Canada’s conservatives gather in a moment of ideological turmoil

Preston Manning, founder of the Manning Centre, listens during the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa on Friday, March 22, 2019. Justin Tang/The Canadian Press.

Conservatives from across Canada are descending on Ottawa this weekend to network and take stock of a movement that is in political and ideological flux.

The Canada Strong and Free Network is set to host a three-day conference from Thursday to Saturday1The 14th Canada Strong and Free Networking Conference will be back in the nation’s Capital May 5-7, 2022 at the Shaw Centre. that will kick off with a leadership debate between the contenders for the Conservative leadership on Thursday evening.

With panels on health care, the future of work, and the state of the federation, the conference could find conservatives in a mood for introspection.

Federally, the Conservative Party has been out of power for seven years and is in the process of deciding the third leader who will attempt to swim in the wake of former prime minister Stephen Harper. Provincially, the picture is a little brighter for conservatives, with centre-right governments in Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta, among others.

Take a closer look, though, and you’ll find those governments roiled by the COVID-19 pandemic and with various levels of discontent among the conservative base that anchors them. In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney is in the midst of an extraordinary leadership review that threatens his government.2Jason Kenney urges UCP to back him or risk election loss to Alberta NDP. https://globalnews.ca/news/8748659/ucp-leadership-review-jason-kenney/

On top of all that is a generational shift, accelerated and magnified by ire about pandemic restrictions,3A recent Ipsos poll found that Canadian adults under 35 were most likely to sympathize with the trucker protests. https://thehub.ca/2022-03-14/truckers-barstool-conservatives-and-the-leave-us-alone-coalition-are-we-seeing-a-new-populist-wave-in-canada/ as millennials begin to reach middle-age and increasingly assert their ideas on the conservative movement.

Jamil Jivani, an author and former national radio show host, will be looking to tie together these loose threads as he steps into his new role as president of the Canada Strong and Free Network. Jivani officially takes over on June 1 but he is already highly involved in the organization and will deliver opening and closing remarks at the conference.

“When we say there’s a conservative movement, I hope that people hear that and think it’s a place that embraces heterodoxy and genuine dissent and disagreement. And I think that’s different from what we see from the other side of the political spectrum,” said Jivani, in a recent interview with The Hub.

Jivani will be debating Reason Magazine’s Robby Soave on Friday afternoon about regulating Big Tech,4Soave’s recent book Tech Panic is an examination of recent calls to regulate Big Tech from both sides of the aisle. https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Tech-Panic/Robby-Soave/9781982159597 which is an indication of both Jivani’s desire to embrace debate and a manifestation of his unconventional political philosophy. Jivani has urged governments to pay close attention to the increasing cultural and technological power of global tech giants.

The Canada Strong and Free Network evolved from the Manning Centre and has traditionally been a home for a libertarian-infused, Prairie conservatism. Jivani said that will always be a major element of the movement, but that it’s also worth looking at the issues that animate young conservatives, like inequality in the economy and Canada’s housing crisis.

“I also think that conservatives of my generation are very sensitive to cultural power. It’s one of the reasons why Elon Musk gets all the love and attention that he does these days, because he’s become a bit of a symbol of being able to push back against cultural dominance that liberals have enjoyed in a lot of different institutions around our country,” said Jivani.

Although his ideological disposition will be different than anything the organization has seen before, Jivani said he doesn’t want to make it a vessel for his own policy preferences.

“The Canada Strong and Free Network should never reflect the politics of one particular person. And I think that even from the very beginning, Preston Manning made that a priority. And I certainly, inspired by him, would continue down that path,” said Jivani.

The changes at the Canada Strong and Free Network reflect a generational shift happening in the Conservative Party of Canada and broader society.

The Conservative leadership race is also playing host to an intragenerational contest between Jean Charest, who came to prominence in the 1980s, and Pierre Poilievre, who has reached out to younger voters by emphasizing issues like housing affordability and cryptocurrency.

Although Poilievre is two years too old to officially be a millennial, he has tried to tie a coalition together with the idea of increased freedom, which he says transcends generations, geography, and even the various factions within the conservative movement.

“Freedom is really the principle that unites us all as conservatives. Fiscal conservatives want economic freedom. Social conservatives want religious freedom. Libertarians want online and technological freedom. Rural and firearms conservatives want the right to own their own property without undue confiscation. Progressive conservatives want women and gays and minorities to have the freedoms to live their own lives without government interference and discrimination. Freedom binds us all together,” said Poilievre in an interview with The Post Millennial.

Jivani will be attempting to pull off a similar feat with the Canada Strong and Free Network by injecting some youth into the organization but also encouraging dialogue along generational lines.

“The conservative movement, in order for it to have the impact that we’d like, needs to really be able to pass on wisdom from older generations to younger generations,” said Jivani.

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