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Is conservatism in North America ‘adrift’? Former Conservative Cabinet Minister James Moore talks populism, the CBC, and the importance of aspiration

Podcast & Video

This episode of Hub Dialogues features host Sean Speer in conversation with the Hon. James Moore, the former federal Cabinet minister and current senior advisor at Dentons and Edelman, on the state of Canadian policy and politics, the limits of populism, and the case for conservative optimism and aspiration.

You can listen to this episode of Hub Dialogues on Acast, Amazon, Apple, Google, Spotify, or YouTube. A transcript of the episode is available below.

Transcripts of our podcast episodes are not fully edited for grammar or spelling.

SEAN SPEER: Welcome to Hub Dialogues, I’m your host, Sean Speer, editor-at-large at The Hub. I’m honoured to be joined today by James Moore, who was a former Conservative cabinet minister, and these days is a senior business advisor at the law firm Dentons, a public policy advisor at the public relations firm Edelman, and a corporate director. I’ve asked James to join me to talk about several topics, including, of course, his views on conservative policy and politics. Thanks so much, James, for joining us at Hub Dialogues. 

JAMES MOORE: Pleasure to be here. 

SEAN SPEER: During our time together in Ottawa, I frequently saw you around the Cabinet table, and you were among the most consistent and thoughtful conservatives in the room. Yet you had a reputation in the media and amongst others as a so-called “moderate.” What do you attribute that to? What was the source of the disconnect? 

JAMES MOORE: Well, I don’t know if there’s necessarily a disconnect. I suppose the needle on these things kind of changes over the fullness of time. I mean, when I was first elected in 2000, I was 24 years old and didn’t have any kind of profile. Being a member of parliament was my first bit of profile. So, you know, the national media gallery who sort of gets the first crack at history, of defining people and who they are and what their profile is, sort of took a measure of me, and didn’t really know what to make of me. When I was first elected, I was the Deputy Official Opposition Foreign Affairs critic under Monte Solberg, sitting in the fourth row, splitting my desk half and half, me and a Bloc Quebecois MP. So, I was super, super, super relevant, as you can tell. And so, they didn’t have anything to make of me. 

But I suppose what a demarcation point in my career, I guess, was probably the vote on same-sex marriage. Over the fullness of time, there was a change in leadership in our party, of course, and all that, but there were 99 Conservative members of parliament, and there were three of us who voted in favour of same-sex marriage: myself, Jim Prentice, and Gerald Keddy. That was a moment of differentiation between the bulk of my colleagues. I think for a lot of people in the media, they sort of said, “Oh, he’s okay, because he’s socially moderate, therefore, etc., etc., etc.” 

But, as I remind people, I was a staff writer and a student publications editor at the Fraser Institute; I worked in the Official Opposition for Preston Manning; I was a candidate for Stockwell Day and a Cabinet Minister for Stephen Harper. So, if I’m inadequately conservative, I don’t know what other checkmarks need to be checked next to my CV, but there you are.

SEAN SPEER: It’s fascinating, as you say, how these narratives emerge and develop, and oftentimes can diverge from—

JAMES MOORE: Well, any deviation from orthodoxy, right? And the Conservative party, we often do it to ourselves, right? It’s like, “You voted against same-sex marriage.” And we saw this recently in the most recent parliament, where if you’re a Conservative MP who has a stellar record of standing up in favor of natural resource development and lower taxes and smaller government and standing for democracy and principle in foreign policy, however, you might have vocally voted and supported the making illegal of forced conversion therapy on children—you stepped away from the orthodoxy, therefore you’re a CINO, a conservative in name only. 

And so, we see this approach to things, and it’s profoundly toxic and it’s super unhealthy because this is a large and complicated country. We are the second-largest country in the world in size; 37th largest in population. We are small “p” provincial in terms of our identities, our economies, our sense of belonging within Canada. And you know, conservatism and a large brokerage party that’s continental in size that tries to encapsulate all that is Canadian conservatism—yeah, you’re gonna have slightly different flavours of what conservatism means in Estevan, Saskatchewan versus downtown Vancouver versus Trois-Rivieres, Quebec. 

And so, the parties have to have that kind of flexibility, but social media allows people to be so strident and self-righteous in terms of what is acceptable conservatism or not, versus finding a way to sort of be satisfied with people who marginally disagree with you on some of the more challenging issues of our time.

SEAN SPEER: Let me take you up on that point. You’ve been a consistent critic of the Republican Party’s populist turn. I’d be interested in your thoughts on how conservatives in Canada can, on one hand, be responsive to the needs, interests, and aspirations of ordinary people across the country, without, on the other hand, succumbing to the kind of lowest common denominator populism that we’ve seen in the U.S. and elsewhere. What advice do you have for Canadian conservative politicians on this question?

JAMES MOORE: Well, another word for populism is reflecting public sentiment that isn’t being expressed either in sort of consensus media or informed opinion or existing political actors or existing political leadership. When you have a swell of popular opinions that doesn’t seem to be reflected anywhere, and it rises up and says, “Hey, you’re not listening to us. You don’t hear what we’re saying. We feel like our voice is not being heard,” that’s an entirely legitimate aspect of democratic engagement. That makes a lot of sense. 

What bothers me about, what has bothered me in the past anyway, about Donald Trump and his form of populism was that it was fake populism, and it was based on exacerbating cleavages and divisions in society and exploiting those divisions rather than saying, “I hear you, I get you. Here’s how I want to approach the grievances that you have that are entirely legitimate that had been ignored for far too long,” you take it and you dial to ten, and you weaponize it in a way that is “I alone can fix it, or else the country is broken, and therefore, if I’m politically unsuccessful, your issue will never be remedied, and you should go ahead and break up the family and break up the country.” That is utterly and completely irresponsible and toxic. 

And by the way, we see with Donald Trump, you also see it in some aspects of Canadian politics with Justin Trudeau. Election campaigns are about accentuating differences, but when it comes to fatalism, and, “It’s either me or nothing ever happens on Indigenous reconciliation, on climate change, on a competitive economy. Either we get elected, or Atlantic Canada gets forgotten”, or you name the cohort of the electorate. I think that stuff is profoundly toxic, and it’s really dangerous for conservatism.

I have a view that when you decouple optimism from conservatism, conservatism always loses. That the short game of aggravating a base to motivate them to come out and vote, but also be so angry and so motivated to come out and vote that they’re going to drag their son and daughter who just turned eighteen to make sure that they come out and vote to, that that game only works for so long. I think ultimately people will—because often these problems are enormously complicated and they’re not going to be satisfied by a group of politicians in the next 18 to 24 months. These things have to be fixed in much more complex timelines. 

I do certainly believe in the Ralph Klein school. Lower expectations, exceed the lower expectations, be reasonable, be pragmatic, be responsible, rather than conflate everything, dial everything up, be fatalistic about your political success, and then you don’t get the job done, and then people just—it’s suicidal, ultimately, for a country. Where you just put all of your hopes and energies into politics and expect that politics will solve all the world’s problems. That is not proper conservatism. That’s not realism in terms of human beings, human nature, and how we organize ourselves collectively. You’re putting too much hope and expectation into politics, and those of us on the right used to condemn the left for doing that; that statism as the solution to everything. And the right seems to play too much of that politics these days, and I think it needs to be tempered quite a bit.

SEAN SPEER: I’ll come back to the point of aspiration, and an aspirational politics, because I think it’s so important. But before I do, it’s worth observing that we’re speaking as the Conservative Party of Canada is in the throes of a leadership race.

I won’t ask you about specific candidates, but as a general question, what do you think the party needs to do to, on one hand, sustain its base of support and, on the other hand, grow beyond its core supporters? Is there, in your view, a tension here? And, if so, are there issues or messages that can overcome those tensions? 

JAMES MOORE: Yeah, I mean, it’s a natural challenge that the Conservative Party uniquely has. I often say that in Canadian politics, Liberals need to love their leaders; Conservatives need to respect their leaders. Liberals have, generally speaking, this sort of romantic notion. They love Pierre Trudeau, they have people who love Jean Chretien, those who love Paul Martin really love—like, they need to almost have this messianic following behind their leaders. 

Conservatives need to respect our leaders. Nobody really loved Brian Mulroney, but they respected his substance, his style, his charisma, and his focus, particularly whether it was trying to get Meech Lake and Charlottetown or trying to get free trade or what have you. And you can agree or disagree with those elements, and I did of his agenda. People respected Stephen Harper, they didn’t necessarily love him but they respected him and his intellect and his drive, and his capacity to deliver results for the conservative movement. 

So, when you go into a Conservative leadership race, there’s a tension there because the people who put down their money and join the Conservative Party, typically, they’re not getting involved to sort of hear breathy speeches and to be inspired and to go home feeling really good about themselves. People join the Conservative Party because they want something done. They want their business to be able to grow, they want their taxes to be lowered, they want their views to be expressed and not feel like they’re an outlier in society. They want something done, whether it’s equalization or what have you, but they want things done. And that’s a challenge, but it’s also the opportunity. 

So, to answer your question, in my view, successful Conservative leadership is not about convincing everybody that you’re the best candidate, you’re the best person as an individual, to get everybody to love you, but to present them with a substantive, credible plan that checks enough boxes for enough of the conservative coalition in the family, to feel like they’re part of a platform and incredible policy agenda that will move us forward. That was the Stephen Harper formula. 

Now, not all formulas are right in all circumstances, but the Stephen Harper formula going back to 2006 was we had our five key priorities right? Cut the GST, health care wait time guarantee, the democratic reform (a part of anti-corruption—the Accountability Act), and a tough on crime piece. We had five key priorities, and they each spoke to an element of the Conservative family: “If you’re a fiscal conservative, guess what, you’re not going to get a flat tax, like I know Stockwell Day promised in the past. We’re not going to cut taxes on investment. We’re not gonna get completely rid of the capital gains tax. We’re going to cut the GST because you and I know, if we win, we’re probably going to be a minority. But if we can take two points off the GST in our first mandate as a government that lowers the government share of GDP, puts more money in people’s pockets. That’s good. You’re okay with that? Good.

“Social Conservatives, we are not going to touch abortion, we’re not going to go there. It’s not going to happen. Not on my watch. It’s not on the agenda. However, we just had a vote on same-sex marriage, what if we put before Parliament a vote on whether or not to reexamine the issue of same-sex marriage? You think, as somebody who is opposed to same-sex marriage, that the majority of Canadians really want us to keep talking about this issue? And then if we have a full free vote, that maybe the parliamentary vote will come out differently? That’s what you get. We’re not going to talk about abortion, but that’s what your deliverable is for your conscience, your constituency, and your views of what conservative emphasis should be. That’s what you get.

“Fiscal conservatives, you’re okay with this free vote, you good? Good. Red Tories, here’s what you’re gonna get. You’re gonna get a health care wait time guarantee, so that we try to put in markers with dollars from the federal government transferred to provinces so that specific health care deliverables, whether it’s hip replacement or glaucoma surgeries and interventions, that we’re going to force provinces to commit to timelines in the delivery of these key services to our seniors. So, if you’re a fiscal conservative, you’re gonna get your GST, are you okay with this piece? You’re a social conservative, are you—” and everybody’s sort of agreed. And we have the five key priorities, and people would put in the window the one that they wanted to emphasize the most, that spoke most to them. But nobody disagreed with the other pieces of the platform. 

And so we built a coalition, not around personality, not around rhetoric, not around temperament, not around anger, but about a platform that was about delivering something for each of the constituent parts of the Conservative family. And everybody was okay with the other parts of the puzzle, and it all kind of came together and worked. So, for conservatism, successful leadership to me is being credible and substantive as a leader with a plan to deliver on a platform, and the platform should have those pieces in it that satisfy all the constituent parts of the conservative family that don’t offend one versus the other. That we can all say, “I as a social moderate, I’m fine with another free vote on same-sex marriage, because I think I know where it’s gonna go. I as a Red Tory, I’m perfectly fine with cutting taxes and cutting the GST two points. That doesn’t blow the hole in the budget. That makes sense to me.”

I think that’s the way to do it, right? Which is put substance on the table. A leader that puts a credible substance on the table with a plan to achieve it will have the respect of the base, and they want to see progress on these things. I think that’s probably the roadmap to go in the next one. And by the way, don’t have a massive platform with 200 promises, but focus it down on key deliverables that have consensus support within Conservatives, that don’t offend any accessible voters on the outside, but in fact, they would have might look at those things and think, “You know what? That makes a lot of sense to me, and I think it’s time those ideas are ideas whose time has come.” 

SEAN SPEER: That’s fascinating. In effect, what you’re saying is good policy is good politics. In that vein, if I may, I’d just like to ask you about some big policy questions facing the country in general and conservative politics, in particular.

You previously served as the Minister of Industry, and since your time in that role, there’s been an emerging debate across the Anglosphere about whether an emphasis on free markets has led to inattention to domestic capacity in strategic or high-growth sectors. 

The basic idea is that China’s more planned economy may give that country advantages in areas including but not limited to artificial intelligence and that these sectors or technologies have both commercial and security implications. What do you think of these arguments? Has there been an overreach on the part of conservatives when it comes to a reliance on market forces? Or do you think this renewed interest in industrial policy is mistaken?

JAMES MOORE: Well, among the challenges that Canada has if we even are to consider doing a pivot and to have the government be more proactively engaged and responsive—like, if the private sector will lead this, the government in my view doesn’t have the capacity to lead these kinds of innovations and growth strategies. It should follow what the private sector is doing, keeping in mind what our domestic capacity is, what our trading partners are already doing, and what our opportunities are on the go forward. So there’s that. 

But one of the challenges that Canada has, of course, is our legacy commitments to our regional dynamics of our Canadian economy, right? And our existing commitments, for example, to the aerospace sector, which is great and a good opportunity and it’s not something that we should walk away from or throw away. Or our commitments to the auto sector, which is great and wonderful, and a good thing, and we shouldn’t necessarily walk away from it. But the capacity of Canada to be aggressive in different parts of the economy, given the global marketplace of things is very limited, and the ability of the government of Canada to push and to be a driver of these things is very limited. 

Prime Minister Trudeau and Navdeep Bains, my successor as Minister of Industry, tried this with superclusters, sort of addressing specific things, whether it was pharmaceuticals and having that as a point of emphasis out in British Columbia. I don’t, frankly, think it has had a great deal of results and a great deal of success that we would parallel, or that other countries would say, “Hey, look what Canada did there, isn’t that something that’s really special and really effective as an opportunity?”

It’s true that COVID, because of supply chains, Donald Trump because of his threats to abrogate NAFTA, I think have caused a bit of an awakening about Canada and key industries in our ability to protect ourselves, given the global pressure of things to ensure that we have core industries, core capacities for our public safety to be secured. But I genuinely, genuinely don’t have a lot of confidence that the government can lead these things.

The most effective thing that the government can do is to persistently engage with the private sector, to ensure that the government is not getting in the way of the private sector doing these things effectively, and doing things in a way that will serve the Canadian economy and sustaining our supply chains, having binding free trade agreements and binding in global market access to push out Canadian skills, talent, labour products and services, and draw in those same things into the Canadian economy at times of crisis, and in good times. I think that should be the dominant focus of the Government of Canada. 

Having a group of politicians and bureaucrats in Ottawa thinking that they have the capacity to sort of drive these things, I think is foolhardy. I think the best thing that government can do is to be seen as a partner and an aspirant, as an engine; of getting out of the way of the private sector delivering these things in these opportunities to Canadians.

SEAN SPEER: Let me ask you something else related to your experience in Ottawa. You’ve served as the minister responsible for the Canadian Space Agency. We’ve seen in recent years something of a space renaissance due in large part to private sector developments. What do you think about Canada’s role in space exploration? And generally speaking, what is it about space exploration that seems to capture the public’s imagination?

JAMES MOORE: Well, it’s aspirational and inspirational at the same time. Elon Musk has been a real driver in all of this by getting renewable rockets and getting the cost down. It’s far more Elon Musk than it is, I think, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson and their sort of boutique interests in these things. That line from Sam Seaborn of West Wing, right? Which was, “You know, we are human beings, we are homo sapiens. We come out of the cave, and we’re gonna go over that hill, then we’re going to cross those plains, or we’re gonna go over those mountains, and we’re going to cross that ocean.” This exploratory reach of what’s next, what’s next.

Canada genuinely has been a leader, from Commander Hadfield and his leadership in the International Space Station to the 30-meter telescope to the James Webb Space Telescope. The images that are going to come back from the James Webb Space Telescope telling us about the very origins of our planet and perhaps our species, and what that means, and the cultural impact and the opportunities that’s going to create for us to sort of imagine the future and what it means—I mean, I think we’re going to be really knocked sideways by the kind of things that Canada is going to have a hand in as a consequence of our legacy of space development and leadership in it. 

From the Canadarm to the International Space Station to all these new technologies and Canada’s leadership in it, this is an area where Canada really should feel proud and engaged because we genuinely are leaders in this space. Having kids dreaming and thinking about the future and what’s possible, and the scientific discovery that goes into imagining what would it be like to land on Mars? What would it be like to have a genuine, better understanding of the cosmos and our place in it? I just think it’s a fascinating area of discovery and science, and Canada has been a leader and will continue to be, and I think we should feel enormous pride about the past and enormous ambition about the future.

SEAN SPEER: What you outlined is in effect the aspirational power of the frontier and how the notion of the frontier resonates with people in a kind of innate way. Yet there’s a strain of conservatism that’s backward-looking and even skeptical of progress. 

How do we reconcile within the world of conservatism the instinct to want to conserve on one hand, and the idea of the frontier on the other hand? How should we think about those tensions within the conservative mind? 

JAMES MOORE: I mean, conservatives—free marketeerism and free enterprise and opportunity and growth and that optimistic view of the future and what is the potential out there, I think, should animate conservatism. I think the instinct to become insular and isolated is not really an option for Canada. We don’t really have the capacity economically and given the nature of our country, because if Canada isolates itself from the world and isn’t aspirational, and isn’t building and growing and taking advantage of our global footprint and we become insular as a country, then we very quickly become insular as provinces, then we become very insular as communities, then all the old cleavages of Canada start getting re-weaponized in the reverse order. 

This is a country that we’ve struggled since Confederation to hold together. That’s why Brian Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau both said that the number one job of the Prime Minister of Canada is national unity. Through from the beginning of Canada, our cleavages were Anglophones and Francophones, Aboriginals and non, northerners and southerners, Protestants and Catholics, new Canadians and old Canadians, resource sector versus environmentalists. We’ve all these cleavages in the country that we fight and struggle to overcome over time, and if Canada is not expanding and growing and pursuing opportunities around the world, drawing in those opportunities into making Canada healthier and wealthier, there’s no reason to think that the isolationism of Canada from the world would not sort of cascade down into provinces, into regions, and into other communities as well. Ultimately, it will be toxic for Canada’s future. 

So, I actually think that being optimistic and opportunistic about Canada’s footprint in the world is not only a good economic policy a good social policy, it’s a good national unity policy as well. Canada, alone in the world—we’re the only country in the world that’s a member of the Commonwealth, and a member of the Francophonie, and a member of NAFTA, and a member of the TPP, and a member of the Canada-Europe free trade agreement, also a member of the Five Eyes, also a founder of the United Nations, and we are global in reach. We are ethnically diverse in our large cities, and it’s all of those things combined together that provide Canada with enormous opportunities that we should be enthusiastic about and embracing because it draws in talent, and allows us to have market access to all these parts of the world that is unparalleled. We’re the only country in the world to have tariff-free market rules-based market access for more than 50 percent of the world’s economies. That’s a profound advantage for Canada. And so, you know, if we start becoming isolationist in any way about those opportunities, we burn bridges that are not easily reconstructed, and we, I think, castigate ourselves into all kinds of bad corners of short-sightedness.

SEAN SPEER: And as you alluded to, that aspirational sense of the frontier is part of conservative DNA in Canada. Sir John A MacDonald’s vision was a vision of the frontier and an idea of Canada that was bigger and more ambitious. 

Let’s talk about another aspect of culture and nationalism. You served as the minister responsible for the CBC in the modern marketplace for cultural content. Is there still a case for a public broadcaster? And if so, what needs to change to continue to justify the CBC’s place in the broadcasting landscape?

JAMES MOORE: I think there can be but I don’t think we should shy away from conversations about modernizing the CBC.

I became Minister of Canadian Heritage after the 2008 federal election campaign. And what happened in that campaign? Going into that campaign, the concern was we had won a minority Parliament in 2006, 124 seats in a 308-seat House; the weakest minority Parliament numerically of any minority government in Canadian history. At the start of the ’08 election campaign against a weakened Stephane Dion and a weakened Liberal Party, there’s a point pre-writ where the Conservative Party wasn’t just doing well in Quebec, we were number one in Quebec. We had over 35 percent support across the entirety of the province, and we were on a pace to win anywhere between 20 and up to 40 out of 75 seats in the province. Like, we were humming along and doing extraordinarily well under Prime Minister Harper. And then the entire bottom fell out of it going into Election Day in 2008 because of cultural files. Arts and culture for the first time in my lifetime became a dominant issue in the election campaign. We were still re-elected; we went up to 146 seats I believe it was, 143 seats, from 124. But we were held to a minority Parliament, principally because we lost our support in the province of Quebec that we were hoping to leverage into a majority. 

Going into 2008, I become Minister of Canadian Heritage, and Stephen Harper says, “Congratulations, you’ve done a good job so far previously in the cabinet post as parliamentary secretary. No good deed goes unpunished. And I’d like you to become Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages.” Okay, great. So, we realized in this searing experience of the 2008 election campaign that arts and culture is not just sort of a side project, it’s actually fundamental to national unity, Canadian identity, Canadians being able to tell stories to one another, inspiriting cities. It’s not an accident that the most successful economic cities around the world are also cities that have a strong and vibrant cultural sector, quality of life, people being able to live and work and play, and have an inspirited community is part of economic development and quality of life, which is what government should always be about, which is improving quality of life for your citizens. 

So, within that context, arts and culture, CBC, and all that all comes into the conversation. So for just over a billion dollars—the federal government this year is going to spend, I think $460 billion, if memory serves, then we’re going to go down to about 360, assuming that all the COVID spending retreats. So, on a $360 billion per year spend, you got $1.5 billion that constitutes the CBC. The CBC for a lot of Canadians—again, not people who habitually vote Conservative, but particularly for Francophone Canadians, francophones who live outside the province of Quebec, they broadcast nine Aboriginal languages all throughout the North. We talked about market failure in news and media, there’s absolutely market failure in news media when it comes to minority communities outside of the province of Quebec when we’re talking about Francophone communities and Indigenous languages as well. So, you know, for the cost of that, there’s a hell of a political price to pay for getting rid of the largest and highest-profile Crown Corporation in the country. 

So, in 2011, when we formed a majority government, I was still the Heritage Minister; one-third of the Cabinet were new ministers and new jobs, one-third were old ministers with old jobs, and one-third were old ministers with new jobs. But new people in new jobs, old people in new jobs, old people in old jobs. I was old people in old jobs. I still stayed on as Minister of Heritage. I remember seeing Prime Minister Harper after the campaign, and said you know, “I think I’ve built a good relationship with Canada’s cultural communities, we need to do something, to have something to say about the CBC. We were elected back in 2006. It’s now 2011, and we’ve got a majority for the next four years or so. And for effectively, a decade, you’ll be prime minister of the country, we haven’t done anything really substantively with Canada’s largest and highest-profile Crown Corporation. And our base is getting itchy about it.” At that time, in 2011, Sun TV was in full march and so on, and they were clamouring for the Harper government to do something about the CBC. 

And I remember asking Stephen Harper, like, “What is it that you want to do?” And he remembered back in 2008, and what had happened, and he just said, “As annoying as the CBC might be from time to time, and as frustrating as we are, sometimes the news coverage of some of their personalities, the pain that you get from tearing away this cultural institution of what it means is just not worth, frankly, the hassle. We will cut them and we will force them to be economically more efficient.” So, we took CBC from seven unions down to four; we gave them a haircut of, I think, over 20 percent ultimately, not just the 10 percent that most institutions got. So, we forced them to be far more economically responsible than they had been before. But that was effectively the decision that was made.

So, casting to now: it’s 2022, we’re 10 years removed from that. And going forward, I don’t think Canada, I don’t think we should be shy. I think it was a mistake for us back in 2011, at the start of a majority government to avoid the conversation of CBC and not be prepared to have some kind of conversation about modernizing the CBC. Should we have it? If the answer is yes, then what should its mandate be, and what are we prepared to pay for it? I think the Liberals missed their moment as well. In 2015, they got a majority, and they had more political room to play with in terms of expectations of cultural communities to do something with the CBC. But they’d rather just throw more money at it and sort of keep it going. 

So now we’ve literally gone a generation since we’ve actually had a conversation about our public broadcaster, and what it is that we want it to do, whether or not we want it to exist, and how much we’re prepared to pay for it. So, I think we’re overdue for the conversation, and I think there are a lot of different directions that we could go. It doesn’t make sense to me for them to be engaged in a lot of things that they’re engaged in. Children’s programming is important, but I don’t think there’s an inadequate source of children’s programming in the private sector. Why does that have to be government-funded? 

As for CBC comedy, I think there’s plenty of comedy out there. I don’t think there’s a uniqueness to Canadian comedy that requires state funding. I think Canadian comedians do extraordinarily well in the private sector. We have the largest comedy festival in the world in the Just For Laughs festival. Some of the best-selling comedians in the world, and comic writers, and Hollywood actors and performers, are Canadians. So, a reassessment of its mandate and how much we’re prepared to spend for it in a digital age, I don’t think we should be afraid of that. And I don’t think conservatives should be as afraid in 2022 as we were in 2008 and we were in 2011. I think we should go forward cautiously with the conversation, but I don’t think we should be afraid of it.

SEAN SPEER: Another issue for which balance can be hard to achieve is the country’s relationship with China. As you know, there’s been talk of something of a new Cold War between China and the West. There are also a lot of questions about China’s behaviour in the context of the pandemic. You were the minister responsible for the Asia-Pacific Gateway. How should Canada think about its relationship with China moving forward?

JAMES MOORE: I have sort of two answers on this. One is a great opportunity, but also great caution at the same time, and I think both of those things have to have to be very much in the mindset of our approach to China.

Look, China is our second-largest trading partner, but it’s a far, far less significant, obviously, trading partner than we have with the United States. They are a tremendous opportunity for us economically going forward, but I don’t think we should be under any illusions about the risks of China and what China’s aspirations are, and frankly, how they strategically view Canada within the global space, right? Whether it’s the conversation about Huawei and 5G and getting a strategic partner that way within the context of Five Eyes and what they think that means for them. Canada, I think we need to be very, very cautious about China on a go-forward basis. 

Politically it’s challenging, as has now been discovered in the most recent election campaigns about the approach to China. You know, China is a nation-state. I think most people in the Chinese community see that relationship that way. And so, to be honest, it’s hard to be anti-China without being seen to be anti-Chinese. And if you are seen to be anti-Chinese, that creates pretty great political problems, I think, in huge parts of this country politically. 

But I think the imprisonment of the two Michaels, I think, was a genuine reset for the Canada-China relationship. And if you look at the antagonism that most Canadians now have towards the Chinese regime and their approach to things, including, whether it’s Uyghurs, access to free media, the engagements in Hong Kong, the threats to Taiwan, and the encroachments in the South China Sea, I think the world, and increasingly Canadians who have been kind of dispassionate about China, people are increasingly being more aggravated and more suspicious about China, what its ultimate goals are. We used to say, it used to be said rather, about Afghanistan, that we use clocks to tell time, and they use calendars. I think that’s more true of China than any other country in the world in terms of their aspirations over the long haul. 

I think, when you look at the real estate bubble in China, when you look at the economic instability, and certainly the slow growth from seven percent growth down to half that now, and the kind of tensions that are going to continue to be expressed within China, and therefore what the Chinese government will need to do to try to offset that and to try to create a new perception of strength for China around the world in order to placate domestic anxieties, I think the world should look to China with a great deal of skepticism and caution.

SEAN SPEER: Let’s wrap up with a final question that goes back to something you said at the outset. You remain the youngest Cabinet Minister and member of parliament in BC’s history. I note that conservative politics are going through something of another generational change these days. What do you think the importance is of a kind of infusion of youthful perspectives into Canadian conservative politics, and what might the consequences be?

JAMES MOORE: Oh, well I think it’s fundamental, right? I mean, when I was first elected, the average age of a member problem was 57. I was 24. I’m 45, now, but yeah, youthful engagement in the party is really important in conservatism as well. Conservatism has been knocked sideways now for, I would say, almost 10 years, right? Stephen Harper created the Conservative Party and the habits, the values, the mores, dispositions, the dialogue within the party was shaped by the strong leader who controlled the party and led the party so successfully for so long. 

And then the Republican Party, which was defined in the Cold War era as the party of international engagement, either confronting the Soviet Empire and pushing democracy, or confronting international terrorism with militaristic engagements in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere as a way of cementing global calm in the face of international terrorism. 

And then a lot of Americans saw the collapse of the economy in the third quarter of 2008, going into 2009, they said, “Wait a minute, all of this international engagement hasn’t really meant a lot for me, in terms of my personal well-being; wages for the middle class have been stagnant now for going on 20 years; a buddy of mine lost his leg in Afghanistan and he’s not being treated well by the federal government. All these speeches about the importance of democracy and terrorism around the world, and I don’t see great benefits with globalization for me economically. I don’t see real great benefits for me, in terms of our engagements militarily around the world.” All of that combined, created this stew, this energy that resulted in Donald Trump and his form of populism. So, effectively from the end of the Cold War, from the George W. Bush era to the rise of Donald Trump, we’ve now had effectively a decade. 

Stephen Harper comes, he builds the conservative coalition, and when he leaves the Conservative Party is looking for a sense of identity and focus. In the United States, the conservative movement loses its sense of identity because of the collapse in 2008-2009, and the misadventures in, particular, Iraq, and the conservative movement sort of loses its bearings, and finds its way to Donald Trump, and is still soul searching in terms of its focus and identity. So, North American conservatism is absolutely, in my view, adrift right now. Because we’ve had a decade now of strong leadership under Stephen Harper that’s come and gone, we’ve now had over 20 people who have offered themselves to be leaders of the Conservative Party of Canada, and the party is still looking for a focused agenda and a focused personality to rally around to give it a sense of purpose and a north star to drive towards in an optimistic way.

And the Republican Party, now in a post-Trump era is, maybe not post-Trump era, but in a post ’16 to ’20 Trump era, is trying to find its purpose and its direction for things. And so, I think that youth providing that energy and that focus for sort of the next generation of conversation, so we can put Iraq put the ’08-’09 recession behind us, put the challenges of the 2015 election campaign and the Stephen Harper era behind them and start thinking about a conservatism for 2030, for what Brian Mulroney talks about, the Canada of 75 million people. What will that candidate look like? How will we organize and be prepared for that? 

I think young people uniquely have a perspective on these things that people who have been involved in the old battles don’t have. I think that it’s really important for young people to be engaged in politics, and to do so with a sense of perspective that I think has been missing by too many of the contemporary actors in North American conservative politics.

SEAN SPEER: Well, James, that’s just a ton of insight on some of the big questions facing conservatism as well as domestic and foreign policy.

James Moore, I want to thank you for joining us at Hub Dialogues today. Thanks so much. 

JAMES MOORE: The pleasure is mine.