Over at NRO, John Fund writes, “Conservatives should pay attention to this week’s defeat of Stephen Harper’s government in Canada after a decade in power.” Fund goes on to say that the Tory defeat “went beyond the normal cynical nature of politics” citing Andrew Coyne’s piece in today’s edition of The National Post, Canada’s conservative newspaper of record.
Fund likens Coyne as a Canadian version of George Will. It’s not far off the mark. Two decades ago, the two most influential conservative journalists in Canada were David Frum and Andrew Coyne. Frum, as we know, came south and went on to fame as speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Meanwhile, Coyne continues to be a fixture in Canadian journalism. What Fund doesn’t mention is that Coyne had written a column endorsing a party other than the Tories, but The National Post spiked it. Coyne then resigned from the paper’s editorial board although he remains a columnist. Although it was not revealed which party Coyne endorsed, I suspect from this passage from today’s column it would have been the Liberals:
The damage that has been done is far greater than this defeat. It isn’t just the Conservatives who have lost favour with the public: it’s conservatism. It has been so long since Conservatives put forward any bold or radical policy ideas, they have gotten out of the habit; not having heard ideas from that quarter for so long, the public may be forgiven for concluding either that they don’t exist, or that they are so far beyond the pale as not to be worth considering.
Conservatives need to rediscover what it is they stand for, and having done so, stand for it. At the same time, they need to sever themselves from the bullying, sneering culture of the Harperites, of the low brow and the lower blow. It should not be exclusively a liberal or left-wing idea that opponents are to be treated with respect, not insults; that learning and science are to be valued, not derided; that politics should bring people together rather than divide them. Yet, incredibly, that is where we have come to.
A politics of substantive differences, civilly expressed: If I’m not mistaken, that is the formula that just elected Justin Trudeau.
I’m sure some of this will sound very familiar to conservatives in this country. Yet when it is all said and done I think the Tory defeat has to be put into perspective. I agree with former Finance Minister Joe Oliver’s assessment of the election. Oliver, who lost his Toronto area seat to Marco Mendecino of the Liberals, said, “While it was a significant defeat, it wasn’t devastating.”
On Monday, the Tories went from 166 seats to 99 seats in the House of Commons. In the 1993 federal election, the Tories went from 169 seats to 2 seats in the House of Commons. Two seats. For months, the joke was the Tories could have a caucus meeting in a phone booth. Although Kim Campbell was the Tory Prime Minister who bore this defeat, the voter anger was directed at Brian Mulroney. It is amazing that Mulroney managed to cobble together a coalition of Quebec nationalists, red Tories in Ontario and social conservatives in Alberta and that it lasted nearly a decade. But Mulroney’s arrogant persona eventually wore thin. Quebec nationalists would form the Bloc Quebecois while conservatives from Alberta and the three other western provinces formed the Reform Party.
The next decade was a tough one for Canadian conservatives as the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Party battled it out while the Liberals under Jean Chretien were elected to three consecutive majority governments. But the two parties would eventually merge and Stephen Harper, who had been a policy wonk from the Reform Party’s earliest days, would emerge as leader of the new Conservative Party with the Canadian people electing him and his party to three consecutive mandates.
I’m not saying Coyne’s column is without merit nor am I criticizing Fund for drawing the attention of American conservatives to it. Let me put it this way. If the Tories could come back from 2 seats they can certainly come back from 99.
Of course, all of this will take time. Canadians don’t change governments quickly. The last time Canada had a one term government was when the Tories under R.B. Bennett were tossed out of office in 1935 in favor of the Liberals under MacKenzie King who would go on to be Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister. Yes, the last time Canada had a one term government was during The Great Depression.
As such, I suspect that Trudeau will be elected to a second term in 2019 and quite possibly a third term in 2023. It could be that the Liberals only fall once Trudeau leaves office. Yet it is also possible the younger Trudeau could alienate the West and Quebec just like his father did with the National Energy Program and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, respectively. This would form the basis of Mulroney’s coalition which captured north of 200 seats in the 1984 federal election. As with Kim Campbell in 1993, while John Turner bore the brunt of the electoral defeat for the Liberals, it was Pierre Trudeau at whom Canadians were angry. I have no doubt that in time the cycle will repeat itself once again.
Yet there will be Canadian conservatives who are understandably impatient and not eager to wait. There will be tough times ahead, but success is seldom built without setbacks. For Canada’s Conservative Party, there will be light at the end of the tunnel even if it seems that tunnel will never end.
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