As a progressive, I want a strong conservative voice at the political table
Too bad we don’t have conservative parties in Canada or the USA anymore
As a voter, I’m like most people and have different things that matter more and less to me. Climate change is high on my list, as is social justice and transforming our industry to growth, low-carbon models instead of sticking with legacy, fossil-fuel oriented models with limited lifespans.
But I’m also a governance wonk and I know that I’m one voice and one perspective, no matter how well-informed and wise I think I am. I know I’ve been wrong and misinformed in the past, and things I think are correct right now I’ll find are wrong in the future. I know that there are many policy levers to pull to achieve a particular outcome, and that I can’t see the implications of all of them. It takes debate and multiple perspectives to govern well.
And I value democracy. I value a government that governs for all of the people in the nation I’m in, not just some of them. I’m willing to be dissatisfied with many things my government does if I see that the government is governing for everyone.
In that context, I think it’s critical that there be a conservative party representing the views of actual conservatives and bringing conservative solutions to the table.
Unfortunately, that’s no longer true in the USA or Canada.
Let’s use a relatively common and positive set of attributes of conservative to flesh out this analysis:
- Cautiously incremental in positive change
- Focused on preserving the good that has been done
- Works from empirical reality and the best available evidence
- Focused more on market solutions than regulation to solve real problems
- A greater focus on balanced budgets
- A preference for federal governments sticking to their responsibilities and devolving other responsibilities to the appropriate levels of government
- A strong focus on individual human rights
Note that I ignore social conservatism in this as it’s a collection of irrational and emotional things, not actually conservative in any sense. Separation of church and state is a feature of the US and Canada, and it’s a good feature.
Let’s test the US Republicans (GOP) and the Canadian Conservative Party (CPC) against each of these, and then test also their primary opponents, the Democratic Party (DEM) in the USA and the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) in Canada.
Cautiously incremental in positive change
- GOP — Blocked all legislation for the past 3 years. The party that still sees many US states not having ratified the Civil Rights Amendment. The party that intentionally scooped up the racists in the aftermath of the CRA. Refused to ratify the Kigali Amendment focused on climate action.
- CPC — Last election campaign included no positive campaign planks, unlike for example the Mulroney NAFTA campaign.
- DEM — Brought in a conservative developed health care solution that preserved the medical industry (broken as it is) in the USA. Spent last year discussing the balance of conservative vs progressive policies for the Presidential campaign. The winner, Biden, is a conservative Democratic representative from the center-right wing of the party. He was pulled leftward by the progressive wing.
- LPC — Brought in a light carbon tax in exchange for approval of a major pipeline, and then bought the pipeline outright when it was likely to fail completely. Brought in a compromise assault-style weapon ban that leaves bolt action rifles and shot guns in the hands of hunters and those requiring varmint control.
Net: The DEM and LPC are the parties of incremental positive change. The GOP and CPC are regressive.
Focused on preserving the good that has been done
- GOP — Focused on stacking the Supreme Court so that Roe vs Wade can be overturned, making abortion illegal in the USA again. Attempted to kill the Affordable Care Act. Left the Paris Accord on climate change. Focused on gutting the EPA.
- CPC — Campaigned on elimination of sensible Canadian carbon tax. Currently attacking the sensible assault-style rifle legislation without promising anything better.
- DEM — Focused on preserving the ACA. Focused on building on the Green New Deal. Focused on preserving Roe vs Wade.
- LPC — Oversaw all positive social changes in the past 60 years, including merit-based immigration, gay marriage, cannabis legalization, medical assistance in death, civil rights and others. In several of those cases, they let the Courts decide, and then abided by the Courts’ decisions, rather than try to legislate against them.
Net: The DEM and LPC are the parties preserving the positive changes that have come before. The GOP and CPC are negative and regressive.
Works from empirical reality and the best available evidence
- GOP — The party of white nationalism. The party of climate change denial. The party of anti-vaxx. The party of COVID-19 minimization. The party of young earth creationism. Recent bailouts all featured heavy investments in oil and gas and nothing for renewables, their replacement and the market of the future.
- CPC — Dismissive of impacts of climate change. Focused on the oil and gas industry when that industry is structurally dying, to the exclusion of diversification of the economy. Leader with a history of homophobia. Did bring in Keynesian stimulus (less than optimal, later than optimal) during the Great Recession, after the previous leader broke from his fiscal ideology which opposed stimulus.
- DEM — Accepts climate science. Promotes vaccination. Biden published op-ed in January about concerns of severity of COVID-19. Obama and Biden managed H1N1 much more effectively than the GOP are today. Drove stimulus under empirically better Keynesian policies
- LPC — Accepts climate science. Promotes vaccination. Recent bailouts included $1.7 billion for cleaning up orphaned oil wells, not building new capacity.
Net: The DEM and LPC are much more aligned with empirical reality. The GOP and CPC are not well aligned with empirical reality, and the GOP is definitively off base. That both of them are the parties of social conservatives is a major factor in this. They are also the party of fiscal ideologues, Libertarians, which as a group have become cult-like in their dismissal of climate change and refusal to accept Keynesian stimulus after the global experiment of the Great Recession.
Focused more on market solutions than regulation to solve real problems
- GOP — The party of no solutions. The party of breaking trade deals. The party of trade wars. The party that is bailing out farmers harmed by its policies with tens of billions. The party that is bailing out oil and gas companies which were heavily debt laden, paying executives massive bonuses and buying back their own stock to disguise the market preference for anything else. The party of corporate bailouts.
- CPC — Focused on rolling back the carbon tax, a conservative market mechanism that prices negative externalities, in favor of promoting natural gas exports to Asia.
- DEM — Brought in conservative ACA. Discussing carbon tax as policy for climate action. Looking at embedding climate risks in SEC filings. Built out and preserved global trade treaties.
- LPC — Brought in carbon tax, a Pigovian tax conservative in nature, one that’s revenue neutral.
Net: The DEM and LPC are much more aligned with a reasonably regulated market. The GOP and CPC talk about regulation, but all that means is that they want to tear it up and not use market mechanisms to achieve positive outcomes for society.
A greater focus on balanced budgets
- GOP — For the past 40 years, every GOP administration has massively increased the deficit and debt. The current administration is doing the same thing.
- CPC — For the past 30 years, every CPC administration has increased the deficit and debt.
- DEM — For the past 40 years, every DEM administration has decreased the deficit and debt.
- LPC — For the past 30 years, every LPC administration has reduced overall debt and managed the deficit effectively. The current administration has done reasonably well at this as well.
Net: The DEM and LPC balance budgets. The GOP and CPC don’t, but spend much more when in power.
A preference for federal governments sticking to their responsibilities and devolving other responsibilities to the appropriate levels of government
- GOP — The current administration is trampling on state rights, attempting to enforce relaxation of California CAFE regulations and to force end of physical distancing in Democratic controlled states ahead of the best scientific guidance.
- CPC — The last administration did work hard to reduce federal influence. But the party as a whole is ignoring the complete inversion of the economy and population since the drafting of the Constitution in 1867. Cities are much more appropriate to receive power and revenue authority without state intervention, and Republicans counter that whenever it arises. Conservative governments when in power in provinces typically defund cities and force change upon them. Witness Ontario Conservatives forcing amalgamation on Toronto in the 1990s, forcing a halving of Toronto councillors in 2018 and cutting public health funding for Toronto by $100 million in 2019.
- DEM — The Democratic primaries featured strong policies focusing on what was within the mandate of the federal government and on working with states and cities for best outcomes for their responsibilities.
- LPC — The federal liberals work closely with provinces and cities for best outcomes, but do push provinces in areas of provincial responsibility for best outcomes, especially with strings-attached health funding.
Net: The DEM and LPC work with other levels of government. The GOP and CPC don’t, but often attempt to take power away from the federal government when it suits them.
A strong focus on individual human rights
- GOP — The GOP scooped up the white racists in the Southern Strategy. The party is focused on rescinding women’s reproductive rights. The party was focused on preventing equal rights for gays to marry.
- CPC — The CPC for the past 60 years was the party arguing against the advancement of rights to minorities. No progress of greater equality for minorities with white Christian men was brought forward under any Conservative leader. The CPC leader is still personally against gay marriage and women’s reproductive rights, and would have allowed private members bills to come forward on abortion.
- DEM — They brought in the Equal Rights Amendment. They put forward a black man as Presidential candidate and a woman following him. They are the party of rights for all citizens.
- LPC — Every advance of rights for minorities for the past 60 years was under a Liberal government. Merit-based immigration and multi-culturalism replaced white European immigration policies. The Charters of Rights and Freedoms was brought in by Liberals. Transgendered people were added to the Charter alongside women, people of color and religious minorities by a Liberal government. Gay marriage and abortion became legal under Liberal governments.
Net: The DEM and LPC are the parties of human rights for all citizens. The GOP and CPC are the party of equal rights for straight white Christian men.
The parties branded conservative today in the USA and Canada aren’t conservative. They are regressive. They have been hijacked by irrational elements of society. They refuse to accept empirical reality and leading practices from around the world. They are against international agreement more than not.
In the USA, Donald Trump’s approval ratings manage, despite his atrocious mismanagement of COVID-19, his racist authoritarianism in the face of #BLM protests, petulance and Twitter rants, to be in the low 40s. In Canada, the Conservative Party and its overtly xenophobic splinter sect, the People’s Party of Canada, managed to garner 36% of the popular vote with a more moderate platform than Trump’s. But 31% of Conservative voters, per recent polling, think Donald Trump would make a better Prime Minister of Canada than Justin Trudeau. The Conservative Party of Canada is not yet in the abyss that the Republicans have dug themselves into after decades of targeting first racists, then misogynists, then evangelicals, then those susceptible to propaganda, then climate change deniers and now anti-vaccination zealots. But they are striding down the same path, and while it’s not paved with good intentions, the end point is the same.
The place where 21st Century conservative policy discussions occur against progressive and more liberal policy options is within the Democratic Party and the Liberal Party. The GOP and CPC have ceded useful conservative engagement in power to them, looking wistfully in the rear view mirror at the rapidly receding past instead. Instead, these parties continue to lead and follow to progressive outcomes, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind. They continue to adhere to empirical reality, however murky it is.
I deeply wish this wasn’t so. I voted for Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives in the late 1980s based on bringing in NAFTA, and admire his work to bring in the Montreal Protocol. Nixon established the EPA. Thatcher accepted climate change. Conservative parties used to be empirically based, could be respected and were arguing for often reasonable policy alternatives.
That’s no longer the case.