some action.
I’m not going to be overly critical of Brown’s performance so far; however, as someone with his pulse on the grassroots of Ontario’s conservative movement, I want to start 2016 by reminding Patrick and his people what we are expecting out of our party, to rescue us from this seemingly-endless have-not Liberal epoch.
1) Drop the oxymoronic “Progressive” moniker.
It’s time to end the delusion that you can succeed in politics by trying to please everyone. We can delve deeply into political theory and opinion all we want, but the bottom line is: Conservative parties across the country have either abandoned the “Progressive Conservative” name for sheer survival, have become permanent opposition, or have imploded entirely. “Progressive Conservative” is now inexorably linked to failure, and I have not been able to come up with a single downside to shortening the party’s name.
2) Declare a set of principles that will inform your future actions.
Since the end of Mike Harris’ successful “Common Sense Revolution”, it’s been impossible to define exactly what the party stands for. I believe this is because the party has been dominated by competing groups of downtown Toronto elites, wishing to exploit the conservative movement for their own means. With his blank-slate victory fuelled by resentment against these insiders, Brown has the opportunity to go with his instincts and define the party according to what many believe to be a solid conservative heart and mind. Here’s my suggestion on where to start: “Less Government means Better Lives”, and “The left is wrong, we will reverse their failure.”
3) Stop obsessing over Liberal scandals.
The point of diminishing returns arrived a long time ago. We know they’re crooks. We know they should be in jail (some may actually be heading there). We know the Liberals don’t deserve to hold power over a prison cafeteria.
But you can’t build a movement by focusing solely on your opponents. You need to promote your own principles, policies, and strategies. Steer the conversation away from the crooks, and towards yourselves, so the public can get to know you.
4) Focus on two or three serious solutions to two or three of the biggest problems.
Don’t get bogged down in internal party squabbles or side-issues trumped up by the media or the opposition.
Here’s three examples of big, important policies I believe a majority of Ontario residents would rally behind: repeal the Green Energy Act and replace it with an Energy Abundance Act.
Partner with the outraged doctors of Ontario on a Health Care Reform Act, promising to rescue our choking system with the free-market reforms opened up by recent Supreme Court decisions.
And third, propose an Educational Renewal Act that will strip the radicalism out of the curriculum, and reduce or eliminate the role of radicalized local school boards from the system.
Hammer your two or three serious policy proposals incessantly for three years, until every single Ontario voter has them on the tip of their tongues. Treat every other issue as just another opportunity to promote those three lead policies. The grassroots wants substance, and they need that substance matched with bold solutions and true commitment.
5) Truly clean house in the party.
Fire everyone. List every job opening publicly, and encourage new blood from diverse parts of the economy and the province to apply. Take the party away from the domination of poli-sci grads, lobbyist cronies, and professional consultants, and hand it to qualified individuals who have been in-touch with the population of Ontario for the past 15 years.
Across Canada, there’s nothing we want – or need – more than a viable, effective conservative movement in Ontario.
Just as Ontario, under Kathleen Wynne, paved the way for the Justin Trudeau Liberal disaster, our biggest, most populous, most economically-diverse, and traditionally most prosperous province can pave the way for another cross-country conservative renaissance.
If Patrick Brown gets down to true renewal in 2016, there’s a chance it could actually happen.
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