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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Ontario's Progressive Conservatives may want to be a bit more progressive

My pal Mitch Wolfe argues that Ontario's PC's need to look back to the Bill Davis era in order to recapture political support in the province:
...the Ontario Tories should consider going back in time, figuratively speaking, to the party’s golden era — of “Brampton Bill” Davis and his “Big Blue Machine”. Pick and choose the successful and effective elements of the Davis government and try to modernize them, adapt them and apply them to today’s Ontario.
Davis was Ontario’s premier from 1971 to 1985 — one of Canada’s best premiers. He was a politically moderate conservative from the rapidly growing city of Brampton, who led and oversaw an ideologically diverse and inclusive cabinet that brought together Red Tories like McMurty and Grossman, centrists like Dr. Bette Stephenson and Dennis Timbrell, and right-wingers like Frank Miller.
In those days, the Tories were known as an urban/suburban party, with some rural roots, while the Liberal party was primarily rural-based. How times have changed.


Skippy Stalin said...

I'm not as sure that the problem is whether the party is progressive enough as much as there is now a conservative movement that sees stupidity as a virtue and electability as a vice.

Few people are as symbolic of that as Tim Hudak, who doubled down on wishful thinking, bad math and worse politics because he thought it would make his idiot base happy. Seriously, have you ever heard of "I'm going to fire 100,000 of you" becoming a winning general election campaign?

And make no mistake, it's the base that's preventing the party from winning. It isn't just Toronto where the Tories were shut out, it's anywhere with more than a quarter of million people.

As the party becomes more rural in a province that's becoming less so, the more the base resents any policy proposal that might win votes in the cities, which prevents it from winning. Then the base complains that the party isn't "conservative" enough.

That isn't just true of the PCPO, it's also true of the Republican party in the US which, outside of Texas, only wins states where nobody lives. Not only have conservatives lost urban voters, they're rapidly losing suburban ones, too.

In large part, I think this has to do with the gradual redefinition of conservatism. The dictionary definition of the word is "resistant to sudden or radical change." But since the mid 90s, conservatism has been about nothing but sudden and radical change. Unsurprisingly, this tends to scare the shit out of voters.

Which brings me to Mike Harris. I voted for him three times, but he haunts the party in ways that have almost made it a political death cult.

First, Conservatives have never really gotten the fact that Harris was an electoral accident. He won because he beat a discredited Bob Rae and a singularly unelectable Lyn McLeod, who I'm pretty sure that I could've beaten - and I was 25 and drunk at the time.

Second, Harris wasn't an idiot. He knew the basic rule of politics is that you secure your base and then campaign to the middle of the electorate. You'll remember that he was careful not to pick fights with the teachers during an election year.

However, the general public remembers something like four teacher's strikes in the six years of the Harris government, and they probably would like to avoid broadening that across the greater civil service. While modern conservatives might like a confrontational government, voters generally don't. They'd prefer to forget that it exists at all.

Third, I believe the party's problems in the cities can be traced directly back to Harris. Not only did he amalgamate them, against their will (and I was for it at the time), he also cut the funding to them. To fill the gap, property taxes had to be increased fairly dramatically, which, paradoxically led to the rise of Rob Ford. And Ford thinks the provincial government should fun everything!

Just look at Toronto, where there's 24 seats. If you multiply those seats by the four elections since Harris went off into the night, you have 88. The Tories have won exactly ONE of them, and lost it as soon as they possibly could. One out of eighty-eight seats.

It's mathematically difficult to form a government without Toronto seats. When you also take Hamilton, London, Windsor and Ottawa off of the table, it's impossible.

Skippy Stalin said...

Fourth, Canadian conservatives are under the mistaken impression that we're just like Americans, which we're not in two important ways;

A) When presented with the choice between corrupt and stupid, we'll usually go with corrupt. At least the trains will run on time.

Don't believe me? Look at the 2004 federal election. Or this month's election. Corruption alone isn't a sufficient ballot issue if there isn't a credible, non-terrifying alternative.

B) Canadian legislative seats aren't gerrymandered to the psychotic extent that American ones are, so our conservatives don't have the luxury of proposing insane things, secure in the knowledge that they almost can't lose.

Mitch and I both like Christine Elliott a lot. I supported her in '09. But I don't think it makes a difference if she's the next leader because it'll almost certainly only be a cosmetic change.

If I know the PCs as well as I think I do, they'll let people like Randy Hillier dictate the terms of the next leadership convention and platform to the point that it won't matter who the leader is because the underlying existential issues will be ignored.

But that's just me. I'm a "glass half full" guy.

Richard K said...

Yeah, campaigning to the right and governing from the center isn't going to work in Ontario. At least not in the current landscape. Of course, that "governing" part is hypothetical since who knows when that will happen next.