Warning For Canadian Conservatives

A dangerous crack is spreading
across the Conservative Party windshield

By Link Byfield

Now that the federal election is over, there's something that "economic
conservatives" should consider. The five-year-old coalition that won them a
strengthened minority last month is already starting to crumble.

They seem unaware that many "social conservatives" are beginning to
heartily detest the Conservative Party of Canada. It's not just that the
party ignores them. It actually now opposes them.

In the lead-up to the election, Harper first scuttled Ken Epp's innocuous
fetal-protection bill after years of difficult toil, and then - even worse
- solemnly vowed to suppress pro-life activity in the new Parliament. These
were a harder slap in the face than anything social conservatives suffered
from Jean Chretien.

So an exodus of social conservatives has begun, and if Harper does nothing
to end it soon, a large chunk of his base will inevitably disappear. Some
will return to the Liberals, a few will go into exile with the Christian
Heritage Party, but most will probably just stop voting.

Social conservatives have been double-crossed before, first by the Liberals
and then by the (pre-Harper) Progressive Conservatives. Both parties
courted social conservative votes, only then to oppose their proposals,
however modest.

It's easy to drive the social conservatives out if that's the strategy. But
who do the economic conservatives imagine will replace them?

In my view, this is a strategic mistake for the Conservative Party, just as
it was for the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives.

Social conservatives are easy to ignore, but they comprise 10% to 20% of
the electorate. Contrary to their media image, they are quiet. They pray
quietly, work quietly, and quietly give more generously to charity than any
other group. They quietly take their kids to church on Sunday instead of
jogging or sleeping in. And they quietly but seriously disagree with
abortion, gay marriage and the whole ideology of moral progress.

It's impossible, really, to plot social conservatives on the right-to-left
political scale we have all been taught by the progressive left to use. The
scale doesn't work.

In reality, there three distinct sides in politics, not two. Take this
simple test:

Which of the following statements is true?
A. The state can serve people best by staying out of their way.
B. The state must ensure that nobody gets left behind.
C. The laws of the state should reflect the laws of God.

These are distilled principles, and when we see them standing there,
isolated and naked, we feel a strong urge to modify them - blend and
balance them - knit them together. And so we should. All the same, they are
the opposing corners of a triangle within which we all live and move.

In Corner A of the triangle we find economic conservatives and
libertarians. Stephen Harper is firmly among them. The most extreme among
them are nonreligious or anti-religious. They believe government's main job
(or only job) is to defend private property, national borders and open

Corner B belongs to the progressive liberals and socialists - everyone from
Joe Clark to Pierre Trudeau to Jack Layton. They can be moral progressives
or economic progressives or both. They believe the role of the state is to
care for individuals and shape society.

Milling around in Corner C, unhappy and defensive, are all us pro-family,
pro-church social conservatives. We believe that the task of the state is
to dispense justice, denounce vice, and encourage virtue among free
citizens. We believe God's rules don't change: abortion is homicide and gay
marriage is a fraud.

Nobody (at least nobody sane) occupies the extreme corners of the triangle.
Most of us, whichever corner we favour, situate ourselves somewhere closer
to the middle - which, given the shape of triangles, draws us closer to
positions we don't like but must tolerate.

Politicians learn very soon they can't win a majority from their own
preferred corner, so they have to make friends in one of the others, even
though they don't really agree with it. It's a discipline of the trade.

The other thing they learn, sometimes painfully, is that it's impossible to
find or occupy the exact centre of the triangle; they end up rejected by
all. This attempt to be all things to all men was the fatal flaw of
"progressive conservatism."

Now if, like Harper, your basic bottom line is "smaller government," you
have to decide whether you will get more agreement from the big-state
progressives grouped around Paul Martin, Bob Rae, Greenpeace, Planned
Parenthood and a thousand professional consultants and government-funded
cause-pleaders, or from the religious conservatives who belong to organized
faiths and underfunded pro-life groups.

The more you compromise with one side, the more you will alienate the

Some will say, "Yes, I'm an economic conservative, but socially I'm
progressive." Uh-huh. But so were John Turner, Brian Mulroney, Jean
Chretien and Paul Martin, and somehow government hasn't shrunk.
Progressivism in any form swells the state.

If you really do want "limited government" you are in fact closer - much
closer - to the social conservatives. They have learned to distrust the
state as much as you have, but for quite different reasons - reasons having
a lot to do with the will of God as they perceive it, and not much to do
with taxes. Jesus said it's good to pay taxes.

Harper prominently espoused an alliance of the two conservative camps five
years ago, to bring the social conservatives back in after the Progressive
Conservatives drove them out. It worked.

Well, let's be clear. Most Canadians do not see "lower taxes" as their main
political object. So before the party trashes the union that returned it to
power, economic conservatives should carefully assess whether they will get
"limited government" more easily from the social conservatives than from
the "unlimited government" progressives.

Do they really want a "Conservative Party," or the "Progressive Liberal
Conservative Socialist Party"? Because they're they're headed for the
second one.

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