Memo to Conservative party brass — there's more than one way to be a Tory: Andrew MacDougall
The Tories will need all the help they can get come 2019.
Nobody likes it when an outsider makes observations about the family dynamic, especially when the family is going through a rough patch.
And so it is with the members of the Conservative family who, judging by the reaction to a recent Hill Times article detailing efforts by self-described progressive conservatives to pull the party back to the centre, are in no mood to listen.
"So to be clear," tweeted Jenni Byrne, a long-time senior advisor to Stephen Harper (and former colleague of mine), in response to the article, "this is a story about a bunch of Liberals trying to make the Conservative party a liberal party…".
Byrne's blast was then retweeted and liked — or similar sentiments were expressed — by a host of high-profile Conservatives in my Twitter feed.
So to be clear - this is a story about a group of Liberals trying to make the Conservative Party a liberal party... <a href="https://t.co/LAHLNmHG9f">https://t.co/LAHLNmHG9f</a>—@Jenni_Byrne
It could very well be that Byrne is right. After all, there are few that better know the modern Conservative Party of Canada than she.
For what it's worth, I didn't recognise most of the names in the Hill Times piece (e.g. Nicholas Tsergas or Aaron Binder) either, save for Maclean's columnist Scott Gilmore, who earlier this year organized a series of dinners for conservatives (of all stripes) to come chat about the future of the party.
And, yes, Gilmore is married to a Catherine McKenna, the Liberal environment minister. For his part, Tsergas is the brother-in-law of Kate Purchase, Justin Trudeau's director of communications. And he is perhaps the same Nicholas Tsergas who looks to have been involved with the very left-wing Occupy Toronto a few years back.
So bloody what?
Forget the names from the Hill Times. Are families in Canada exempt from political differences? Do people not change their views over time in the Great White North? Are the only "true" Conservatives those who form the 30 to 31 per cent of Canadians who currently support the party?
Or is the point perhaps that the movement needs to get bigger?
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True, getting bigger for big-ness' sake is meaningless if the party ceases to stand for things that are identifiably conservative. But how are you supposed to find out before having the conversation, or even hearing someone out?
Fine. Maybe the Hill Times crew were having a laugh and really don't have the best interests of the Conservative Party at heart. The paper itself is definitely guilty of torquing Binder and Tsergas into "high-profile" Conservatives.
But where do the true high-profile Tories think the increased levels of support are going to come from to overtake Trudeau and retake the reins of government?
Losing should breed introspection and a willingness to listen to outside views. After all, there's a reason you've lost, and maybe those inside the pressure cooker aren't best-placed to diagnose all of the ailments.
What's stopping the Conservatives from opening up is, in my view, a combination of three things: a long run in government that saw it (naturally) winnow to its base; a fear the party would fall apart once Stephen Harper stepped down; and the subsequent leadership race that was structured as a marathon of preaching to the converted.
This combination has bred caution and a reluctance to trust those who didn't fight until the bloody end of the Harper era.
Of course, I say this as a bit of a tourist to the Conservative Party and the broader conservative movement in Canada myself.
I wasn't there during the genesis of the Reform movement, the shattering of the Progressive Conservatives, the doldrums of the Canadian Alliance, or the rebirth of the Conservative Party of Canada.
And you know what? Most other Canadians weren't either.
I also wasn't a campus Conservative in the trenches. I didn't spend the long weekends knocking doors. I buggered off to England in the wake of the Duffy debacle. And I even endorsed Michael Chong, Mr. Carbon Tax himself, in the recent leadership race. So what do I know?
But I did put in a long shift in Stephen Harper's government — including nearly five years in his direct employ — and I do still care about the party. Lord knows I still get branded a Tory every time I write something that makes Liberal supporters angry.
More to the point, I know there are others who share my fiscally-conservative, foreign policy-conservative, and socially-liberal views. These folks are looking at Trudeau and wondering when he'll stop spending and when he'll actually accomplish something on the world stage other than win plaudits for being not-Trump.
So I feel I've earned the right to say the following to the Conservatives angry that "liberals" are offering up their ideas for renewal: stop shouting them down. Who knows, you might even learn something by listening.
A large, public and civil debate about what "conservatism" means, and is, should be welcomed. It's like the forest fire that returns the nutrients to the soil so that new things might grow.
There's more than one way to be a Tory, and the Tories will need all the help they can get come 2019.
The first step is to be willing to accept it.