How to kill conservative influence in Canada: Create an “NDP of the right”

By: on June 15, 2010 | Politics

In his recent C2C Journal article (“Canada Needs an NDP of the Right”) Joseph Quesnel argued that Canadian conservatives would be well served by a new political party farther right than the Conservatives. This party would interject classically liberal ideas into national politics just like the NDP draws extra attention to leftist causes in Canada.

This concept is dangerous and must be avoided as an “NDP of the right” is doubly flawed.

First, it confuses the concept of the political party with that of an interest group. To increase the traction of conservative policies in Canada, a closer relationship between conservative think tanks and the CPC would be more effective and less damaging.

Second, it would remove the Canadian right’s electoral advantage. Currently, left-wing votes are spread across the Liberals, NDP, the Greens, and the Bloc Quebecois. The CPC, however, is free of such vote-splitting, being the only party for conservatives of all stripes. Today the BQ takes 50 seats per election, the CPC are competitive in Ontario and the other parties carve up the centre-left vote. Thus, Liberal majorities become basically impossible without the ability to garner massive amounts of Quebec or Ontario seats. Canadian conservatives’ worst-case scenario is a Liberal minority (without considering coalition government).

I admit there is a larger plurality of Canadians who belong to the centre-left than to the centre-right. This is a strategic reality we have accepted and worked to overcome. Dividing conservative votes between moderate and hard-line parties precluded any chance of conservative government. In 2010, winning just forty percent of the national vote challenges conservatives. Divide that support into two factions and the ability for either to win is nil once again. Moreover, that enables the Liberals to take advantage of Ontarian vote splitting and rack up most of those seats, putting the nightmare of a Liberal majority back into play.

The conservative movement spent its forty days and nights in the wilderness from 1993-2003. That moment helped the movement crystallize its beliefs and grow into a broader political option that could garner a plurality of support from Canadians. It culminated with the Canadian Alliance/PC merger in 2003 and winning government in 2006. Conservatives struggled, but such was necessary to create a national party that also reflected modern conservatism. Let us not journey out into the wilderness again.

The suggestion of a new party is Sisyphean – having toiled to reach the summit with our rock, it should fall back down the hill to where we began to push? Albert Camus thought Sisyphus was happy because he knew his fate; there was no risk of loss or confusion for the “absurd hero.” Yet, those who want prolonged conservative government cannot be sated with achieving power only to squander it away; a new party would lead to that situation. Camus’s Sisyphus is not a conservative hero.

Sound political parties aggregate the views of a particular constituency, but are broad enough to gain power. Whereas interest groups seek to influence politics by promoting specific ideas, parties meld an array of common views into a platform that could attract enough support to win an election. The point is not to affect dialogue but to claim and hold power.

When a party acts like an interest group, it cedes to a broader party electoral victory. Moreover, the latter may appropriate the former’s policies and takes all the credit. Did the Liberals not follow Reform’s positions on fiscal responsibility and take the credit? Reform acted more like an interest group rather than a political party and had no prospects of forming government. The merger ensured that the right had a party with enough breadth to win but infused with elements of conservatism, albeit impure.

Mr. Quesnel mistakenly uses the Wildrose Alliance and the Action Democratique du Quebec as examples of how classically liberal political parties can succeed in Canada. The ADQ impacted the 2007 Quebec election, but it was hardly prepared to govern. It was caught off-guard with its 2007 success, and because it remained focused on specific neo-liberal policies, it was decimated in the 2008 election. Today, it remains in intensive care.

The Wildrose Alliance has yet to win a provincial electoral, although polls show that the possibly exists in 2012. So far, it seems the WRA are following a moderate strategy; they have not proposed slashing the provincial budget by 50% or a complete legalization of prostitution. Rather, for example, they promote working within the Canada Health Act to provide shorter wait times and giving hospitals more control over monies spent – both of which reflect conservative objectives but appear somewhat moderate and focused on sound governance.

Contrary to Mr. Quesnel’s suggestion, the WRA are actually akin to the CPC – conservatives approaching politics with moderation in the hopes of governing rather than influencing.

Mr. Quesnel is correct to suggest that Canadian politics need more conservative influence. Rather than creating a party that erases the Conservative party’s electoral advantage and is essentially an interest group, classical liberals should invest more time into influencing the Conservative party through existing infrastructure. Many think tanks pride themselves on being non-partisan, and maybe, to an extent, that needs to change. By working together with the Conservative party, small-c conservative think tanks would engage with the only credible conduit they have to political power. Consequentially, the Conservatives may be more receptive to integrating the think tank’s advice because of the closer relationship.

Conservatives today stand on what Sun-Tzu calls “light ground” – we hold enemy territory but not that firmly. The Conservatives crippled the Liberals’ Ontario fortress but the party is still young and has yet to win a majority. Sun-Tzu’s advice on light ground is “do not halt.” Creating an NDP of the right would amount to both halting and then retreating into fractured conservatism.


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About Tim Anderson

Tim Anderson is a recent PhD graduate in Political Science from the University of Calgary. He is originally from the Halifax area.