Humble origins, brave struggles and big dreams! The Tory leadership candidates strut their stuff at the Manning Conference:
Potential candidates for leadership of the federal Conservatives began staking claims this weekend to policy positions ranging from a call for a referendum on pipelines to a rethink of subsidies to the CBC.
With no formal rules in place for the 2017 Conservative leadership vote, no candidate has yet to formally enter the race.
But five potential hopefuls took the stage nonetheless over the last two days at the annual Manning conference to speak on a panel called "If I run, here's how."
Because subtly has never been a strong point of Canadian conservatives. Other panels include "if only I'd gotten into law school" and the ever popular "will you sleep with me even though I'm political nerd?" For the purposes of this blog post I will omit my usual denunciations of Preston Manning as a traitor to the Canadian Right. Yes he has loudly backed a carbon tax and assiduously ensured the election of the Alberta NDP. The man lost his touch with reality about twenty years ago so let's just - as our friends on the Left like to say - move on...
The last time the federal Tories had a leadership contest I was still in university. How cruel is the flight of time. Back then I thought that if they'd junk "progressive" from the name they'd also junk actual progressives from the party. This sort of happened. Actual Red Tories are pretty thin on the conservative ground these days. What has replaced them - sadly - has not been staunch lads and lasses ready to defend the rightness of being Right. Nope. Where once upon a time genial WASPs spoke approvingly of Bob Stanfield, we have instead a new archetype in the conservative firmament: The Careerist.
The Tories have - of course - had careerists before in their ranks. Until very recently the lot of them could be counted on one hand. This is explained by the relative infrequency with which the Tories have held power since John A drank his last whiskey. You worked for the federal Tories because either you hated the Liberals or the Liberals hated you. From Mackenzie King to Jean Chretien the Liberals were the Party of Government and therefore the Party of the Party Hacks. The Harper Years saw the longest spell of continuous Tory rule since 1896*. In that brief shinning moment it appeared that perhaps the Conservatives might become the new Party of Government.
Then the Boy King was anointed. There has been chatter at the conference that the Reign of Justin I is merely an interregnum. After 4 years of the Son and Heir tripping over the furniture and being wedgied by Vladimir Putin, the people would beg for a return to sensible Tory government. This ignores two very powerful forces of Canadian political history that are baring down on the conservative movement like a hurricane on a small tropical island: Incumbency and Greed.
Since 1878 every Prime Minister to win a majority government has gone onto win another term in office, the only exceptions being R.B Bennett and Stephen Harper. The old viscount had the excuse of governing the country during the worst economic crisis in modern history. The Badly Coiffed One had racket up two minority governments before winning the big prize. The take away is simple: Incumbency matters. Governments - as the Brian understood - do not get defeated, they throw themselves out of office. He demonstrated the truth of that statement by throwing himself out of office so hard he sundered the Right for a decade. Canadians are a boring sensible bunch who dislike loud noises and abrupt change. If Justin's legal guardians keep him from doing anything too stupid over the next four years he's got a very good chance of winning big in 2019. Before October the biggest dig against the younger Trudeau was that he lacked the gravitas to be Prime Minister. The longer he sits in the PMO the less plausible that argument becomes.
Greed is good, unless that greed is for the taxpayer dollar. The Liberals have one inestimable advantage over all other political parties in our fair Dominion: They are the best at giving away free stuff. While the NDP promises to give out more free stuff, there is serious doubt that they'll be able to give out the free stuff. This is either because no one thinks they'll win or because few think if they win they'll stay in power for very long. The Liberal Party governs by this fundamental maxim: The most free stuff over the longest manageable period of time. The master practitioners of this strategy have been the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals. Poor old Bob Rae shot his wad in a single term. The Dalton and his pantsuited successor were much smarter, they spread their havoc over twelve - going on thirteen - inglorious years. When you boil a frog - or a taxpayer - slowly he's less likely to leap out of the pot.
Since Gerald Butts - our de facto Prime Minister - used to be best buddies with Dalton McGuinty, expect a repeat on Parliament Hill of the Queen's Park melodrama. Nor is our old and very dear friend Gerald the only McGuinty alum making the long drive up to Ottawa. Since the federal Liberals jumped from third party to power in a single bound, the caucus is as green as the produce aisle at Loblaws. These newbie MPs need the guidance and care of grizzled ex-Queen's Park staffers, many of whom are well into their early thirties. They will bring with them all the bag and baggage of Ontario Liberalism. The cynical vote buying Ontarians have witnesses - and avidly supported - since 2003 is about to go national. Brace yourselves people.
Meanwhile, I hear Australia is still being run by sane people....
*I deduct at least two years from Borden's ministry because of the wartime coalition.