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Ken Boessenkool: Conservatives will vote for a strong climate plan if it helps them win

Commentary

Conservatives for Clean Growth was set up to urge Conservatives to take advantage of the incredible economic opportunities Canada faces as the world moves to net zero. Opportunities in mining (like raw material to meet global demand for batteries), clean energy (like nuclear and natural gas to replace dirtier energy like coal), technology (like carbon capture, modular nuclear reactors, and present and future cleantech opportunities), and manufacturing (like electric cars). As co-chairs Lisa Raitt and Jim Dinning argue, these are reasons enough for the party of growth and opportunity to pursue a credible climate change policy.

Yet, if that’s not enough, there is also a raw political argument for the Conservative Party, and its leadership candidates, to present party members and eventually all Canadians with a credible climate plan to reach net zero. For the simple fact is that without a credible climate plan, the prospects for a Conservative electoral victory are seriously slimmed.

Even if there was a time when a Conservative rallying cry for lower taxes could defeat a Liberal rallying cry for a strong climate plan, that time is now firmly in the rear-view mirror. These days, if all Canadians hear from Conservatives on climate is policies they are skeptical of, they can be forgiven for believing that Conservatives are skeptical of climate change itself.

For example, a recent 5,000 respondent poll commissioned by Clean Prosperity and conducted by Conservative pollster Andrew Enns, Canadians ranked climate change above higher taxes when it came to issues of concern (both followed pandemic management and post-pandemic economic recovery). Fully three-quarters of Canadians support a policy of “moving to net zero,” with only 16 percent opposed (the rest didn’t know). About the same number of Canadians (15 percent) think we should do “less” about climate change.

Fifteen percent of Canadians do not a Conservative electoral coalition make.

Critical to any Conservative electoral coalition is the 905—the ridings forming a ring around Toronto. In an analysis of the 2019 election, voters who considered voting Conservative—but didn’t—put the environment and climate change as their top priorities. These were the voters who denied a Conservative return to government. Almost one-third of voters who didn’t rule out voting Conservative said a credible climate plan would have made them “more likely” to vote Conservative. 

And such a plan would not have cost the Conservatives in the west. Rather, a “credible climate plan” would help Conservatives hold ridings in the west where the party won with small margins without creating any risk in ridings where the party won with large margins. In fact, support for a strong climate plan—even one that includes carbon taxes—jumps from 23 percent to 67 percent if western Canadian Conservative voters believe such a policy will help win enough seats in Ontario to form a national Conservative government.

In the face of this overwhelming evidence of the need for a credible climate plan, the Conservatives presented such a plan in the last election.

A poll conducted following the 2021 election makes it clear that Erin O’Toole’s climate plan (which independent analysis said was credible) was a net positive for the party in that campaign. Once again, among those who considered voting Conservative—but didn’t—almost three voters said the Conservatives credible climate plan made them “more likely” for every one potential voter who said “less likely” to vote Conservative. And only five percent of Conservative voters thought they should do “less” than what O’Toole presented in that campaign. Hardly a vote loser some said it was.

Now is the time for the Conservative party to build on this progress. The next election will (please God) be held in a post-COVID world (an issue that cost Conservatives in the last election). Presenting a credible climate plan will be a minimum requirement for the next leader of the Conservative Party to become prime minister.

This is why Conservatives for Clean Growth has assembled policy teams—made up of conservative policy minds, relevant energy and environmental experts, and climate policy people—to assist Conservative Party leadership candidates to develop a credible climate plan. A plan that can position Canada to take advantage of the economic and technological opportunities presented by the global move to net zero. A Conservative plan for growth and prosperity. 

We look forward to working with all leadership campaigns to develop such a plan, which can then become a key element of a plan to elect a Conservative prime minister in the next federal election.

Sean Speer: The brave resistance of ordinary Ukrainians should rouse the privileged West

Commentary

At a dinner event marking the thirtieth anniversary of National Review on January 1, 1986, the magazine’s founder, William F. Buckley Jr., told the story of how he ultimately persuaded Whittaker Chambers, the communist-spy-turned-conservative-intellectual, to join the fledgling enterprise.

Chambers, who was known for his dark, obtruding pessimism, was initially unmoved by Buckley’s case for a journal of ideas dedicated to the defence of democracy, capitalism, and the virtues of a free society. He was convinced that the West was already doomed in its ideological struggle against communism and so any effort to save it was necessarily doomed to failure as well.

Yet as Buckley recounted in his remarks:

“…that night, challenged by his pessimism, I said to him that if it were so that Providence had rung up our license on liberty, stamping it as expired, the Republic deserved a journal that would argue the historical and moral case that we ought to have survived: that, weighing the alternative, the culture of liberty deserves to survive. So that even if the worst were to happen, the journal in which I hoped he would collaborate might serve, so to speak, as the diaries of Anne Frank had served, as absolute, dispositive proof that she should have survived, in place of her tormentors — who ultimately perished. In due course that argument prevailed, and Chambers joined the staff.”

I’ve thought about this story in recent days as we’ve witnessed the powerful images and videos of Ukrainian politicians and ordinary citizens expressing brave defiance in the face of Russian aggression.

Think of the reports for instance from the Associated Press that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejected calls from the American government to evacuate Kyiv and instead is now helping to lead the defence of his country’s capital city.

Or the CNN interview with Zelenskyy’s predecessor Petro Poroshenko who when asked how long Ukrainians would resist Russia’s occupation, answered in one word: forever.

Or the New York Times’ front-line interviews with ordinary Ukrainians who have taken up arms “to fight the Russian invaders” in defence of “everything [they] love.”

Or a story released by the Ukraine military of a young soldier named Yitaliy Volodymyrovych Skakun who courageously blew himself up on a bridge to stop Russian soldiers trying to advance.

Or the viral video of the old Ukraine woman who sought to give a Russian soldier sunflower seeds so that sunflowers (which are the country’s national flower) “will grow when you all lie down here.”

These extraordinary images and videos stand, as Buckley put it, as dispositive proof of the Ukrainians’ courage, grace, and strength in the face of an existential threat. No matter the outcome of Russia’s belligerence, they will provide posterity with overwhelming evidence that Ukrainian independence and self-determination ought to have survived in place of the country’s jackboot tormentors.

In the more immediate term, one gets the sense that these images and videos are having a profound effect on Western populations. A combination of factors – including war fatigue after the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the slow-moving nature of Russia’s aggression, and our own decadence – had contributed to a tragic disconnect between the threat facing Ukraine and the West’s attention and investment. We failed the Ukrainians through a policy of self-absorbed neglect.

Yet the ubiquity of modern media means that we cannot hide from the consequences of such neglect. In a world of 24-hour news cycles and the pervasiveness of amateur journalism, it’s impossible to look away. We have no choice but to reckon with our collective choices.

Canadian public intellectual Marshall McLuhan understood better than anyone and certainly sooner than anyone the power of television and images in shaping our common cultural reference points including with respect to geopolitics and war. As he famously said of the Vietnam War: “Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America – not on the battlefields of Vietnam.”

The opposite may be true in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It’s hard to think that anyone could observe what we’ve seen in recent days – including images of Russian tanks and troops rolling into Ukraine, the brave resistance of ordinary Ukrainians, or even the extraordinary courage of Russians protesting in Saint Petersburg and Moscow – and not be moved. They’re something like a modern equivalent of Buckley’s persuasive case to Chambers.

On a personal note, I confess that that these images and videos have certainly influenced me. My initial response to Russia’s invasion wasn’t necessarily neo-isolationist but it was circumscribed due in large part to the formative experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while I haven’t “gone full neocon,” I admit to having had a visceral reaction to the stories of extraordinary bravery and courage and the devastating images of kids.

We cannot let our hearts overtake our heads. These are complicated questions that have major geopolitical implications including for the great power competition with China. A forthcoming episode of our Hub Dialogues podcast with U.S. foreign policy expert Elbridge Colby will place our options vis-à-vis the Russia-Ukraine conflict in this broader context.

Yet even if we cannot afford to lose our heads in such a moment, we can still draw on Buckley’s powerful exculpation to Chambers. The culture of liberty deserves to survive and those of us who are marked by real privilege have some responsibility to protect, sustain, and strengthen it. If we fail to do so, posterity will rightly condemn us.