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Denis Tsarev and Sabrina Zuniga are co-founders of Truth and Consequences.
I have worked on several political campaigns in Toronto, always helping a Conservative candidate. Here, a Conservative candidate can rarely expect to win the majority of the votes in a riding. At most he/she can hope there will be a split between the NDP and the Liberal votes, helping him/her win with just a bit over one third of the vote. Part of the reason is the central campaign not explaining to the public the ethical values of conservatism.
In my lived experience, at school, university and work, I have been surrounded mainly by those who are not politically involved and do not follow current events closely. However, when a political issue comes up in a conservation, most of my acquaintances would eagerly exhibit their moral aversion to anything associated with conservatism. If I would say that I am a conservative or support some conservative policy, they would look at me as if I just told them I came from Mars.
So why am I a conservative after all? Because I firmly believe that the key conservative principles, such as government transparency and promotion of free market economy, have not only proven themselves to be effective at solving many of our societal and economic problems, but also have strong ethical foundations.
My opponents, and many average people living in Toronto, firmly believe the opposite; namely that conservative principles are inherently unethical and selfish, are aimed at benefitting the rich at the expense of the poor, perpetuate inequality and poverty, or some other cliche phrase that the left often uses to define us.
Clearly, this popular perception does not result merely from how well each party campaigns during election periods, whose leader performs better on the national debate, or whose three policy points on a flyer sound most convincing. This perception is formed by the public beyond and outside of election periods. And this is why I argue that as conservatives, we need to work harder between elections on getting our message out, explaining and defending our values.
The left side of the political spectrum is much more than just the Liberal Party, the NDP and the Green Party. It’s an ideological movement that has permeated many spheres of our society, including education, academia, media and journalism, entertainment and much more. It seems to have also managed to convince the majority of people that its principles are the right principles.
The left leaning political parties simply claim to represent these principles and promise to implement them. Their focus is not to help the voters discover and accept these principles, but to solicit the votes of the people already inclined to share these views on the ethical level. The NDP, Liberals and Greens seem simply to compete at who represents these principles the best and who will have better capacity to implement these once in government (or who will be able best to prevent conservatives from coming to power and hindering their implementation).
Hence, it seems appropriate to denominate the left-leaning political parties not as movements of their own, but simply as political arms or the tip of the iceberg of a movement already existing, wide and populous, with its already formed and solidified ideological, theoretical and ethical frameworks.
Conservatism in Canada seems to operate very differently. It has the manifestation of registered political parties, often well-organized, well-funded, and capable of carrying out strong campaigns during election periods.
However, what it lacks is a strong movement, with its own ethical and theoretical frameworks anywhere closely comparable in magnitude to those of the left.
The Conservative Party is the tip of the iceberg without the iceberg itself.
Each election conservatives appeal and concentrate on practical political and economic issues, current events, the mistakes and scandals of the Liberals and/or NDP, and specific government policies. Outside of the rather small core base of committed conservatives, this approach might win the support of the people who both have no strong ideological preferences and are also tangibly experiencing the negative effects of Liberal or NDP policies, or benefitting from Conservative policies, if they happen to be in government.
Conservative strategists often emphasize the fact that most voters don’t pay attention to and don’t care about politics outside of election time, and therefore they don’t want to discuss ideas in depth.
While I agree that many people don’t pay attention to specific policy outside of election times, in the back of their minds, people all the time do care a lot about the more profound aspect of politics–the ethical and ideological frameworks.
The average voter may not know the platform of each party, their policies on taxation, budget or trade, but the average voter always wants to make the ethically “right” decision, “to be on the right side of history” and to feel like he or she is doing something good for society.
There is absolutely nothing wrong or misguided about this. Wanting to be ethical and helping society are really important human qualities.
During the federal 2019 election, the Conservative campaign focused the most on the issue of affordability, with the recurring line “putting more money in your pockets” featuring in many materials and statements. However, while canvassing door to door, I noticed that this did not resonate well with many, if not most voters here in Toronto.
What many people cared about was solving “big” problems like climate change, poverty, racism, and inequality and they were eagerly willing to contribute their tax dollars to help save the world.
I found many people at the door were indifferent to the policies aimed at “putting more money in their pockets”, and to some we came off as unethical and selfish, appearing to care more about tax credits than about helping the vulnerable and addressing the big problems and injustices. Many people admitted to highly disapproving of Trudeau over the scandals, but felt the Liberal party at least was tackling the right issues and was “on the right side of history”.
I know personally some people who are economically struggling, and admit that conservative policies will benefit them, but claim they will never vote conservative, because it’s unethical and “just wrong”.
The left is very good at exploiting the feelings of wanting to make the ethical choice even if the individual thinking this will be negatively affected. That’s why their message focuses so much on the big issues and appeals to people’s ethical and deep emotional, not immediate, considerations. They make people feel that by voting Liberal or NDP, they will feel morally good, be “progressive” and contribute to saving the world and that by voting Conservative, they will act selfishly and let the world down.
How can Conservatives counter this?
First we must note that the Liberals and the NDP are not trying to create new moral and ideological frameworks during election periods–they are simply appealing to and invoking the already formed popular perceptions about what’s right and what’s wrong that were instilled into the majority of people by education, media, entertainment, academia, etc.
The truth is Conservative policies and principles are not selfish and petty like our opponents try to portray them. The concepts of government transparency and accountability, strong work ethic, support of business completion, reduction of red tape, focus on reduced deficits and economic prosperity, strong foreign policy, freedom of speech and individual liberties, fair and effective justice and immigration systems, respect for the rule of law, and many more, are grounded on solid ethical values and are supported by strong fact- and logic-based intellectual frameworks.
I believe these are much more profound and have stronger ethical justifications than the principles the Liberal and the NDP parties focus on.
These principles have also proven effective at helping improve our society, promoting fairness and opportunities for all, helping those who are vulnerable and struggling, taking care of the environment and increasing the world’s prosperity. These are much more potent than the left’s common approach of throwing money at problems and setting up bloated non-transparent committees and programs to control people’s lives and speech.
Moreover, the conservative principles have a very long and profound intellectual history. Whether in economics, political science, philosophy, or another discipline, we have a broad foundation of writings by thinkers such as John Locke, Adam Smith, Roger Scruton or Jeane Kirkpatrick, dating as far back as the 17th century.
What needs to be done, therefore, is to make these basic conservative principles known, understood, and popular. We need to help people understand conservative values, both ethical and practical. We are a movement that promotes a set of values and aims at implementing effective solutions to help our society prosper. We are much more than just a registered political entity with leader X or Y that mails flyers to people when it’s election time.
To promote these ideals, individuals operating outside of the party framework, need to step up and be heard. Conservative think tanks and conservative-led educational projects are the step we need to invest in further.
Grassroots movements of smart conservatives do exist and we need to support them further here in Canada. I am proud to be a conservative and I want people to know why, so I am stepping up and speaking out. It’s not just about election hot topics, tax credits and Liberal scandals–it’s also about important and solid ethical principles.
I am not the only one. Wherever you are as you read this, find the organizations and individuals you want to support and help as much as you can. Share and spread the messages, talk with your neighbours, and don’t stop.
By working together and not seceding the political discussion, Conservatives can build a solid iceberg underneath its tip.