Second Thots

Sometimes one has to step back, take pause, and have some "second thots"

Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Are the Ontario Tories making a mistake to think a more 'moderate' approach will make a difference?

The Ontario PC Party may select John Tory as its choice for leader. Much of the sentiment behind his candidacy centres upon his ability to make a 'moderate' and 'centrist' appeal to Ontarians.

There is a certain logic in this thinking that shouldn't be dismissed. The province was tired of Mike Harris and rejected his successor, Ernie Eves. Dalton McGuinty, as well as Paul Martin federally, offered more conciliatory messages that voters have embraced at the ballot box.

The Mike Harris approach was one of offering up a certain kind of vision in defiance of vocal opposition. The John Tory approach, in a nutshell, seems keen on getting back to a more brokering style of political leadership, where you make the middle your starting point and lurch more right than left, given conservative political leanings.

This is fine. But I think conservatives shouldn't fool themselves into thinking that the opponents of conservatism will make more nice with Tory than they did with Harris, or his more moderate protege Eves.

If John Tory truly believes in conservatism, and is willing to implement some conservative principles while acting as premier of this province, then he will get the same kind of treatment from opponents in the course of enacting those changes that Mike Harris did while he was premier.

Furthermore, political alliances matter to the left, even if you are friendlier to their cause. Joe Clark, Bob Stanfield, and others are examples of politicians who were lambasted by Liberals simply because they were the enemy, and not because of some adherence to an alien form of right-wing politics.

And independent voters are fickle. Their desire for a less ideological approach one day could turn into a thirst for a more principled approach the next, especially after the usual leftist rhetoric dies down from not having an easy target like Harris to throw darts at any longer.

Conservatives need to be careful about the kind of approach they take regarding non-ideological conservatives. Simply being nicer to others doesn't always mean they'll be nicer to you. Often it doesn't make an ounce of difference. And, if that's the case, why abandon the cause in order to play a game of nice that serves only to legitimize the other side?

If some conservatives didn't already know this, then maybe they should start learning. Some people don't like conservatives regardless of what they do. And they would love nothing better than if conservatives try publicly to look like them. It means they're winning the battle of ideas.

UPDATE: Perhaps a counter-example to Clark and Stanfield would be Bill Davis, which is why so many Ontario PCs are so keen on his disciple John Tory. And it is difficult to find fault with someone as widely admired as the former captain of the Tory Big Blue Machine.

I suppose I have two points to make in this regard.

First, that was a different era - a more left-wing era. If conservatism is right, then we need to keep moving away from that past.

Second, Bill Davis supported Trudeau and the Charter. Maybe we can do better than that kind of 'moderate' political brokering. If you recall, people like Trudeau and Jean Chretien, so-called champions of the middle-of-the-road Liberals, had little time for similar efforts made by a political opponent named Brian Mulroney. It's funny how political moderation seems to be rewarded one way but not the other, isn't it?

But I will say that the Bill Davis temperament is a terrific advertisement for his style of politics. But that may be as much a by-product of the man as it is of his ideological flexibility. Reagan, for example, was just as personally respectful of opponents as Davis was. And Reagan certainly wasn't a political moderate. So there.

UPDATE 2: Ask yourself a question: would a Liberal ever openly run against the record of a former party leader? And to what extent is John Tory doing it during this current leadership race?

I have always found the Liberals to be very good in showing solidarity. Even during this last federal election, despite all the forecasts of back-stabbing and public bickering, you saw Jean Chretien going to the ballot box to proudly vote Liberal (Mind you, if he was Conservative he probably would have been asked endless questions about it). The public animosity was kept to a minimum. Martin won.

Update 3: OK, maybe Paul Martin did run against the record of a former party leader. More accurately, he was running away from it. I think there is a difference. Nevertheless, I think Liberals nuance these kinds of things better than Conservatives. I mean, even with the Liberal civil war, they managed to win yet another federal election.

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