As we move further into 2020, attention among Conservatives in Canada will turn to selecting the individual who will replace Andrew Scheer as party leader.
Although it is early days for declarations, candidates are starting to declare.
Without getting into the names and personalities of those rumoured – or likely - to run, I have to confess that my own choice will be driven chiefly by three factors. While nobody is perfect, my support will go to the one who comes closest to the mark:
CANZUK, or Commonwealth Trade
I first wrote a book on this back in 2005, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that a great deal of time and attention in the intervening years has been spent on the topic.
From the 1500’s to 1759, we were a colony of France. From then on until 1867, we were a colony of Britain. From Confederation to the end of the second world war, we evolved into a senior member of what can only be described as a British sphere of influence. After 1945, we became part of the American sphere. In other words, for all of our modern history, we have been an adjunct of a larger power. While that may have meant compromising what we might have chosen to do on certain occasions (or joining military efforts), it also meant the security and protection that comes with being allied with something greater than ourselves.
The western liberal international order is now undergoing a transformation. Illiberal regimes such as Russia and China are on the rise, while the US and Europe are becoming increasingly inward looking – and this presents major challenges for Canada. To be blunt, what do we do in a world where we cannot depend upon the kindness of others, and where power is increasingly gravitating toward those who have fundamental disagreements with our conception of democracy and human rights?
CANZUK is a modest insurance policy among middle powers of a common orientation and can provide Canada some protection in an uncertain world. Not perfect, but a damn sight better than the non-existent alternatives currently on offer from the chattering classes.
The Conservative Party of Canada endorsed CANZUK Free Trade and Freedom of Movement and included it in the 2019 Election Manifesto. I don’t expect any of the candidates to ditch the policy. On the other hand, I would not support one who doesn’t fully commit to it.
Whether or not there is an appreciation of it, the actions of the Communist regime in Beijing represent the single biggest challenge to the post-World War II global consensus. From the abrogation of its treaty with Britain over the treatment of Hong Kong, to the treatment of ethnic Uighur and Tibetan minorities, to the bully boy tactics toward Canada and other western nations, to its increasingly aggressive stance on territorial waters, and general disrespect for any other authority in the world save for itself, the next two decades (or more) will be defined by what the regime does.
The regime’s leadership has worrying traits and seems to be as disrespectful of the international community as it is of their own people. Canadians are detained in China on the flimsiest of pretenses. At the same time, a nation that strenuously asserts its own right to sovereignty and to be free of foreign interference uses its Consulates to organize demonstrations and protests on Canadian soil. Moreover, a nation that jealously guards what it maintains to be its own territory has now declared itself a ‘near Arctic power’ as a pretext toward gaining influence in our northern frontier.
If a candidate is weak on China, I will be weak on them.
And the biggest one…
3. Class mobility
If you go on YouTube, you can find a clip of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland talking about class mobility. It was recorded when she was first running for office, and in the context of her book “Plutocrats.” In the clip, she remarks that it is becoming increasingly the case that the biggest determinant of what you will do for a living is what your father (or mother) did. No one is naïve enough to believe that some degree of nepotism and pedigree plays a role in who gets what, but her point was that it was getting worse. The fact that she was sitting on a stage with Justin Trudeau when she said that is deliciously ironic.
Far too often, when you look at the biography of some up-and-coming politician, business scion, academic, or esteemed pundit, you learn that they are the second or third generation to enjoy the status.
Class mobility has been one of the main defining features of our society – the idea that through hard work, intelligence, talent and dedication you could better your lot in life. Poor people could aspire to a more secure middle-class existence, while those in the middle-class could break through into the upper levels.
The increasing number of stories of hard-working people not being able to break through combined with the all too familiar presence of underwhelming leaders with a pedigree and little else makes me cynical – and downright angry. High profile examples include the college admission scandal in the US, and the infamous case of Elizabeth Holmes, (whose father is a former Enron executive, and mother was a Congressional staffer) who traded on family connections among America’s elite to found Theranos – a company that destroyed $9 billion of wealth predicated upon the adage to “fake it till you make it.”
I am among those who sincerely believe that an average and uninspired person whose parents are among the elite has a significantly better chance at advancement than the intelligent, hard-working and conscientious child of regular working-class people. To an extent, it has always been the case, but the phenomenon has gotten worse – not better. It is as though those who have gotten to the top of the ladder have quickly shoved it out, lest they be forced to compete for their continued sinecure.
This is what drives populism – the election of Trump, the passage of Brexit, and what Tom Nichols bemoans as the “death of expertise.” The choice will either be a radical leftist purge of the moneyed class, or a rational conservative approach that allows for the aspirational a legitimate shot at success. In the absence of a fair chance, people turn to the 'politics of revenge' as a consolation prize.
Speaking from the experience of a modest background, the poor do not want to destroy the rich – they simply want a piece of what the rich take for granted and are willing to compete for it. Left-leaning politicians believe that its handouts the poor want, because such programs are enthusiastically received. What they fail to understand is that people in the midst of financial desperation will always gratefully receive such support, much like a drowning man would gratefully accept a rope or a life preserver. What poor people would really prefer is to not be so desperate as to require a government cheque to keep the wolves at bay.
The world has increasingly become a place where working poor and middle-class parents could very easily take their children aside and tell them to take a good look around them, because what they see is going to be their future for the next 50 to 60 years – that their current situation is “as good as it’s ever going to get.”
I will vote for the candidate who understands that nepotism and cronyism are a cancer on the body politic, and that we need to cultivate and encourage talent from every demographic and socioeconomic grouping – and not skew the competition more heavily in favour of those already at the top.
The three “C’s” – CANZUK, China, and Class mobility. Answer these challenges to my satisfaction, and you will have a loyal supporter on June 27th