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LITTLEJOHN: Can the big blue tent hold together?

“In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”.

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The Conservative Party of Canada is undergoing an identity crisis as it seeks to replace the brief interregnum of Andrew Scheer. As the left has moved away from the values of free thought and expression, the conservatives have paid at least lip service to the importance of these freedoms. However, the main stream media has embraced the new orthodoxy of the intersectionalist left that believes only (their) politically correct views should be aired. 

Repeatedly, the Conservatives have found themselves between a rock and a hard place in that allowing free speech in their ranks leads to terrible press. There are a good many pundits who blame the election loss on social conservatives, and their recommendation is to tighten control further. But this risks shrinking the big blue tent because they believe there are more who believe in the mainstream orthodoxy than those who don’t. 

If the Conservatives are to have any hope of winning, they will need to keep the tent as big as possible; a daunting task at the best of times. It is no simple feat to unite fiscal conservatives, social conservative, free enterprisers, libertarians, red Tories, monarchists, environmental conservatives, urban and rural, and now a growing contingent in the West increasingly prepared to turn on federalism altogether. More freedom, not less would be the way to go.

Stephen Harper used a top down, stick to the talking points style of leadership; and it worked for him, at least until it didn’t. He was aided by the fact that Westerners were tired of losing due to vote splits and the NDP was strong enough to split the Liberal vote in Toronto and Quebec. Times have changed.

Andrew Scheer attempted to follow this style of leadership, but without the intellectual authority of Harper, his ham-fisted approach led to the creation of the People’s Party. Without appearing to believe in what he was saying on almost any topic, his insistence that his personal beliefs on moral issues wouldn’t affect public policy was unconvincing. 

During a CTV interview last week, prospective leadership contender Richard Decarie stated his belief that being gay is a choice and that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman.  He was criticized by other leadership hopefuls and MP Michelle Rempel said she plans to ask the leadership organizing committee to disqualify him on the basis of his comments because she is “beyond tired” of the party being “hijacked” by this type of bigotry. Apparently the party agrees and the leadership organizing committee has vowed to assess whether a would-be candidate’s views align with the party’s principles. 

Whatever one’s views on homosexuality, abortion or other moral issues, these statements indicate the same old, heavy-handed top-down style of leadership which hasn’t worked for the past five years. To put it generously, the odds of Decarie winning are slim, so why not give party members the freedom to reject him? Liberals regularly engage in censoring speech but Conservatives are supposedly in favor the enlightenment maxim, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Westerners voted for Andrew Scheer in record numbers, not because they endorsed his leadership style, but because they were intent on getting rid of Justin Trudeau. It didn’t happen. It’s unclear if they will remain loyal to a party that doesn’t represent Western concerns particularly well and won’t allow their MPs any freedom to represent their constituents. Why should Westerners continue to back a milquetoast party for the sole purpose of getting rid of their hated opponent, when they can’t even win? 

In this volatile climate, the ‘Big Blue Tent’ might do well to remember the advice of the Archbishop of Split de Dominis during the 70 Years War religious conflict that tore the Holy Roman Empire apart, “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”.  

Essentials are the few things most agree on: lowering the deficit, conservative fiscal policy and economic policy (minus supply management). The few things the federal government was intended to do.   

Figuring out the essentials is the easy part. The hard part is determining how to handle the non-essential issues. The heavy handed, top-down, approach risks narrowing or splitting the tent. A better way to expand the tent and win elections would be to allow at least a measure of liberty. Allow MPs the freedom to take positions on other issues as best meets the needs of their constituents and their own conscience. This would necessitate reducing the size and power of the leader’s office, something no leader wants to do once they have the job.

More diffuse sources of policy influence and less concentration of power would lead to better policy and more inclusion in an even bigger tent.

Would-be Conservative leaders should drop the old management style which risks shrinking the tent, offer more freedom to broaden its appeal, and draw the party’s diverse factions together in common cause. This is a tall order on both scores, but necessary if the Tories hope to remain united and win. Or they can continue to tread the well worn path to the cheers of the CBC, the People’s Party, and Wexit.

Opinion

BARNES: Albertans deserve the right to make the big decisions in referenda law

Guest column from Drew Barnes says that Alberta’s referendum law should be expanded to allow votes on big constitutional issues.

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Guest opinion column from Alberta MLA Drew Barnes

“I am and I will remain a populist, because those who listen to the people are doing their job.” Matteo Salvini.

At its core the word populism is the action that government policies should be determined by the will of the people, not the will of the elite. Direct democracy is the institutional populism in action.

There is debate over whether populism should be termed as a movement or an ideology. Since the actions of populist engagement can transcend the ideological spectrum, I believe it should be viewed as a movement, that can sometimes manifest itself ideologically. As a movement, populist participation can take place on all points of the spectrum. Ultimately, that is what is wanted from a democratic society – engagement from all points of the spectrum.

Now more than ever, we need a new grassroots-populist approach to politics. Grassroots politics by its nature suggests that it is a movement that is sparked from the bottom-up. Politicians who came from grassroots movements must never forget where they came from, or lose sight of what they came to do. We need more of the bottom-up approach to politics, and make listening to the people that elected us a priority.

This is taking place in some measure here in Alberta. Political party policy processes allow for constituency associations to generate policy proposals for conventions, where they are voted on by the membership. Every party in Alberta – with the exception of the NDP – uses a ‘one member, one vote’ system.

Another grassroots/populist tool is referenda, that when used the right way are a valuable democratic tool. Referendums however, must stay true to their purpose, and the process for bringing them forward must allow for citizens to craft their own – fair – wording on a question. This is not to say that any question – however subjectively worded – that anyone wants to ask should be put to a referendum. Therefore, the rules on the use of referendums must not be overly onerous, nor overly temperate.

Switzerland is a prime example of a country that takes full advantage of referendums, including citizens’ initiative. In their democratic system, referendums can occur up to four times annually. All citizens registered to vote can cast their ballot on issues affecting decisions within both their federal government and their cantons (autonomous provinces). Before each vote, all registered voters receive a package of booklets in the mail which provide details on the coming referendums. Since these referendums began in 1848, just under half of the referendum proposals have passed. Even if they don’t always pass, the process is crucial to starting conversations and keeping citizens involved in debate. Referendums also force political parties to reach beyond partisan lines to reach consensus.

Alberta’s legislature recently passed a bill that guides referendums on non-constitutional matters. While this is a positive step forward, there are issues in this bill that need improvement. 

For example, Albertans initiating a referendum might go through the process of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, only to have the cabinet alter the wording the question. While fair wording of the question is critical to the integrity of direct democracy, that issue is not best dealt with by politicians who may have a stake in the result. Instead, clear guidelines should be established in law on question wording, and left to non-partisan officials at Elections Alberta. 

And while the new referendum legislation is a big step forward over the status quo (that is, nothing), it deliberately bans citizens-initiated referendums on constitutional questions. This means that if Albertans wished to force a vote on adding property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that they would not be allowed. Similarly, Albertans are barred from forcing a vote on reforming the Senate, equalization, or internal free trade. Ominously, Albertans have no right to force a vote over the heads of the legislature on independence or other forms of sovereignty. 

I believe that Albertans can be trusted with the right of citizens’ initiative on all questions, both constitutional and non-constitutional. 

We trust the people to elect a government to run our systems, so why can’t we trust them to bring their own questions forward? 

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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Opinion

LETTER: Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East

A reader says that Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East.

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In this ‘Era of Wokeness” along with the ascension of Black Lives Matter into the public consciousness, I believe that it would be detrimental to the Conservative Party of Canada to have Erin O’Toole as
it’s leader.

Mr O’Toole recently refused to use the word ‘racism’ and did not answer clearly when pressed on whether he believes it even exists. Erin O’Toole will hand the Trudeau Liberals an easy victory during the next election, should he become Tory leader. Canada cannot afford another four years of Justin Trudeau. 

Like it or not, most people in Ontario and Quebec (where all federal elections are ultimately decided owing to their number of allotted seats), are very much ‘woke’ on the issue of racism, as well as
sexism, homophobia, ect. In my experience, this also includes most Conservative Party of Canada voters in Eastern Canada.

Right-wing populism and social conservatism does well in Western Canada – but centrist Red Toryism is all they are prepared to accept in most of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. CPC members in Western Canada need to keep this in mind when voting for their next leader. 

CPC members need to be sensible and realistic if they want to win the next federal election. 

Gila Kibner 
Edmonton, Alberta

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Opinion

LETTER: While Trudeau mislabels regular guns “military-style”, he is handing real assault weapons to the police

A reader says that Trudeau is militarizing the police while disarming Canadians.

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RE: Canada’s cops worried Liberal gun ban will hamper training

I enjoyed your article on the gun ban and how it will affect cops. A point of view the CBC would never share.

Perhaps another topic should be brought to the public is this: Although Justin Trudeau said there is no place for these weapons in Canada and Bill Blair said these  weapons have only one purpose – and that is for one soldier to kill another soldier – they gifted more deadly weapons to our local police forces through the Canadian Armed Forces., as was done recently in my hometown of St Thomas, Ontario.

What is the government’s agenda in giving true military assault weapons to the police and banning “military-style” (no legal definition) weapons from civilians. 

John Siberry
St. Thomas, ON

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