Commentary by Gerry Nicholls
Originally published in the National Post, Oct. 24, 2007
Here’s a question no one can answer: Is the Conservative Party of Canada heading in the right direction? No can answer it, because it’s a trick question.
The fact is we don’t really have a conservative party in this country. Of course, we have a party which calls itself “Conservative.” But it doesn’t actually believe in conservatism.
Rather, it believes in a new philosophy or ideology, which former Conservative party campaign manager Tom Flanagan outlines in his recent book, Harper’s Team. This new ideology is seemingly based on four points: Winability, Incrementalism, Moderation and Persistence. I prefer to summarize it by the acronym W.I.M.P.
What do WIMP Conservatives believe in?
Well they actually don’t believe in anything. They don’t believe in conservative principles or values or ideals. And they certainly don’t believe in any kind of conservative vision for Canada. WIMP Conservatives, in fact, regard ideals and principles as nothing but obstacles to winning elections. And that’s all that really matters to them—winning elections. If they have to act like Liberals or Greens or New Democrats to win elections, well that’s what they will do.
Or to put it another way, the Conservative party wants to hang onto power simply for the sake of hanging onto power. Without a vision or an ideological compass, WIMP Conservatives are like a rudderless ship, floating along with the current of public opinion.
One can only imagine what would have happened had Flanagan advised Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher or Mike Harris.
He likely would have advised Reagan to drop his “scary” conservative ideas and to act more like Jimmy Carter. He likely would have recommended Harris change the “Common Sense Revolution” to something a little less radical sounding, something like the “Common Sense Incrementalism.” And no doubt he would have suggested to Thatcher that since Britain was a left-wing country, she should scrap her conservative agenda and give the people what they want: socialism.
And in fact, many people did urge Thatcher to compromise her principles. Back in 1980, in her first year in power, two million Britons were unemployed, a recession gripped the country and her free market economic policies did not seem to be working. Consequently, she was under tremendous pressure from the public, from the media and even from within her own caucus to do a U-turn. But Thatcher was no WIMP.
In a famous speech, she answered her critics defiantly, declaring: “The Lady’s not for turning.” And she didn’t turn. She stuck by her principles and, by doing so, enjoyed political success. Just as Reagan and Harris also stuck to their principles and enjoyed success.
What a sorry contrast to what is happening to the Conservative Party of Canada.
Unlike Thatcher, Prime Minister Stephen Harper did turn. He turned his back on his own values. And he turned his back on the Canadian conservative movement.
Rather than making government smaller, Harper is making government bigger; rather than cutting spending, he increased spending; rather than getting government out of people’s lives, he has bashed banks for ATM fees, banned incandescent light bulbs and dictated to Canadians how much money they can contribute to political parties.
Rather than treating all citizens equally, he has blatantly pandered to Quebec nationalists.
The Flanagans of the world will argue the Prime Minister was forced to do all these things because, after all, he has only a minority government. But that doesn’t explain why Harper refuses to even talk like a conservative.
True conservative leaders like Reagan or Thatcher used their leadership positions to sell conservatism, to extol the free market system, to talk about the need for more freedom and less government. By contrast, Harper consistently uses the rhetoric of Liberals.
The real problem with the Conservative party isn’t that they are in a minority government or that the media is against them or that Canada is supposedly a left wing country. To paraphrase Thatcher, the real problem with Prime Minister Harper is that he is willing to do what’s wrong because he is afraid to do what’s right.
– GerryNicholls, is a past president of the National Citizens’ Coalition and a senior fellow with the Democracy Institute. This article is adapted from remarks delivered at a recent Fraser Institute-sponsored debate with Tom Flanagan and was originally published in the National Post, Oct. 24, 2007.
Republished with permission of the author.