Monday, May 14, 2012

If I Were A...Conservative?

Today's post deals mostly with subjective reasoning; I've often wondered what my life would be like if I were a Conservative. And that is going to be the subject of today's post.

Now I'm not going to try and defend what this government is doing; rather I'm going to try to understand how Conservatives feel about what this government is doing. Hopefully, it will be an interesting experience.

The first thing we have to realize is that there two types of Conservatives. Firstly, there are social conservatives. Secondly there are any financial conservatives. I will imagine that I am one of each type, but in different moments; so I will examine how a social conservative feels and how a financial conservative would feel about this government.

Firstly, let's identify the keys issues for each type. Social conservatives deal with the 3Gs: Guns, God, and Gays. Whereas financial conservatives deal with taxes, smaller government and economic development.

Let's focus first on social conservatives. In their time in government, the Harper Conservatives have attacked same-sex marriage, recently reopened the abortion day, and have harshened immigration standards. They also undermined social programs that run counter to Judaeo-Christian teachings such as Planned Parenthood, Status of Women and numerous other organizations.

The largest caveat for this government is that the the bulk of its social engineering policies have originated from the backbenchers rather than from the cabinet. For example, the most recent abortion development comes from a backbencher and has been condemned by the Harper front bench.

So, while backbenchers are moving forward on social issues; a social Conservative might be incredibly upset that their leader, the Prime Minister of Canada, does not have enough moral fortitude to stand by what they believed to be his beliefs. As such, social conservatives might be very angry that their leader is choosing to bow to pressure from outsider groups, rather than following the wishes of his own core base.

As mentioned previously, this perceived lack of a moral spine (for lack of a better word) might very well anger social Conservatives who feel that now is the time for the Prime Minister to stand up and champion social issues with a conservative bent.

As such, social conservatives might be happy that their issues are being raised in the House of Commons and the national media, but they are likely equally as upset that these issues have not been spearheaded or even supported by their leader and our Prime Minister.

Social conservatives must therefore live with a level of cognitive dissidence in supporting the conservatives. The caucus is full of members were willing to support these issues they care about, but people with any power in the government benches forsake these positions for political expediency. And for any progress to be made of social issues, the front bench and leadership must be behind the change or no real progress will be made.

Realising this, social conservers must have come to the realisation that their issues are only being given lipservice by caucus backbenchers and that there will be no real action on their issues. This results in nothing more than an attempt to rally the Conservative base with no real intention of moving forward only social issues. Social conservatives will be asking themselves whether or not this is a party that supports the ideas and concerns they have regarding the fabric of Canadian society; and as of this moment, they will find it lacking.

Now that we've come to the conclusion that social conservatives have more to be disappointed about than to celebrate, we can change gears and consider what financial conservatives have to think about that at this government.

Economic conservers are by far the less fickle of the two conservative groups. They want smaller government, less taxes, decreased regulation/government red tape, and a business/investment friendly marketplace.

Economic conservatives pride themselves on the foundational ideas of classical liberalism, by which I mean they think that the government should get out of people's lives and allow them to do what they want. The government should provide security, safety, and protection from others but that's about it. The rest, to borrow a phrase, "the market will provide".

Let's consider these aspects and examine how the Harper Government has done.

First examine the concept of smaller government. While they have started cutting numerous civil servant jobs, they are also the government with the largest cabinet in Canadian history. Cost savings are offset by eliminating jobs in the civil service, while increasing government spending through providing perks and benefits to more parliamentarians who serve in cabinet.

Despite decreasing the number of civil service jobs, they are not making government smaller. By adding a large cabinet, and introducing a bill to add more MPs to the House of Commons, the government have set themselves to to foster the creation of a larger government rather than a smaller one.

In fact a supporter of small government has nothing to celebrate, as this was the party that used to share in that ideal. But now, it has increased the size of government and seems only more poised to consolidate power to a select fee in the cabinet.

That brings us to deregulation. The most recent budget bill contained several environmental measures that would consolidate power in the hands of the cabinet and government and promotes economic development at the sacrifice of environmental safety. While deregulation is usually celebrated by economic conservatives, this measure would consolidate too much power in the hands of the government. It would restrict the ability of the people to have their say and focus extreme authority in the cabinet, thus increasing the size of government control over the free market.

So a small government conservative won't have much to cheer about in this measure.

But what about someone who simply wants deregulation? While they will celebrate the red tape removal, they would also bemoan the fact that cabinet still has to sign off on projects. It isn't so much deregulation as it is changing who does the regulating. In that regard, the measures don't go far enough for the true free market conservatives who want to be free to evolve and invest in their company without government interference.

That brings us to taxes. While it is true the government has cut the GST by two percent since coming to power, they have also fostered the creation of the HST and overseen some tax increases and shifts to other means.

If you aren't a business owner, or near the top of the food chain in a massive company, you haven't felt much leeway in your pocketbook as far as the government is concerned. For the most part, only businesses have reaped the most from tax breaks and lowering since the Conservatives came to power. If you are a middle class Canadian, you've gotten short shrift for the most part.

As such, one must wonder whether fiscal conservatives who fall below the "upper class" still feel that the party represents their best interests.

Finally, we come to the the looking of fiscal record. Conservatives are perceived as the best managers of the economy due to their business friendly attitudes; but have that Harper Conservatives lived up to that?

In a word: no.

Spending is up, in addition to the stimulus spending that came from Canada's Economic Action Plan, and a lot of the purchases make you wonder. From the millions spent on advertising programs to highlight the government's spending to questionable G-8 and military spending, this government has racked up one of the largest deficits in Canadian history.

As economic stewards, their credibility is mostly shot.

Now, I have looked at what the two types of conservatives care about and the way this government has approached those issues. What can we conclude?

Well, two things.

Firstly, that the conservatives have run the risk of alienating some of their "light" base due to their inability to stand the beliefs and commitments that they had while in the opposition benches. Fiscal conservatives have the most to be angry about, given that the government has abandoned the hard right fiscal perspective that these people desire.

However, people who are on the hard right of economic issues will not abandon the Conservatives over this, much like many social conservatives will not abandon the party as the other parties are nothing more than "gay loving, baby killing, taxing socialists!'

So, on both sides of the conservative spectrum there are those who have no "choice" but to continue to support the conservatives as no other party is better for them.

Secondly, that the conservatives in power have abandoned the principles and ideals that put them in power for political expediency. While they still pursue some issues, that fall on the right of the economic and social scale, they have abandoned hardline issues in order to rise to power.

As such, they have fallen into the liberal trap of not standing for anything in order to appeal to populism.

They've also rode on the perceived conservative financial record as good stewards as their most populist issue. Despite their controversial stance on some issues, if they can maintain the illusion of financial competency they can maintain the coalition of centrist voters to put the into power.

But more and more cracks are showing in this idea. Scandal and mismanagement are leading Canadians to question their ability to manage the economy. As such, they are alienating independent and centrist voters,while also alienating parts of their own base.

While a majority of their base will stand by them no matter what, they do run the risk of losing "liberal conservatives" to other parties that at least appeal to one of their keys issues in a way the conservatives no longer do.

Effectively, this thought experiment has led me to believe that even those who call themselves Conservative's must be scratching their head and wondering what they are going to do the next time there is an election.

While many have no other party to turn to, many might decide to sit the next election out and wait for their party to normalize backlight values the party used to have.

Effectively, the conservatives are creating a group of people who will feel their party has left them; and it might take awhile for those people to return.

And since I'm not a conservative, that is a prognosis that a progressive can get behind, and it will be the true cost of a Harper Government.

While he may destroy parts of our national identity in the years ahead, Harper is also laying the seeds of his own destruction and abandonment by those who put him in power in the first place.

No comments: