Under cover of his own mediocrity, Peter Mackay remains free to ponder whether once again to be an “A-team candidate” for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, or to remain a passionate family man. Who would disrupt his musings by questioning his sparse declarations? Such as: “We mustn’t live in an echo-chamber” and his “We must be more inclusive”? With over 10 years of high-profile success of similar vacuities, he knows he can keep pondering for months. The Mackay family chalice of high expectations is still filled to the brim.
So, without an “A-team candidate” like Mackay to overheat our thinking or an identifiable Republican Party ideology left to contaminate Canadian discussion, let’s look at what the declared aspirants and others are already contributing to the renewal of the Conservative opposition in Canada.
Excepting the gregarious Maxime Bernier, a Quebecois with a libertarian rather than a red-Tory touch, the other Harper Government candidates are struggling to connect empathetically to all those Conservatives who didn’t go to Trinity College, join the Albany Club in their 20s, or read Disraeli before they read Lincoln and the National Review.
The popular meme of the moment is: inclusiveness.
“Inclusiveness” is a bloodless reference to a life-or-death fact. In order to rattle and then beat any majority government, its opposition must grow large enough to win the next election. The word “inclusiveness” should die of boredom. But the Tories still need a lot more of that growth stuff.
Nevertheless, what’s creeping back into conservative politics in Stephen Harper’s wake may not be the “inclusive” parties of Diefenbaker and the Preston Mannings, but the ethnically distinct party of that honorable gentleman Arthur Meighen, with its hamlets of self-regarding Anglophiles scattered across the old Dominion of Canada.
Harper conservatives paid their respects symbolically to the British connection while pursuing a dogged, American-inspired neo-liberal agenda. They took risks to secure a closer partnership with the whole EU, not its second-largest member.
They marketed polar democracy and laissez-faire American materialism, not the superiority of the Westminster model, to win over a decent share of first-generation new Canadians. Also, they declared that the Quebecois are a “nation within an independent Canada,” finally closing a gulf between Conservatives and Quebec dating back over 100 years.
Harper was most certainly the most American Conservative Prime Minister in history. While he got little in return from Barack Obama, his relative lack of interest in the United Kingdom further moved the Conservative Party away from its rather unlovable ethnic base.
In that context, the nostalgic outbursts of support for Brexit by the former Conservative Speaker of the House of Commons and potential “A-Team” leadership candidate Andrew Scheer—as well as Harper’s articulate former minister of Finance Joe Oliver—are bone-headed.
Both op-ed pieces in the National Post could have been written by the London pamphleteers in the “Rule Britannia” campaign against the “centralizing, bloated, unaccountable” machinery of the their democratic partners in the EU. They argue the UK can again enjoy the same “sovereign” hygienic distance from its neighbors that their forefathers legislated for Canada nearly 150 years ago.
Nostalgic Tories in Canada and in the UK dream that their countries can flourish as eminent Commonwealth powers by trading, but not become politically entangled in the supposedly unreliable, inferior, and giant federations next door.
Advocates of the American version of 19th-century nationalism are called “isolationists.” Their counterparts in Canada were known—and, if they keep it up, will be seen again—as the Crown loyalists. You, of course, remember the stereotype: fervent British Subjects who were raised to fear Catholics and Germans, and despise Jews, Muslims, Eastern Europeans, the French, and the Italians.
They were the good people who fought the currents of liberal history for two centuries. Unfortunately, whether called “isolationists” or “loyalists,” they’re recognized by others—those millions of voters who came here from republics not enthralled by the glories of Great Britain—for their awkward, superior ways and their lack of respect for how others do politics.
They still club, but they don’t govern.