Does political ideology still matter in Canada?
A popular sentiment among scholars, columnists, commentators and intellectuals in recent years is that political ideology is less important than it used to be. They obviously recognize that the differences between conservatives, liberals, socialists and others still exist. Yet they believe the race to the political center and shifts in generational thinking have watered down the ideological underpinnings of parties, leaders and movements.
Here is an example.
Sean Speer, editor of The Hub and senior fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, suggested in a March 23 post National Post column that the historical differences between left-wing red conservatives and right-wing blue conservatives are no longer relevant. Focusing on the Conservative leadership race, he suggested that the “most significant difference” between the two main candidates, Pierre Poilievre and Jean Charest, is “in fact generational” and can be described as a “battle between the late baby boomers and geriatric millennials”.
Meanwhile, Speer dismisses “the common but false notion that party members still identify with legacy parties – the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance – and that these identities are useful heuristics for understanding Conservative politics. “. Regarding young conservatives, he wrote that “the conservative party is their only source of political identity. … Old intra-conservative conflicts are not part of their political consciousness. They have never known anything but party unity.
When it comes to “older curators [who] tend to think of party supporters regionally and ideologically,” Speer believes, “this interpretation misses founding leader Stephen Harper’s key insight into establishing the Conservative Party as some kind of ideological party. Its aim was to replace the old regionalized illiberal coalition that was mired in opposition and prone to explosive rifts with a new, enduring center-right political vehicle that could consistently compete for power.
As one of the “old conservatives” who has been directly involved in this discussion for over a quarter of a century, I respectfully disagree with Speer and other like-minded thinkers.
Suggestions that “a conservative is a conservative is a conservative” should be the mainstream opinion of the party and movement are good but misguided. If that were the case, you wouldn’t theoretically need to distinguish between leadership candidates like Poilievre (Blue Conservatives’ first choice) and Charest (Red Conservatives’ first choice) – or even Charest and Patrick Brown on the side red preservatives. You could simply express your admiration for a kumbaya-like atmosphere in the world of dog-eating dog politics and promote party unity as an impenetrable force.
However, that is not how the rich history of partisan politics has ever existed or operated.
Ideological purity is impossible to achieve properly for any leader, candidate, party member or thinker. Political groups and camps exist in every party and cannot be avoided. The political winds change as leaders, parties and ideas come and go. Differences of opinion should always be encouraged. Intellectual discourse and lively debate often lead to healthy exchanges and, at times, the introduction of new ideas and policy directions. When it comes to choosing a party leader, it’s important to weigh the positives and negatives of each candidate in order to make an informed decision (although many don’t).
Yes, the old festering ideological wounds of the Reform/Alliance vs CP battles have dissipated from the public consciousness. However, political, philosophical and ideological differences still exist within the Conservative Party. In the same way, they still exist in other right and left parties at home and abroad.
Moreover, conservatives young and old still recognize that Red Toryism and Blue Toryism represent identifiable ideas, policies, and political positions. The left-right axis does not disappear because the general taste for rocky ideology is a little more stale than before. The same principle exists for regional differences. Most Conservatives in Atlantic Canada and Western Canada view the role of government, public spending, free markets and personal freedom differently. They openly admit it and are able to work together, which testifies to the party’s ability to find ideological common ground.
This brings us to Harper. His successful strategy of progressive conservatism struck the right balance between conservative fiscal and social policies. He appealed to party members as well as Canadians who worried about high taxes, authoritarian government, family values, and individual rights and freedoms. He did not shift the “regional and ideological axis” that Speer was referring to, but rather championed ways to turn those existing (and perennial) differences into a constructive political platform. It is up to the Conservatives to ensure that Harper’s ideological contribution is preserved and protected.
In summary, political ideology still exists, still matters, and remains an important piece of the electoral puzzle. Not just for gray-haired veterans, but also for future party activists and curious intellectuals.
The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Epoch Times.