Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I'm paraphrasing, of course

Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne on the CPC Convention:

"What a bunch of pussies!"

Update: Monte Solberg (natch) and David Frum are more optimistic.

Monte first - he identifies 5 issues on which the CPC is clearly distinguishable: can the daycare plan, lower taxes, tougher on criminals, stonger military, and a better plan than Kyoto.

Here's my criteria for how to tell these (all laudable) policies are being promoted sufficiently: when the CBC and Globe are running regular stories about how (pick any or all)...
  • women's groups say the CPC is victimizing single mothers
  • judges and lawyers are deeply concerned about the CPC's criminal justice plans
  • Greenpeace says a CPC government would result in fish boiling in the great lakes (polar bears starving to death also works)
  • the Liberals and NDP are ranting that CPC plan to lower taxes and increase military spending will dissolve the safety net

...then they're starting to be loud and clear enough. I realize it's somewhat counterintuitive, but lads, you're not going to win many media endorsements come election time. Accept that, and move on to the task at hand - letting the people know how you're different.

And here's David Frum:
High taxes are squeezing the life out of the Canadian economy. Billions of surplus dollars are being hidden away through budgetary tricks to be spent as soon as the Liberals regain their majority--and can once again direct money to their pet causes and regions. Relations with the United States have been poisoned. Despite huge infusions of funds, the health care system is collapsing before Canadians' eyes. Sailors and airmen are dying in obsolete ships and planes. The judicial system has been transformed into a romper room for social engineers. And the Chretien/Martin government has been caught in scandal after scandal after scandal whose common theme is an arrogant sense of entitlement and utter contempt for the public.

All conservative-minded people can agree that ejecting these shameful characters from public office transcends any of the minor differences that once divided them.

I'm not at all prepared to concede that last sentence, despite agreeing with basically the entire preceding paragraph. I suppose it's because I don't accept that the differences are minor, at least not at this point. And it's not like I'm that far out on the right fringe!

To repeat, once I start seeing regular criticism of the CPC's substantiative policies in the large media, I'll be a lot more convinced that their goal is something more worthwhile than "running the Liberal machine for themselves". Until then, Coyne and Wells are judging the evidence astutely.


At 4:02 p.m., Blogger The Monger said...

In my mind's eye, I see Wells and Coyne wrapping tin-foil around their knuckles, saying "old-time hockey! old-time hockey!"

Of course, what the Tories NEED to learn is how to put more pucks in the net. We tried old-time hockey in four playoffs ('93, '97, '00, and '04) and we lost. So maybe we oughta try something new, eh?

At 4:14 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tried old-time hockey? The Tories weren't even on the ice. Sticking with the hockey metaphor, the only thing they have done in recent memory is yell at the goalie from the cheap seats:

Maaaaaarrrrrrrtiiiiiiin. Maaaaaarrrrrrtiiiiiiiin.

- jass

At 5:08 p.m., Blogger Matt said...



At 7:18 p.m., Anonymous Paul Wells said...

To oversimplify, Andrew wants the Tories to be distinctively conservative. I just want them to be distinctive. There's demonstrably NO link between right-ness and moderate-ness, on the one hand, and electoral success on the other. Joe Clark moderated Jean Charest's Tories considerably and lost a third of Charest's caucus and drove the party to its lowest electoral-vote share. Yes, lower than Kim Campbell. Left-right positioning isn't much help; stripped to its (again oversimplified) essence, the only question is, do you offer something the governing party can't? Tony Blair was really hard to place on the left-right scale, but it's absurd to say all he did was hide his policy differences from the UK Tories.

Here's a f'rinstance. I'm the new Tory leader. I want to replace equalization with a simple top-up of per-capita income to meet a rolling five-year average of the all-province mean income. And, since the CHST has been replaced by a CHT and a C-everything-else-T, the latter of which nobody in Canada even pays any attention to, I'm just going to give the C-everything-T to the provinces, holus bolus, as a tax-point transfer. This is a *radical* change to fiscal federalism. It's simpler, fairer, arguably decentralizing and therefore upsetting to many, but what the heck. Is it left? Right? I don't know. But it's *different.* Don't like that? Propose something else.

But erasing differences altogether is absurd. This is the argument U.S. Democrats were making half a century ago: "Give them a choice between a Republican and a Republican, and they'll choose the Republican every time."

At 8:53 p.m., Blogger Chris Selley said...

I don't think national daycare's that great a place for the CPC to pitch its tent, on account of it doesn't exist. I mean, obviously they wouldn't pursue it if they were elected, but to bet the farm on opposing a clearly stupid idea almost seems to play into the Liberals' hands (e.g., the "CPC is threatening single parents" stories Matt was predicting/hoping for). A "get tough on crime" stance might win votes, but it's just pandering—there are no real ideas underlying it, which is most of what turns me off about the CPC and the Liberals to begin with. (See Solberg, "Libs see the bad guys as victims and deal with them accordingly," at which point I stopped reading.)

So in general I'm with Mr Wells: distinctive trumps distinctively conservative. But then, I'm far less conservative than I am desperate to vote for someone who can win, so of course I'd say that.

At 10:30 a.m., Blogger Sean McCormick said...

A sixth area of differentiation is the Conservative position on the national gun registry.

At 12:07 p.m., Blogger Matt said...

Interesting points all. You have to be a little bit skeptical about distinctiveness for its own sake (I mean, the phrase "former Prime Minister Doug Henning" is nonsensical for a reason).

That said, there are ways that the CPC can be different that aren't easily labelled as right-wingy, and Wells' example is one of them.

(Sidebar: I think it is (A) a wise idea, and (B) broadly, a conservative idea. This is probably worth a separate post, but basically, if you see "accepting responsibility" or "suffering the consequences of your failures" as values roughly associated with the "right", then Wells' example is essentially conservative.)

As for you, Selley, I obviously disagree about the daycare thing, if only for the non-electoral reason that after it's a reality, all its problems will be due to underfunding, not that it's a terrible idea. And on that note, I need some clarification on why forcing the Liberals to defend a "clearly stupid idea" actually plays into their hands.

It's my contention that even if every last media story was massively slanted to be sympathetic to the plan, which they wouldn't be, it would still be a net benefit to the CPC. That's probably a separate post as well.

At 2:49 p.m., Blogger deaner said...

I have a concern with the number of people who are making the better the enemy of the good. I am even more concerned that they are people with whom I am in general agreement on a many issues. I can only offer three words:


I think we can all see a general left-ward drift over the past 50 some-odd years in Canadian public life. Note that the Liberals have been in power (either as a majority or minority) for all but what, eleven of those years. I imagine that some liberals in -say- 1968, were very anxious to move the country to the left (Paul Hellyer f'rinstance). No doubt, he thought that the party was acting like a bunch of pansies, they were wimps, they weren't going fast enough, etc. In that specific case, he thought this so strongly that he quit the party, only to fade into well-deserved obscurity).

But now, 40+ years on, we have a severely compromised military, we register guns and free young offenders, we are steadfast in our determination to offend no special interest group, and we are seriously considering (even positively, absolutely, let me be very clear about how absolutely fundamentally committed...) putting $5 BILLION into a day care program.

Despite the frustration of the Paul Hellyers of the world, we have moved further to the left than even a raving nutbar would have thought possible in 1970. Further, we have institutionalized the Natural Governing Party beyond Hellyer's (and probably Trudeau's) wildest dreams. There is a lesson in there - slow and steady wins the race, or something.

I am not fanatical that Canada become a libertarian, free-enterprise paradise within three years of the next election. I am hopeful that this will happen by the time my teenage children are raising their families. I see the Liberals moving us further away from that future - I see the Tories moving us closer, even if only slightly so. How can I reject the Tories, simply because they fail some personal litmus test? I have to take a lesson from the Liberals who have been content to advance their agenda slowly over the years, accepting that some things will just have to wait. If we have to go three steps forward and two steps back, so be it (cha cha cha).



At 4:33 p.m., Blogger Matt said...

deaner, I take your point, but it's basically the same one Frum makes.

My point is, I'm not yet convinced that there's a committment to crawl.

Opposing the daycare plan is right and important, but like Selley says, it doesn't exist yet (so to repeat Coyne, it's really about maintaining the status quo).

It's nice to hear that they plan to lower taxes, but I need to keep hearing it before I'm convinced they're serious. When I hear "lower taxes" one day, and then "ban trans-fats" the next, I'm inclined to agree with Coyne--that they are simply not committed, even incrementally, to actually reining in the role of government.

But as The Monger said Monday, "Prove me wrong, kids. Prove me wrong."

At 2:16 p.m., Anonymous Francis said...

Democracy of the Dead?

Solberg and Coyne are both right and wrong. Coyne is right to suggest that the CPC has not
put forward a bold agenda, but in my own opinion the things they’ve abandoned actually leave
them open, in the end, to eventually develop the libertarian agenda he’d like to see. The
argument isn’t over.

Solberg is right to point out the differences, but is horribly wrong on the role of tradition. This is
actually what I feel like talking about. Solberg, in defending the CPC against Coyne, writes the
following: “And on gay marriage...well Andrew gay marriage is just not a conservative position.
To quote Chesterton "Tradition is the democracy of the dead". Tradition is what undergirds
conservatism. Tradition acts as a check on the weathervane tendencies of the public at any one
moment and tradition has given us traditional marriage.”

It’s an interesting argument – and one, by the way, that clashes with the other conservative
assertion that “old white guys” shouldn’t be telling women what to do. Naturally: as long as
they’re “dead” old white guys, that’s okay. But this is a quibble. The main concern is Mr.
Solberg’s use of Chesterton to cut off any debate within CPC ranks on gay marriage. But hey, if
CHESTERTON says it, well, run for the hills...

In any event, anyone can get into a war of quotes from old, dead conservatives. My favorite is
Edmund Burke, who argues that any state without the means of improving itself is not very long
for this earth. The same can be said for political parties. And lest you think Burke was a “crazy
radical”, rest assured that his traditionalist credentials are well established.

Between Burke and Chesterton, I’d take Burke. He makes the traditionalist argument quite well,
yet at the same time doesn’t excuse traditionalists from having to provide reasons for
maintaining the status quo; neither does he give a free pass to the agents of change.

Instead, Burke argues that the living generation has the responsibility of governing, and making
decisions. They are to do so through the use of reason and the institutions most conducive to
governing responsibly. They can change these institutions and develop new reasons, but the
more people observe and use political institutions, the more they realize that those who governed
in the past weren’t altogether out to lunch, and the institutions of our predecessors serve the
current context fairly well. That being said, when the reasons and institutions of the past no
longer suffice, the living generation has both the power and the responsibility to effect some

‘Tradition’ thus serves a rational role, not a reverential one; it is the basis of a conversation, not
the final argument. And when tradition is used to cut off future conversation, the only casket it
nails shut is its own. To put it mildly, Burke, if alive today, would scold Solberg’s method of
arguing (at the same time, Chesterton might pop out of the grave to democratically ask Solberg
to stop misusing his quotes).

To be honest, I’m on the fence on gay marriage. I lean towards supporting it, but am open to
arguments opposing it. The problem is, I haven’t heard a convincing traditionalist argument.
And covering up your own opposition to gay marriage, and instead opposing it for the sake of
dead old Great Grandma Mabel is, quite simply, a little dishonest, and is probably unfair to
Great Grandma Mabel, whom I’m guessing hadn’t really ever opined on whether or not two
dudes can get married.

So what’s it going to be? Decisions amongst the living or a democracy of the dead? And who
exactly is dead in this democracy – the old guys decomposing six feet under, or the political
party unable to adapt to change?


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