Blueprint for Conservative Renewal
While much of the post election commentary has focused understandably on what the new Liberal government intends to do, conservatives need to reflect on what they intend to do to regain public trust and support – not just federally but also provincially since conservative-oriented parties are now in opposition in seven of the ten provinces. So what might a blueprint for the renewal (dare I say “reform”) of Canadian conservatism look like?
It might begin by examining some of the mistakes made by other parties in opposition and strenuously endeavoring to avoid them. For instance, in Alberta the provincial NDP spent decades in the political wilderness and might have used that time wisely to prepare itself for governmental responsibilities – rethinking the relevance and application of its ideology; building policy strength in areas such as the economy where it has traditionally been weak; developing innovative solutions to problems in its favorite policy areas such as health, education, and social services; training a full compliment of Alberta-knowledgeable political staff; and recruiting candidates with the qualifications and experience to serve as first rate ministers in such portfolios as finance, energy, environment, intergovernmental relations, and social services.
But sadly, while in opposition, the Alberta NDP did nothing of the kind. Thus, when the winds of political change finally blew the party into office, its leader was equipped with little more than shopworn policy bromides from the 1980s and 90s. Premier Notley also had to recruit Alberta-ignorant political staffers from outside the province, and was obliged to try to fill cabinet posts largely with well-meaning people but whom no executive headhunter would ever recommend to run a $50 billion per year enterprise.
Conservatives in opposition, both provincially and federally, need to avoid this mistake and use the time when they are free of governmental responsibility to better prepare for government the next time around. Here are five suggestions:
(1) Formally recognize the character traits which Canadians want to see in their elected officials – openness, honesty, transparency, integrity, compassion, humility – and make the possession of such traits a much more important factor in recruiting leaders, candidates, and staff. Many great conservative candidates and elected officials have exemplified these qualities over the years, but enshrining these desirable traits in candidate evaluation processes could help with recruitment activities.
(2) Clearly define and embrace those Canadian values – such as freedom, personal responsibility, equality of opportunity, stewardship, respect for life, and democratic accountability – which conservatives particularly wish to strengthen and apply more rigorously to public policy. In other words, more clearly define what it means to be a conservative in Canada from the standpoint of values and principles.
(3) Begin a fresh round of policy development which applies those values and principles, not only to conservatives’ favorite policy areas such as the economy and security, but also in creative and innovative ways to policy areas which the left has dominated – health care, education, environment, poverty, inequality, and culture to name a few.
(4) Heavily invest in training conservatives for more effective participation in Canada’s political processes – providing more and better training for volunteers, constituency executives, campaign managers, and candidates. Currently, Starbucks invests more time and money in training their staff than the average candidate or partisan volunteer receives. Thus, conservatives could have an edge if they focused on investing in training for their people.
(5) With respect to all of the above, consult and involve ordinary, grass roots Canadians in all their diversity – not just party insiders and elites – so that a renewed Canadian conservatism is ultimately rooted in that greatest of all political resources, the people themselves.
If conservatives of all stripes across the country pursue these five goals, our chances of forming government, remaining in government, and better serving our fellow Canadians will be vastly improved.
Preston Manning is the founder of the Manning Centre.