Keeping Conservatives Engaged Under the Big Tent

March 23, 2021 Updated: March 23, 2021

Commentary

If polls are to be believed, the Liberal Party continues to poll stronger than the rival Conservatives. But as the pandemic situation shifts, there may be a reckoning of the political landscape.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole acknowledged as much in his speech at the party’s recent policy convention, where he prescribed change and unity as the means to outmanoeuvre the Liberals and broaden the conservative tent.

The item that got the most publicity from the convention was the vote by party members against the leadership on a policy statement on climate change. Some critics said the leadership shot itself in the foot by highlighting this issue and giving ammunition to the opposition.

Going into the next election, if the Conservative Party takes a reactionary or defensive approach in countering the offences launched by the opposition, it will find it hard to be the author of its own narrative. Those who want to shape the political landscape in a certain way condense complex political issues into simple soundbites, and any response not in their prescribed playbook will be used to discredit and disparage their opponent.

This tactic was used numerous times against former leader Andrew Scheer regarding his social conservative views. If the Conservative leadership wants to show Canadians that it really is the big-tent party that it purports to be, it needs to embrace freedom of thought, encourage participation—not heed the tokenism that has come to dominate the political landscape—and focus on tackling complex issues with competent policies.

Backed Into a Corner

Social conservatives, one of the main factions that form the Conservative Party, have been feeling increasingly alienated from the only mainstream party that they can call home in Canada today.

Social conservatives have been backed into a corner, partly due to the political bent of traditional and social media providers who filter information in order to promote a singular view as the “correct” one, while framing anything that does not conform to that particular narrative as unsavoury.

To use our southern neighbour as an example, the legacy media seems to liken every person who voted for Donald Trump to a capitol rioter. Although this is far from the case, the generalization persists nonetheless.

Of the 75 million who voted for Trump, how many publicly displayed their voting preference? Not many, as pre-election polls suggest, and the reason is that there is real risk in coming out as conservative, politically or socially. To offer a conservative opinion to the wrong audience or on the wrong medium could result in loss of employment or worse. It is largely out of fear that most rationally minded conservatives decline to voice their opinions. The risk just seems too great.

A July 2020 survey by the Cato Institute found that 62 percent of Americans say they have political views they are afraid to share, with 32 percent fearing that if their political opinion became known it could harm their career.

It would be fair to assume that this same fear has crept into the Canadian psyche, which is a shame because robust political discourse is a cornerstone of democracy and has always been necessary to a properly functioning civic life.

Broadening the Conservative Appeal

With talk of an election in the wind, the Conservative Party must distinguish itself from the Liberals’ offerings by representing both classical liberals and social conservatives who are reluctant to proclaim their political leanings publicly.

If the last two U.S. elections tell us anything, it’s that a large segment of the population is uncomfortable with the leftward shift that has gained momentum in the last decade. O’Toole must distance himself from extremism, but not by disavowing social conservatives or lumping them in with the fringes.

The Conservative Party needs to construct and promote a clear picture of its vision for Canada’s future that doesn’t shy away from its base, which supports traditional conservative principles and values greater freedom and opportunity for all Canadians. If it can demonstrate this, moderate liberals may come to realize that a principled Conservative Party is much more closely aligned with the classical liberal values that have been sidelined as both the Liberals and NDP push further left.

Conservative leaders shouldn’t be afraid to voice their position with good-humoured inflexibility and be willing to engage in contentious debate while acknowledging the validity of other points of view. “Cancel culture,” attack ads, and over-simplified rhetoric has reached a point of parody, and most reasonable Canadians can see through the facade of outrage.

In this light, it could well be the case that Canadians would gravitate toward a Conservative Party willing to voice its principles, not as ethically exclusive but as a viable alternative to the left’s point of view.

Ryan Moffatt is a journalist based in Vancouver.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.