By Jonathon Van Maren
It’s inevitable: Whenever a Conservative government loses power, the first instinct of “progressive conservatives,” whatever those are, is to announce that social conservatives should be sent forthwith into political exile, never to return. In other words, the response of liberals who like fiscal policies that allow them to keep more of their money to losing an election is to dispense with a large, highly-motivated segment of the conservative voting base. When Liberals beat Conservatives, it’s time to create a third liberal party. Somewhat confusing, from a political perspective.
But political commentator Tasha Kheiriddin barely waited for Harper’s political corpse to cool before rounding on a healthy part of the some 30% of voters who did turn out for the Conservatives, announcing in a column we’ve all read before that the first thing the Conservative Party needed to do was cut “loose the religious right.”
It seems the chattering classes never quite gave up on Paul Martin’s conspiracy theory of a Harper “hidden agenda,” in spite of the fact that Stephen Harper worked harder to shut down any whisper of debate surrounding abortion than any of the other political leaders. In fact, his entire political record, from start to finish, was one of keeping so-cons in the tent but off the platform.
But in spite of this all, Kheiriddin still manages to find places where Harper bent policy to satisfy “the fundamentalists,” an ambiguous term meant to conjure up a scary, Christian conspiracy that exists primarily in the imagination of Marci MacDonald. I’ve enjoyed a lot of her writing in the past, but this particular column by Kheiriddin was truly delusional.
For example, Kheiriddin gives away her pro-choice bias by whining that Harper sent the tiny and aging feminist cabal in the country into convulsions by deciding not to include abortion in his maternal health care initiative. (It’s always been rather mystifying to me that liberals can see people with empty stomachs and conclude that empty uteruses is a prime solution.) This action, says she, was simply pandering to those in his base who disagreed with abortion. In other words, politicians should listen to all of their constituents when they make their decisions, unless those constituents happen to be pro-life.
Does Kheiriddin really think that Harper would have gained the support of the die-hard pro-choice crowd by including abortion in his maternal health care initiative? That’s absurd. Even from a coldly pragmatic perspective, Harper would have had nothing to gain and everything to lose by angering close to half of his base while gaining absolutely no other constituents in the process. In spite of his very overt actions to silence pro-life backbenchers, pro-choice bloggers salivated with glee at his defeat.
Let me break it down for Ms. Kheiriddin: There are two small voting blocs in this country who vote exclusively on the abortion issue—dedicated pro-lifers, and whatever’s left of the pro-choice movement. The vast majority in the middle, as we see daily in conversations on Canadian streets and in virtually every poll that comes out, just doesn’t think about the issue at all.
Kheiriddin then proceeds to lay three other policies at the feet of the “fundamentalists”: Harper’s support for Israel, which any research on the matter will illustrate comes from his own long-held convictions. Then, Harper’s environmental policy, which, she states with condescension that is as insulting as it is ignorant, appealed to the “anti-science fundamentalists.” And finally, she claims that the Conservative government may have been placing an emphasis on rescuing Christian refugees from the Middle East first. Which, considering the fact that they are one group specifically targeted for genocide and are routinely beaten and abused by Muslim migrants even within the confines of refugee camps, makes perfect sense. But then again, I’m sure Kheiriddin doesn’t want any more scary fundamentalists showing up in Canada to join the Conservative Party. At least, not those who might not support abortion, anyway.
Ms. Kheiriddin is obviously part of the Red Tory base that is rather insulted at finding Neanderthal “fundamentalists” in the same tent, and thus is proposing, regardless of political cost, to usher them out into the cold as fast as possible. These irritating voters, she notes with the subtlety that gave rise to the Reform Party, are “situated chiefly in Western Canada.” Alberta, she thinks, would make a fine political Siberia for those voters who still cling to the idea that life in the womb should be respected, and that support Christian refugees threatened by extermination being fast-tracked to Canada.
A brief look at the protests faced by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne loudly decrying the sex-ed curriculum, as well as a growing population of traditionalist immigrants with very social conservative leanings lends no credence to the idea that social conservative policies have no appeal in the electorate. Many do not vote based on these values, yet. But there is a large constituency that responds very well to the promotion of traditional values, and the ranks of social conservatives will be swelling in the years to come.
Any Conservative leader who wishes to attain political victory must recognize that this highly-motivated constituency, which often make up a disproportionately large segment of the boots on the ground during political campaigns, is one that must be included in the Conservative base. Either that, or the next leader can take the advice of Kheiriddin, who is fortunately a columnist rather than a political advisor: Split the right. Create a new Reform Party, so the disenfranchised political voters can have a political alternative to the fiscally-responsible-Trudeau-lite Kheiriddin believes we should create. And then, there can be three liberal parties battling for the same group of voters.