Ever since Stephen Harper’s defeat in the 2015 federal election, the question of who’ll be the most the effective leader for the Conservative Party in the Trudeau era has been on the minds of Canadians on all ends of the political spectrum.
During Harper’s tenure as Prime Minister, he was by far the largest power broker within the party, as well as its public face. However, by 2015 a majority of Canadians and even many within his own party were ready for change.
Now, conservatives are faced with the daunting question: who’ll replace Harper?
Leadership in our political system is particularly important in dictating the policy direction a party will take, which is why these next few months are particularly relevant for young Conservatives in Canada. If they’re to be effectively represented by the most right-wing party in our country, the next leader is crucial in moving the Conservative party in the right direction.
This is without even thinking about how the Conservative part can serve as an effective opposition to the majority Liberal government.
The party is currently in a precarious place. With a vast range of candidates running, there are several places the party can go. But, although there are far-right candidates, such as Kellie Leitch or Brad Trost, I don’t believe this is where the future of the party lies.
Conservatives have choices such as Maxime Bernier, Lisa Raitt or Michael Chong who’re more moderate than past conservatives we’ve seen in Canada and whose views much better represent the changing face of Canada. These candidates are more socially liberal than Harper was, being in favour of such things as marijuana legalization and a revenue neutral carbon tax.
I spoke with Brendan Dowd, communications director for the Queen’s Campus Conservatives, about his opinions on the upcoming leadership race. Dowd believes that the future of the party lies in its ability to attract a larger cohort of voters, especially young voters, by focusing on personal liberty and freedom.
“Moving forward the party needs to take an inclusive approach that focuses on expanding the base of the party. In my opinion, the best way to do that is moving in a direction that focuses on being fiscally responsible, but socially liberal,” Dowd said.
By making this change, the Conservative Party would be much more attractive to young voters who were unable to get past Harper era policies they see as backward. This includes policies like a hard-line stance on immigration, the controversial cyber spying bill C-51 or even the passage of tougher drug laws with mandatory minimums.
Young Conservatives are statistically much less likely to support classically conservative social policy. This includes issues like refugee entry into Canada, which exemplfified the difference between Harper and Trudeau’s governments. Having said this, Dowd highlighted the need to take what could be learned from the Harper government to try and capitalize on the gains it made for conservatives in Canada.
“I generally think that most young conservatives would agree with that. Harper was really the only Conservative leader we’ve really known, but now it’s time to move in a different direction, while not abandoning what made the Conservatives successful,” Dowd continued.
Before Harper, the Canadian Conservative movement was fragmented and weak following Jean Chretien’s Liberal 1993 victory. Harper was able to effectively bridge the gaps in Canadian conservatism and unify it under a single party. It wouldn’t be nearly as large or all encompassing without the contributions he made to unify the party and the strong years of leadership that followed.
However, it’s clear that young onservatives desire a change from the brand of conservatism that Harper espoused. This means if the party is going to evolve into an effective opposition to the Liberals they will need to change with the times into something sleeker and more modern.
When asked about the future of his party after their defeat in the last election, Dowd was optimistic.
“I have a lot of respect for Stephen Harper and what he did for the Conservative movement in Canada. But as we saw, the country was ready for a change. I think Brian Mulroney said it best when he said, ‘When I ran in ‘84… I won because I wasn’t Pierre Trudeau, and then Jean Chrétien 10 years later won because he wasn’t Brian Mulroney. So it’s part of a desire for change, which is normal’.”
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