Conservatives Need These Policy Pivots

January 2nd, 2018  | J. Hodgson
policy pivots

It’s been eight months since Andrew Scheer was elected leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. Have you noticed? I quit watching CBC and CTV political television so I suppose things are being broadcast within that little bubble, but nothing the CPC has done since the leadership race has grabbed my attention. (That ferociously bad video of Scheer walking around the playground is the only thing that comes to mind and I couldn’t even find it on Youtube) Perhaps they’re just playing it cool and waiting for the convention in August before they really get into election prep mode. In the meantime, a lot of grassroots conservatives are wondering why there’s so much malaise in Canadian conservatism. 

Here’s a really good podcast about this issue from JJ McCullough and Doug Musk.


Here are four policy pivots the CPC should consider making before the next election in order to get some attention, break with the past and gain some relevance in the lives of average Canadians.


#1. Corporate Canada


Stephen Harper had a very pro-business agenda when he became Prime Minister. He slashed corporate taxes, cut the GST, rolled out a $144 billion stimulus package, bailed out the auto sector, maintained subsidies for corporate welfare clients, fought regulations and signed multiple new free trade deals.


Is your life noticeably better off because of all this? Canadian GDP growth averaged about 1% a year over the course of Harper’s tenure. Sure there was the great recession of 08/09, but still...Harper threw everything at the wall and nothing great came of it. Maybe throwing everything you can at something in order to just stand still economically is the new normal now? It just seemed like the aspirations of 2006 were diminished by the outcome of 2015.


One thing the CPC needs to learn is that corporate Canada is not their friend. Conservative ideology regarding free markets, low taxes, deregulation, open trade...capitalism in general...isn’t appreciated in Canada. Those are American ideas for American companies. In Canada, Harper struggled like crazy to offer Canadian corporations advantages in order to create jobs, improve productivity and spur innovation.


Instead they gamed him.


They hoarded profits thanks to corporate tax cuts. They hid money abroad through tax shifting measures. Productivity in Canada is constantly lagging. The unemployment rate was higher when Harper left then when he started. Income growth was barely above inflation rates.


The solutions for this malaise? The usual conservative think-tanks and pundits just call for, you guessed it, more tax cuts! If that doesn’t work, even more tax cuts!


Andrea Mandel-Campbell wrote one of the best books about Canadian business I’ve ever read. It’s called, Why Mexicans Don't Drink Molson and it’s a detailed look at Canada’s parochial corporate culture. The Ayn Rand-style free market approach that conservatives tend to believe in, doesn’t work in Canada’s timid business climate. Our big companies prefer Liberal rule because they can more easily count on subsidies and regulatory protection. Our banking system is a financial oligarchy. Our communications system is a protected monopoly. Our auto sector is a branch plant. Bombardier is a welfare client...the list goes on.


It’s time for Conservatives to stop playing so nice. It’s time to use a stick instead of a carrot. Make some demands on corporate Canada. Make peace with unions. Look out for small and medium-sized businesses that actually appreciate free market principles. Let’s encourage growth and innovation in a more rigorous (threatening?) manner, because sitting back and offering up Canada on a silver platter to corporate interests got us nothing from 2006-2015.


#2. Media


Donald Trump’s war with the media has been a fascinating experience. His calculation and strategy seems to be working and it’s definitely worked so far. Trump comes ready to fight and it promotes conservative interests and makes for better television.


Canadian Conservatives should take note.


The relationship between the mainstream media and the Conservative Party of Canada is not good. The strategy over the Harper years was control the message...then lighten up and play nice...then create SunNews to get the message out….then work around the mainstream media by prioritizing local/friendlier outlets...then regurgitate talking points so the viewers can only ever get the talking points...then finally...freeze out the media with limited access.


Nothing worked.


Now we’re stuck with a CPC that seems terrified of the media landscape. When I think of tone from the CPC I think of exasperation. I think of a tired looking Michelle Rempel or Lisa Raitt trying to walk hostile television hosts through a line of thought. I think of Andrew Scheer impishly smirking while using words like inclusive and diversity with obsessive compulsive abandon.


It’s really not working.


There’s no way that Trump-style boorishness would be appropriate in our environment, but could everyone doing media for the CPC...I don’t know...jazz it up a bit? Professional is great, but it’s also very boring. Trying to position the CPC as credible has been done and it has been done for some time now. The folksy Reform era is over and people get that the CPC is a legitimate political party that can do the job. Now it’s time to get more comfortable and push the envelope a little bit. Try doing what leftists do in Canada continually: advance.


Scheer’s “Harper With A Smile” approach is fine, but it won’t work if nobody knows about him. The low-key approach so far hasn’t worked and it’s actively failing to energize. Just look at the recent by-elections on December 11 of last year. The CPC lost the South Surrey-White Rock riding that they had for years. If the CPC can’t even energize supporters in order to keep what they’ve got, how do they expect the broaden the base? Now granted, it’s a by-election with horrific turn-out, so it doesn’t mean much, but it’s another loss that shows a trajectory. It’s going to be very difficult to overcome the CBC and the rest of Canada’s left-wing media in order to brand Scheer and the party in a positive way. The second best option is to stir them up Trump-style in order to get the needed coverage. If things have to get a bit more polarizing in the be it.


One thing I’ve noticed over the past five years or so is the codification of leftist ideology throughout the Canadian media landscape. It used to be that media was just awash with liberal-minded individuals who agreed with each other. Over time, however, the postmodern, cultural-Marxist framework of far-left SJW ideology has blossomed inside these organizations. They are now full-time agendaists looking to export their ideology.


Thus, Scheer’s “nice guy” approach is going to see him eaten alive unless he’s willing to do battle and use the media to his own ends. They will “Stop Harper” him (and the CPC) with a vengeance unless a more combative and creative approach is taken. What does this mean?


Think outside the box. Take risks. Reach out.


Trump is a master of sending the media into a tailspin in order to suit his own purposes. By doing so it keeps him in charge of the agenda and keeps his name front and centre in the minds of the average voter. Justin Trudeau unleashes cheap stunts all the time. Scheer needs to get on board and come up with some cheap stunts of his own. The days of celebrating a well placed zinger in the House of Commons and expecting the average Joe to pay attention are over.

#3. Immigration


Back in the 1990s, the Reform Party advocated reducing immigration levels. They were immediately painted as racist. Consequently, when Stephen Harper took over the united right under the new banner of the Conservative Party, he reversed this decision and took a liberal approach to mass immigration.


The popular theory is that Jason Kenney then ran about the country reaching out to immigrant groups and ethnic communities in order to win them over to the Conservative Party. This was a big reason that the CPC got a majority in 2011...because millions of immigrants voted for them. Then they screwed up with the barbaric hotline and the niqab issue and alienated immigrants in 2015.


That’s the popular leftist mainstream media narrative, but there’s not much to back it up. In 2011, immigrants were voting roughly 2/3rds Liberal or NDP according to this Ipsos data. I would argue Michael Ignatieff caused many Liberal supporters to stay home and Jack Layton’s popularity siphoned off enough Liberal votes to create a vote split. In 2015, the NDP collapsed and Justin Trudeau inspired people to come out again. The Conservatives got roughly the same amount of votes as last time.


The point?


The Conservative Party is the only party that could embrace (and thus profit) from a policy switch aiming at lower levels of immigration. Why is it a gamble worth taking?


Recent polls show that Canadians are starting to sour on mass immigration. In the Reform-era of the mid-90’s, mass immigration had only just begun. Brian Mulroney jacked up rates to 250,000 around 1990 and places like Vancouver and Toronto hadn’t experienced any of the downsides that we see today. Mass immigration has continued now for 28 years and the radical transformation that has come with it is starting to reveal some negative effects. Whether it’s housing bubbles or cultural conflict or suppressed wages or lack of opportunity for new immigrants, the problems are mounting.


Recent streams of refugees showing up in Canada from the U.S made headlines last year. Concerns over terrorism and acknowledgement that there are 60 former ISIS members living in Canada has left Canadians wondering why they’re here in the first place. Quebec’s cultural stridency is making itself known as the right-wing CAQ looks to win the election in Quebec later this year. Justin Trudeau is celebrating bringing in 1 million new immigrants by a time when we are overdue for a big national recession.


All of this combined shows that there is change in the air regarding our establishment encouraged consensus on immigration.


It’s worth the risk to make this a plank. The mainstream media will go “Kelly Leitch crazy” on the CPC, but if the message is controlled and the wedge isn’t applied too broadly...this may activate a whole constituency without alienating the old one.


#4. Tax cuts


You know what won Harper the election in 2006? Slapping that “GST at 5%” sticker over the cash register at a campaign stop. I advocated making another GST cut to 3% for the 2015 election and even going as far as to write Joe Oliver with the proposal. (Apparently it was considered, but they chickened out in favour of aiming for a balanced budget)


If the Scheer Conservatives want to get some attention and pick up some support, they should copy Trump and offer a massive tax cutting package, even if it results in deficit spending. I’ve written before about how fiscal conservatism is a loser and conservative parties across Canada need to figure out ways to spend big on conservative ideas in order to eat up capacity in the budget. Tax cuts are always a good place to start. Andrew Scheer needs to stand in a Best Buy and slap a 3% GST sticker on the till and run with that as a plank in the campaign.


Normal people will love it.


There are four free ideas for reforming the Conservative Party. Andrew Scheer is going to need more in his arsenal than being Mr. Nice Guy. Some gambles need to be taken and some drama needs to be pursued. If people aren’t shaken out their stupor, we’ll be sleep walking to a second Trudeau majority in less than two years and Andrew Scheer will be branded as the new Joe Clark.