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Towards Alberta, away from corporate tax cuts: A few clues about the direction of Canada’s conservative movement

News

There was an unusual abundance of beer, Ronald Reagan references, and “Kill Socialism” bumper stickers at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa this week.

Canadian conservatives gathered for the Canada Strong and Free Network conference to talk policy, listen to expert panels and reminisce about the old days. Coming on the 30-year anniversary of the 1993 election, which sent 52 Reform Party MPs to Ottawa, the crowd wasn’t short on excuses for nostalgia. But there was also an undercurrent of hope. A recurring theme was the sense that the governing Liberals are on the ropes, plagued by scandals, and leaving an opportunity for the Conservative Party to mount a serious challenge to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s seven years of governance.

The Hub has collected a few moments of interest that indicate the direction of the conservative movement and illustrate the issues that are on the minds of Canada’s most influential right-of-centre thinkers.

A rough week for big corporations

Former prime minister Stephen Harper and Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre gave keynote speeches on consecutive nights that served mostly as morale-boosting exercises.

Harper’s speech gave advice and encouragement to Poilievre, as he navigates the job of Opposition leader, and Poilievre rallied his troops with a rousing speech about the struggles of regular Canadians.

Both men briefly touched on a theme that may surprise the free market-friendly conservative audience, though.

As Harper itemized the challenges for working Canadians, he pointed out that big companies have mostly been spared.

“We shouldn’t forget tax policy, which has been marked by tax hikes across the board for all kinds of small businesses, workers, and ordinary middle-class people, while at the same time sparing the big corporate sector,” said Harper.

Poilievre, for his part, has been increasingly attacking big corporations in his speeches and media appearances. His keynote speech on Thursday was actually a slight downgrade in rhetoric, where he referred to “corporate dirtbags” who caused the opioid epidemic, rather than “scumbags.”

“McKinsey wrote a business plan for the super-charging of sales (of opioids), actually recommending that there be bonuses for overdoses that a distributor could cause. These corporate dirtbags knew exactly what they were doing,” said Poilievre.

It might represent a shift in the party, either on tone or policy, or both.

As recent as 2019, Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party ran on cutting the corporate tax rate in Alberta, successfully portraying the policy as a job-growth measure and subsequently claiming a big majority victory in the province.

Even after winning on a free market, supply-side platform, though, Kenney came to question his party’s free market orthodoxy, which may not be as sturdy as it once was.

Alberta is calling

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has already told his Alberta counterpart Danielle Smith that he’s no fan of the “Alberta is calling” advertisements that are trying to lure Ontarians out west.

At the Canada Strong and Free Network conference, both Smith and one of her top ministers said they are already noticing an influx of new residents coming to their province.

“What I want to see Alberta be is this beacon that’s going to attract people from all over the country and all over the world. We had 13 consecutive quarters of people leaving our province under the NDP. That should tell you something. 183,000 jobs lost. We are now getting record numbers of people returning to Alberta,” said Smith, at a fireside chat on Wednesday.

“What I would love to see, because I noticed that Quebec’s population is stagnating, I’m going forward 30 years to a time when Alberta will be the second largest province, the second largest economy, the second most populous province, and we’ll actually have some power in confederation,” said Smith.

Rebecca Schulz, the minister of municipal affairs in Alberta, also featured on a panel about Canada’s new working class and made the point that affordability is driving the concerns of Canadians across the country, to the benefit of Alberta.

“The other day I was door-knocking in my riding and I met seven new families and they all came either from Ontario or B.C. Why? Affordability,” said Schulz.

Canada’s housing crisis

A panel on Canada’s housing crisis was packed with Hub contributors, including John Pasalis, who made the point that the country’s housing supply will not be able to keep up with its immigration targets.

“Governments need to sort out supply and find a way to build faster and build more before tripling our population growth. That should be a pretty basic concept, but apparently I was brought here because it’s controversial,” said Pasalis.

“You’re doing a disservice to everyone who is coming here,” said Pasalis.

Chris Spoke, a housing advocate and Hub contributor, said the issue of densification in big cities is a good one for conservative parties because they can upset big city voters who never vote for them with pro-development policies, and stem the tide of “Toronto refugees” who are moving farther out to the suburbs and pushing prices up.

“If you are a Peterborough NIMBY, you should be a Toronto YIMBY,” said Spoke.

The nationalization of politics

At the “future of cities” panel, Reihan Salam, the president of the Manhattan Institute, a free market U.S. think tank that focuses on domestic policy and urban affairs, said our obsession with national political issues is hurting our cities, and society more generally.

“Partly because of a changing media landscape, and for a variety of reasons, both technological and social, we live in a world now where you don’t necessarily identify as intensely with your neighbourhood or your city as you do with people nationally who share certain sensibilities with you,” said Salam.

This has a major effect on how our politics works at all levels, he argued.

“If you’re an ambitious politician in one of the big U.S. cities, you’re not necessarily talking about picking up trash, or the actual basics of competent good government. You might engage in ideological grandstanding about issues you have no authority over,” said Salam.

As the panel shifted to the future of municipal budgets, Salam also predicted serious pressure on government budgets and, subsequently, fiscally conservative political parties.

“I suspect the next 20 or 30 years are going to be extremely challenging and uncomfortable for small government conservatives simply because of demographic change,” said Salam. “Basically you have the challenge of very serious demographic stagnation and rapid aging.”

‘Nobody in the Chinese Canadian diaspora was surprised’: Diaspora communities balance fears of foreign meddling with political organizing

News

As revelations continue to surface about interference by the Chinese government in recent Canadian elections, Canada’s diaspora communities say they’ve been warning about this issue for years.

They also insist that their communities have every right to organize politically and influence policy at every level of government and hope the recent revelations don’t cast a pall over these efforts.

Many members of the Chinese community said they had been warning government and security officials about foreign political interference from the Chinese government for years. 

“I can say with confidence that nobody in the Chinese Canadian diaspora was surprised at all when Global News first broke the story,” says Karen Woods, a co-founder of the Canadian Chinese Political Affairs Committee, a Toronto-based non-profit. 

Workers at the Chinese consulate in Toronto helped mobilize Chinese-Canadian voters to vote for Liberal candidate Han Dong in the riding of Don Valley North, according to recent reporting by Global News. Also reported were similar actions on behalf of the Chinese government in B.C. that contributed to the defeats of Conservative incumbents Alice Wong and Kenny Chiu in their Richmond ridings.

A string of stories by Global News and the Globe & Mail paint a picture of an intricate interference network set up by Chinese government actors to influence the 2019 and 2021 federal elections to ensure a Liberal victory. 

Calgary-based political scientist and Hub contributor Rahim Mohamed believes diaspora politics are organized to obtain greater cultural recognition within a country, or to influence a country’s foreign policy towards the “homeland,” which he notes is the right of any Canadian. 

“It may be an unseemly sort of politics to some, but it generally falls within the bounds of legitimate democratic activity,” says Mohamed. “If the recent intelligence leaks are to be believed, this is a clear-cut case of a hostile foreign power meddling in our democratic process, which is a totally different ball game.” 

Nonetheless, Mohamed believes diaspora politics can open the door to foreign interference in democratic elections.

“New Canadians have democratic rights just like all other Canadians. If they want to mobilize organically to influence public policy, I take no issue with that,” says Mohamed. “The challenge for policymakers will be dealing with the opportunities these diaspora networks give interloping foreign powers to meddle in our democratic processes.” 

With over 300,000 Cantonese speakers, 500,000 Mandarin speakers, and families that arrived last year or five generations ago, Woods says the Chinese-Canadian community is far too diverse to ever be fully under the sway of the Chinese government. 

“The Chinese-Canadian diaspora consists of people who have settled in Canada for more than five generations or people like me, who came to Canada at 12,” says Woods, who says most Chinese Canadians do not like the Chinese government. “We are no different than your everyday Canadian…we certainly are part of Team Canada.” 

Within the Chinese-Canadian community, Woods says some fault lines have developed between those whose families have lived in Canada for decades and new arrivals, as well as those born in Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Mainland, or outside China. 

“Based on these factors, your attitude toward Beijing and the CCP is going to be very different. And that is why you now have HK, Taiwanese voters that will never vote for a mainland candidate in elections,” says Woods. 

However, Woods says the Chinese government’s influence has helped silence divergent points of view on Hong Kong’s anti-extradition movement and the treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority in western China. 

Hong Kong-born Canadians and residents, and pro-democracy activists more generally, are often confronted by supporters of the Chinese government when conducting demonstrations in cities like Vancouver and Toronto.

At the height of the 2019 anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong, crowds of pro-democracy and pro-Chinese government demonstrators at a busy Vancouver intersection had to be physically separated by the police

Kash Heed, a city councillor in Richmond, where over half of the population is of Chinese descent, says that diaspora communities have attempted to influence Canada’s relations with their ancestral homelands for hundreds of years, and this is present in every democracy. He says there is a marked distinction between members of a diaspora community attempting to influence Canadian politics and a foreign government directly interfering in Canadian elections. 

“If I can directly relate it to a foreign government, I don’t have a strong indication that they’re actively involved in it (electoral interference),” says Heed. “If I could relate it to foreigners that have come to Canada (and) that have settled in Canada, trying to influence which way we go, yes absolutely,” says Heed. 

When the Chinese government does target the diaspora in Canada, Woods says it is mostly the Mandarin-speaking community from Mainland China. 

“A large percentage of the Chinese Mainland diaspora certainly still supports Beijing, but I would also like to add that is not necessarily an ideologically driven affinity to the CCP,” says Woods, who notes there are many economic interests at play with China being Canada’s second-largest trading partner. “That adds a lot of weight.”  

Mohamed says one example of diaspora politics was the political shift of the Chinese-Australian community in the country’s 2022 federal election. 

Pointing out that Australian electoral districts with the largest Chinese-Australian populations swung heavily towards the Labor Party, Mohamed says it was reported as a response to the Liberal-National government’s deteriorating relationship with China. 

Labor, which ultimately unseated the Liberal-National government, has pursued a more moderate relationship with Beijing but has not reneged on regional security agreements aimed at countering China’s geopolitical ambitions in the Pacific region.