What Conservatives Need to Learn


By:  Rachel Marsden


Another week, another high-profile conservative meltdown over party leadership.  This week’s came courtesy of Carol Jamieson—Vice Chair of the Conservative Party’s GTA Presidents Council.  In an open letter to fellow conservatives headlined on Bourque Newswatch, Jamieson whacked Stephen Harper around like a bloated piñata on the summer yard party circuit, ultimately calling for him to step down.


Jamieson has the right idea about Harper.  It’s the same idea I’ve had for years.  A guy who can’t even dress himself properly probably shouldn’t be running a country.  But until Canadian conservatives get their act together, Harper is exactly what they deserve.  And it’s not like there’s a whole lot of talent riding the pine in that party, either.  At least none that hasn’t already been thoroughly discredited by conservatives themselves.


If Canadian conservatives want to win, and not be forever stuck with the likes of Stephen Harper, there are a few things they could stand to learn:


Lose the appetite for gratuitous cannibalism.  G. Gordon Liddy.  Rush Limbaugh.  George W. Bush.  Oliver North.  All are American conservative icons who have faced personal or legal troubles.  Canadian conservatives would reduce each of them to a career selling pencils at Wal-Mart.


Who gives a damn if someone has actually lived, taken risks, and perhaps made some mistakes along the way, as long as they are good foot soldiers for the cause?  American conservatives understand that this is politics—not church.  So try worrying less about whether someone is as pure as the driven snow and more about whether he looks like a rodeo clown at the Calgary Stampede.


Less “thinking”, more action.  If you want a model for how to turn off populist, grassroots voters, look no further than the Fraser Institute—this country’s big right-wing think-tank.  Rather than investing money in programs for young people and everyday folks, it churns out policy or position papers for other chin-pulling, rich, elite academic groupies.  If you really want to do something for conservatism, put your cash where it’s needed—on the ground, not in the ivory tower.


Reform party founder, Preston Manning, is now starting up his own think-tank:  The Manning Centre for Building Democracy.  Manning assures us in a Globe and Mail op/ed that the “roundtable” and “advisory panels” are in process.  Oh, thank God!  Finally, someone who understands that ol’ boy butt-slapping and good catering in Toronto are absolutely paramount to bringing about serious political change in the homes of voters in Quebec City!


Let me save Manning the trouble of blowing cash on future navel-picking sessions.  Start with booking some conservative speakers and organizing campaign, messaging and communication workshops run by people who have a proven track record of success in these areas:  Americans.  And make these sessions accessible to everyone who is interested—not just those who can afford to stuff the foundation’s coffers.  That’s what high-dollar donors are for.  I should know—I used to be a high-dollar fundraiser on Capitol Hill.  The fact that such a position doesn’t even exist in Canadian politics (aside from perhaps the guys on trial for Adscam) speaks volumes about the problem.


Focus on youth.  As a young Canadian, I had to go all the way to Washington, DC, to get my political training.  But of course, if I was a Ukrainian kid during that country’s presidential election last year, I would have been taught everything I ever needed to know about “grassroots democracy” by a group of visiting Canadian do-gooders.  What’s wrong with this picture?


Canada has a huge, taxpayer funded, leftist brainwashing system—better known as “university”.  American conservatives have built a counter-juggernaut called the Young America’s Foundation, which trains journalists, presents seminars, funds conservative speakers, and provides training related to campaigning, politics and leadership.  And it’s not just for rich kids, either.  This is where the focus of these Canadian think-tanks ought to be in order to build for the future.  The Reagan and Bush revolutions didn’t happen overnight.

PUBLISHED:  TORONTO SUN (September 23/05)