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Sean Speer: Poilievre is the new CPC leader—what should his agenda look like now?

Commentary

This past weekend’s Conservative Party leadership convention brought a merciful end to the campaign which started in earnest back in February when the Conservative parliamentary caucus invoked the Reform Act to sack Erin O’Toole as the party’s leader. 

The Hub’s analysis and reporting of the leadership contest similarly kicked off then and continued through to the final announcement, including a weeks-long series on the intellectual and political factions that comprise modern Canadian conservatism, as well as David Frum’s invaluable advice for an incoming opposition leader

Our contribution was less about scoring the political ups-and-downs of the campaign—though there was some rank punditry—and more about focusing on Conservative Party’s philosophical and policy bearings in the current political moment. 

Poilievre’s decisive victory over the weekend is the culmination of the leadership campaign and The Hub’s recent focus on the intra-movement exercise. The main question now for the party’s new leader is about how he comes to define himself and priorities with a Canadian public that is far less familiar with him than the commentariat. As occasional Hub contributor Dan Robertson put it: “congratulations, that was the easy part.”

If his victory speech is any indication, Poilievre seems likely to play up his own personal story of social mobility and the need for public policy to strengthen the conditions for Canadians to climb the economic and social ladder. His message implicitly borrows from mid-twentieth century Australian prime minister Robert Menzies who famously spoke of the “the great and sober and dynamic middle class, the strivers, the planners, the ambitious ones.” 

As Poilievre similarly set out in his closing refrain: 

We will restore Canada’s promise—in a country, where it doesn’t matter who you love. Or if your name is Smith or Singh, Martin or Mohammad, Chang or Charles. A country where the dreamer, farmer, the worker, the entrepreneur, the survivor, the fighter, the ones who get knocked down but keep getting back up and keep going, can achieve their purpose. A country where the son of a teenage mother adopted by two teachers can dare to run for Prime Minister of Canada. 

This is, in my view, a positive development. I’ve previously written that social mobility ought to be the anchor of Canadian Conservative politics. Such a “cause-driven conservatism” can bring coherence to Conservative ideas and policies, unite the different factions of Canadian conservatism, and effectively contrast with the Trudeau government’s emphasis on inequality and redistribution. 

There’s evidence to back up the idea that the conditions for social mobility require attention. Although Canada’s record on social mobility is generally positive—we’re regularly in the upper tier of OECD countries—the mobility picture differs among places and groups, and new data suggests that overall social mobility is declining. As economist Charles Lammam recently explained in a Hub Dialogue, these trends are “reason enough for us to have the conversation about, ”what can policy do to foster greater mobility?”.

People are sensing it too. Polling tells us that more than six in 10 Canadians are pessimistic about the future of the next generation. A 2017 survey showed that nearly 70 percent anticipate that today’s children will be worse off than their parents.

This feeling that middle-class progress has stalled is, according to Ipsos Public Affairs CEO Darrell Bricker, driving a lot of the frustration that we’re seeing expressed in our politics including the recent Conservative leadership campaign. It manifests itself in thwarted aspirations about homeownership, growing concerns about job precarity and financial instability, and just a general sense that the country’s economic and social ladder has been pulled up out of reach from younger generations. 

A social mobility agenda is also more responsive to real public concerns than the Left’s narrow focus on inequality and redistribution. Research by leading psychologist Paul Bloom and his co-authors finds that most people are actually prepared to accept high levels of inequality—in fact, even higher levels than we currently have—if they are satisfied that the economic and social model is broadly fair. As they wrote in an accompanying Wall Street Journal op-ed

We think that many of these equality-obsessives are in the grips of a false consciousness. They fail to distinguish worries about inequality from worries about unfairness. They are confused about what they really want. Human beings, the research suggests, are not natural-born socialists, but we do care about justice.

This suggests therefore that the problem is less about unequal outcomes and more about a nagging sense that our meritocracy is still too closed off. It still matters too much who your parents are or where you live or how many educational credentials you have. Our egalitarianism is still too conditional. 

Poilievre, who was adopted from a teenage mom and then married a first-generation Venezuelan immigrant, is uniquely positioned to advance these issues. He personifies the “striver” that Menzies spoke about more than 80 years ago—especially relative to the prime minister who was born somewhere between third base and home plate.

The key though will be to translate this compelling message into an actual policy agenda. There’s insufficient word count here to outline it in great detail. But it will necessarily manifest itself across a wide number of policy areas including the economy, childcare and other family policies, housing, education, criminal justice, immigration, mental health and addiction, and so forth. It must also pay particular attention to the circumstances and challenges facing Canada’s Indigenous peoples for whom opportunity and advancement is still too often out-of-reach. 

The main point here is that the animating idea of restoring the “Canadian promise” can form the basis of a compelling message and an energetic yet conservative policy agenda. Poilievre and his team should dedicate themselves to such a political vision rooted in his own life experiences and directed to the strivers among us. It’s a definition of his policies, priorities and values that’s bound to find a large audience.

Howard Anglin: Canada and the Constitution: Trudeau’s rational folly

Commentary

Earlier this year, to mark the 40th anniversary of the patriation of the Canadian Constitution, UBC law professor Brian Bird wrote a four-part seriesThe Charter at Forty: The road to 1982 https://thehub.ca/2022-01-19/the-road-to-1982/ for The Hub tracing Canada’s constitutional history from Confederation to the present, ending with some thoughts about our constitutional future. It is an erudite and accessible journey through more than a century and a half of legal history, which I recommend to anyone interested in understanding the significance of 1982 as an inflection point in the modern history of Canada. In my own rather more polemical series, I make the case that by 1982 Pierre Trudeau’s constitutional vision, which was grounded in the Enlightenment values of liberal rationalism, was already outdated and that Canada’s new Constitution has thrived not on Trudeau’s intended terms, but as a broadly illiberal exercise of irrational judicial power. Here is part one, with the other three parts to follow each day this week.


With apologies to Virginia Woolf,The Hogarth Essays: Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown http://www.columbia.edu/~em36/MrBennettAndMrsBrown.pdf on or about June 1967, human nature changed. As with the birth of modernism observed by Woolf, “[t]he change was not sudden and definite … [b]ut a change there was, nevertheless” and “when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature.” So it was in the Summer of Love.

It was one of those moments in history when a subculture becomes a zeitgeist. The communal flophouses of San Francisco, so grimly chronicled by Joan Didion and Tom Wolfe, may have been the most unlikely place for a cultural revolution since the rat-infested cafes of Paris’s Latin Quarter, but that is where the eyes of the world alighted in 1967 and they remained there long enough to imprint permanently a psychedelic distortion of reality onto the Western consciousness.

The climax of this cultural moment was the Monterey Pop Festival, which ran from June 16-18. John Phillips wrote the flower-child anthem “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” for the festival. The song begins with a dreamy invitation to join the “gentle people with flowers in their hair” in a summertime love-in, but then abruptly shifts to an urgently prophetic voice, proclaiming that “all across the nation…there’s a new generation with a new explanation.” The singer promises not just floral reverie but “people in motion,” a generation on the march.

Almost exactly one year later, on June 25, 1968, Pierre Trudeau became Prime Minister of Canada. In the Canadian mythopoetic imagination, the two events—Trudeaumania and the 1960s counterculture—are usually linked, but with the benefit of distance we can see that Trudeau was an unlikely and unconvincing avatar of the 1960s.

Trudeau was no hippie. Like his near contemporary, John F. Kennedy (who, had he lived, would have loathed the hippies), he was a well-preserved relic of the world the young baby boomers sought to wash away in a trippy haze of peace, love, and sandalwood. He was a balding lawyer, older than most of their parents, and he wore his flowers in his tailored lapel rather than in his thinning hair. Far from being a new-age spiritualist or a cosmic thinker, he was a Catholic who believed in reason and its promise of scientific and social progress. About the only thing he had in common with the hippies was the age of his girlfriends.

The confusion, which was there from the beginning, is understandable. Because Trudeau’s liberalism shared many of the emancipatory goals of the younger generation—most obviously the overthrow of sexual mores (hippies, in the name of free love against repression; liberals in the name of reason against irrational tradition)—it was easy to see them as part of a common project. In fact, they were two branches of the Enlightenment that were diverging so rapidly that the newer one was turning back on the other, not to reinforce it but to devour it.

The hippies shone the light of Enlightenment skepticism back on its own premises and found a void at the heart of liberalism. Whether Trudeau realized it or not, by 1968 the Age of Reason had met its backlash in the Age of Aquarius and was on the way out. The tension between his faith in “La raison avant la passion”La Raison Avant La Passion 1968 https://www.aci-iac.ca/fr/livres-dart/joyce-wieland/oeuvres-phares/la-raison-avant-la-passion/ and the tuned-in and turned-on generation who believed in magic and good vibrations could be ignored as long as they were both sweeping tradition and convention before them. But the underlying philosophical divide was real. It was exposed most memorably during the FLQ crisis when Trudeau made it clear he had no time for bleeding hearts when they got in the way of his tanks.

Trudeau’s political project, which he had been developing in the pages of Cité Libre since the 1950s, could not have been more different than the consciousness-raising revolution of the 1960s dropouts. Unlike the hippies, who sought transcendence in the intentional irrationalism of mind-altering psychedelics, spiritualism, and ersatz Eastern mysticism, Trudeau still believed in objective truth knowable through reason. So much so that he worked with law professor Barry Strayer for more than a decade to develop a modern constitutionalism for Canada grounded in a belief that politics could be rationally ordered and directed under the supervision of neutral, apolitical judges.

It is hardly spoiling the end of the story to reveal that this is not what happened. With ultimate responsibility transferred a few hundred yards down Wellington Street from Parliament to the Supreme Court, the Canadian Constitution began to evolve apart from, and with only indirect influence from, the political work necessary to hold together an irrational society.

After 40 years of such hothouse evolution, Canada’s legal Constitution now resembles an exotic cultivar bred by an eccentric recluse. Like Des Esseintes’ flowers in A Rebours, the “living” Constitution often appears more artificial than alive, as befits a form of government driven by a liberal rationalism that is not naturally and organically tied in theory or practice to the social reality of custom, morality, and public expectation.