Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

Moderate conservatives gather to preach ‘radical’ centrism and lament ‘rage-filled diatribes’

News

Back in 2002, Trent Evans and his crew of icemakers from Edmonton buried a loonie at centre ice at the E Center in West Valley, the arena hosting the hockey games during the Salt Lake City Olympics. Both the men’s and women’s teams went on to win the gold medal in those games and the “lucky loonie” lives on as legend, proudly displayed in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. 

Not much brings Canadians together these days, but hockey (for the most part) remains a unifying force for pride and mythmaking.

It is no surprise, then, that a group hoping to bridge the divide between our polarized population, Centre Ice Conservatives, draws on the metaphor for their name. Centre ice: both the hallowed home of national history and a place where opponents face off. But what else does it represent?

Looking to provide an answer, the newly-formed advocacy group hosted its first conference in Edmonton on Thursday, entitled Let’s Grow, Canada! 

Businessman Rick Peterson, a co-founder of the group and the host of the event, positions the group as one that, while non-partisan, is hoping to pull the country’s conservative movement back to the moderate middle. It aims to be a platform for centre-right conservatives, for centrists in general, and for those who feel unrepresented in our politics today. Specifically, for those fed up with the lack of substantive public policy discussions happening in the current Conservative Party leadership race. 

Right up front, Peterson answers the question of the group’s intentions: “Are you guys looking to start a party?” 

Yes, he says: there will be a cocktail party after the event. 

But a new political party? Unequivocally no. “Nobody here wants to do that. That’s just a lot of work.” 

Rather, Peterson promises to make the political centre “radical, relevant, and successful.”

What does that look like? Throughout the day, the speakers explored a host of issues common to conservative conversations. A smattering of the themes discussed and conclusions drawn: culture wars, populism, and polarization (bad), serious policy discussions (good), climate change (bad), resource development (good, to a point), energy transition (necessary, but not too fast), nuclear energy (good), infrastructure (critical), Bill C-69 (withdraw it already), our regulatory system (overhaul it), economic growth (necessary), interprovincial trade barriers (a disgrace), military bases in the North and submarines in the Arctic (needed yesterday), the Freedom Convoy (foolishness), open dialogue and compromise on contentious issues (absolutely necessary), debating abortion (absolutely forbidden).

As the keynote speaker, former B.C. premier Christy Clark praised the group as a necessary corrective to a political climate in Canada that is veering too far to the fringes. 

“Our leaders are no longer talking about unity, and that is a problem,” said Clark. “Because we are not in fact a united country. I have never seen our country so divided.”

The key to healing this divide, Clark offered, was for our political class to focus less on “slice and dice” electoral considerations and more on unifying messages of compromise. We need to spend more time debating controversial and unconventional ideas instead of denouncing them, and work harder at finding areas of common ground with our foes, she said.

“The most important job for any prime minister is to stand up not for what divides us but what brings us together.”

Calls for compromise and moderation were common throughout the event. And while the ongoing federal Conservative Party leadership race was not an official topic of conversation, when prompted during a Q & A, Clark took the opportunity to again weigh in. 

“I think Jean Charest would be a fantastic prime minister,” she said to much applause. 

Oblique references to race front-runner Pierre Poilievre and his popular, confrontational style were also sprinkled throughout the day.

The leadership race has too often featured “rage-filled diatribes that accomplish absolutely nothing,” bemoaned Clark.

Without mentioning Poilievre explicitly, commentator Andrew Coyne quipped that “it’s good to be in a room where conservatives are talking about growth and economic policy and not the World Economic Forum.”

He also worried that the Tories are “retreating into unreality and extremism” and are “about to run themselves off of a cliff.”

The party, he said, has become more interested in yelling at others to make themselves feel better rather than offering up substantive policy alternatives. 

But what does a “radical” centrist message look like in practice? And how does this substantive policy agenda differ from the Conservative Party’s current platform and direction? 

This message was less clear. The most profound reaction of many conference participants seemed to be against the manner, style, and rhetoric of their opponents, rather than ideological differences. If Thursday’s conference is anything to go by and if Centre Ice Conservatives get their way, the future of conservatism will involve fewer enthusiastic rallies and more polite conversations. 

Coyne emphasized, however, that valuing moderation in temperament and presentation does not mean watering down one’s ideological commitments. 

“I’m not keen on centrism if it means taking half measures on everything.” Rather, he explained, a centrist disposition works if you draw on policies and philosophies from all sides to provide better, more efficient, and more equitable outcomes for all Canadians.  

Former MP Leona Alleslev was keen to point out that this approach does not mean getting mired in the “mushy middle”, but is instead focused on making the conservative movement more appealing to the rest of the country. 

The energy in the conservative movement seems to be elsewhere, however, as Poilievre remains the presumptive favourite to helm the federal Conservatives, has sold the most memberships, and has garnered the vast majority of support and endorsements from those within the party, including Stephen Harper

For their part, the organizers of the conference are keen on facilitating more conversations like these in the hopes of drawing on like-minded allies across the country. An upcoming conference in Halifax was announced, with details to come. 

But will any of this effort actually translate to political power in our populist era? Despite the group’s strategic association with this country’s national pastime, as anyone who knows hockey understands, it’s hard to actually score a goal from centre ice. All the action is elsewhere.

Young Canadians are pessimistic. Conservatives have different ideas about what to do about it

News

If there is a battle for the hearts and votes of young Canadians, it likely won’t be won with soaring rhetoric and patriotic appeals.

It may not be surprising after the COVID-19 pandemic, but young Canadians are not feeling good about their country, according to a recent poll produced by The Hub and Public Square Research and conducted with LEO, Leger’s online panelClick the link to join the Leger Opinion online panel and get your voice heard in surveys like this..

Pierre Poilievre, the frontrunner in the Conservative leadership race, has pitched an alternating vision of Canada: sometimes focusing on the crumbling institutions and sclerotic government, and other times offering an optimistic vision of Canada as the “freest country on earth.”

Contrast that to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s early rhetoric of “sunny ways” and “positive, optimistic” politics which self-consciously steered clear of negativity.

Poilievre’s language may reflect his own temperament, or it may reflect his understanding of the mood of the electorate in the wake of a grinding two-and-a-half-year pandemic.

Among Canadians over the age of 55, about 74 percent agree with the idea that “although times are tough, I am very hopeful for the future of Canada,” compared to only 57 percent of Canadians aged 18 to 34, according to the poll.

The poll also shows that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has now rolled into its third year, younger Canadians are also much less open to the idea of helping others than older Canadians.

Adult Canadians under 35 are much more likely to agree that it’s the government’s job to help people, rather than their own responsibility, with 42 percent agreeing with that sentiment compared to 27 percent of Canadians over the age of 55.

Ninety-one percent of older Canadians agree that wearing a mask to help vulnerable people is not too much to ask, compared to just 69 percent of Canadians under the age of 35.

In one of the largest disparities by age, 60 percent of adult Canadians under the age of 35 agree that they’d like to help others, but first need to help themselves. Only 34 percent of Canadians over the age of 55 agree with that statement.

Fifty-three percent of Canadians aged 18 to 34 also say they no longer feel connected to their community or society compared to 39 percent of Canadians over the age of 55.

While Poilievre has tried to strike a balance between reflecting and echoing the anxiety of Canadians and offering a competing, positive vision, there is an effort underway to infuse the conservative movement with more undiluted optimism.

A monthly discussion, produced by the Canada Strong and Free Network and hosted by CSFN president Jamil Jivani and Toronto entrepreneurs and Hub contributors Matt and Chris Spoke, called the Canadian Optimists aims to bring positive ideas and ambition into Canadian politics.

The first guest, Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton, said it should be a natural fit for his own party and ideological allies across the country.

“I believe fundamentally we are the movement of optimism and we should never cede that to other parties, whether it’s any other party provincially or across Canada,” said McNaughton.

Because conservatism is so often a reaction to progressive ideas and policies, it can easily slide into pessimism, but McNaughton said it’s important to work against that impulse.

McNaughton has drawn praise for his work as labour minister in Ontario, which has sometimes been a diversion from conventional conservatism. He has reached out to blue collar union leaders and drawn some surprising union endorsements for his party in this year’s Ontario election, and he has proposed a “bill of rights” for gig workers.

McNaughton’s quest for blue collar workers has been sometimes portrayed as part of a broader ideological realignment in Canada, where professional class voters lean Left, while blue collar Canadians increasingly vote Conservative.

At the Canadian Optimists discussion, Matt Spoke said he wants to see the energy of entrepreneurship take hold in the country in order to solve big problems, like economic stagnation and climate change.

“What excites me about the world of entrepreneurship is a mentality of ambition, optimism, and vision for the future,” said Matt Spoke.

“The more we can take that and translate it into the way that we talk about political ideas and topics, and start to talk tactically about how we translate that into action, particularly within the conservative movement, I think there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic about the future of Canada,” he said.

McNaughton differentiated between Canadians being optimistic about the fate of the country and being optimistic about their ability to change it.

“So as conservatives, we need to talk about long-term projects, the long-term (health) of our provinces or country. And this idea of building, I think, is really one that we can all rally behind,” said McNaughton.

This survey was conducted with LEO, Leger’s online panel. If you want your voice to be heard, you can join the LEO panel today.