“Elections have consequences”. It is a saying often repeated but the events of the past year have really driven it home. The leaders we collectively choice have a substantial impact on the direction of the nation and the tenor of our national and civic discourse. Had a few hundred thousand people in the American Midwest marked their ballots differently or had Republican primary voters had split in a slightly different way we would not be witnessing the unfolding disaster south of the boarder as Donald Trump vainly tries to negotiate the challenges of running a country. Who we elect matters. The people we elect will be the ones at the forefront of confronting the challenges of the 21st century.
The 21st century presents many pressing challenges we will not only have to grapple with but effectively address. The climate is warming, threating our cities, ecosystems and economy. The economic prosperity of humanity is at risk as the demographic tide sweeps the west, while anti-globalization forces threaten to undermine the global trade network that has been the most effective anti-poverty measure ever enacted. This is all happening as politics and society becomes ever more fractured. The rise of the alt right and other illiberal groups threatens to undermine our inclusive society. The increasingly troubled waters Canada and the rest of the world find itself in calls for a calm and measured approach to navigating through the storm. It is imperative that not only the Prime Minister be level headed and considered but the leaders of the opposition as well, for it is hard to steer a boat if someone is trying to rock it back and forth. Of the scores of candidates vying for party leadership only one has shown a eagerness to grapple with these issues in a thoughtful and well reasoned way; Michael Chong.
No challenge of 21st century governance is greater than the confronting anthropogenic climate change. The science is indisputable, human activity is causing rising atmospheric CO2 levels and consequently rising temperatures. The potential damage is devastating. The best time to take action was thirty years ago. But the second best time is now. Sadly of the fourteen Tory Leadership candidates 13 either ignore it, deny it or offer the most token of token gestures. It does not have to be this way. Brian Mulroney is considered one of the greenest Prime Ministers in history. Reform Party founder and conservative elder statesman Preston Manning has repeatedly called on conservatives to conserve the environment. Fortunately there is a voice for sensible, serious climate change policy, Michael Chong. His ambitious plan calls for a $130/tonne carbon tax. Like the BC carbon tax it was modelled on, every cent goes back to the people with generous tax cuts and a low income rebate to address the potentially regressive aspects of the plan. Canadians will see lower taxes, larger GST rebates and reduce emissions at the same time. Economists love it, British Columbians love it, there is little not to like about that. And to ensure it meets its goal there will be an independent panel of experts to examine the effectiveness and makes adjustments to the price of carbon so we hit our targets. The plan is not only more ambitious than Justin Trudeau’s but it is more accountable too. I long for the day when Question Period is dominate by the Tories and NDP both holding the Liberals accountable for their lack luster $50/tonne non-revenue neutral carbon price.
In order to better hold the government of the day accountable, the institutions of our parliamentary democracy need reforming. Too often MPs act merely as an extension of the party leader. And why wouldn’t they? With a system of party discipline as strong as Canada’s the MPs are much, much more accountable to their party leader than their constituents. A Party Leader’s permission is required to be nominated for election to Parliament, to sit on committees. MPs can barely wipe their nose without first getting permission from the PMO or party leadership. And in all of this the concerns of the people who the MPs are ostensibly in Ottawa to represent get forgotten. There have been many complaints over the years about the problems with our First Past the Post voting system. I have voiced many of them myself. But it is only part of the problem. Even if the MPs were selected better it does little good if they become empty suits doing echoing whatever the PMO or party leader wants. We need significant changes to the way Parliament runs. Changes like what Michael Chong advocated for in his, sadly neuter, Reform Act, that would have empowered MPs and reduced the centralized control in Parliament. With his proposed Democratic Reforms will empower MPs and ensure Canadians are better represented in Ottawa. All Canadians deserve to have their voices heard and their view and concerns represented in the halls of power.
All Canadians haven’t always been well represented by the Conservatives. Too often conservatives have fought to preserve institutions that promulgated injustices towards minority groups. The Tories lagged too far behind on LGBT issues and recently many of the other leadership candidates have been taking a page from Donald Trump’s playbook and playing up fears over immigration. Rather than unite Canadians, the Kellie Leitchs, Steve Blaneys and Kevin O’Learys of the race have been seeking to divide and play the politics of fear of the other. As we watch that mentality take root in American and Britain it is imperative Conservatives and Canadians decisively reject that divisiveness. Nothing would send a stronger message that Trump’s style of politics is not welcome in Canada. Michael is not only the son of immigrants but has run a campaign geared towards reaching out to immigrant communities. He has repudiated and condemned the subtle and not so subtle race and religion baiting that has surfaced during the campaign. And he was the only one not to give into the hysteria surrounding the inconsequential anti-Islamophobia motion M-103. A Conservative Party run by Michael Chong would focus on the substantive issues facing Canada and not play the worst sort of right wing identity politics. I am sympathetic to a lot of Conservative positions, on defense, foreign policy and free markets. I have hated every election having to go into the voting booth and weigh supporting policies I like with potentially empowering social conservatives. Finally there is a candidate, who I can vote for without having to make that tough choice.
There is a clear choice, we can have a Conservative Party and likely next Prime Minster that ignores the threat of climate change, that lets our democracy degrade and the forces of divisiveness set in. Or we can have a Conservative Party and Leader of the Opposition that has a credible and ambitious plan to tackle climate change and parliamentary dysfunction. A Conservative Party that is inclusive and wont play to the politics of fear and division. A Conservative Party and leader with substance and principles that will fight for what they believe in the market place of ideas, not the market place of 30 second attack ads. The choice is clear, Michael Chong is the right person to lead the conservatives. This May, I will be casting my ballot for Michael Chong. And if you value climate action, effective democracy and inclusive politics, you should too.
But that can not happen if you don’t get involved and vote. The membership deadline to participate is March 28th at 2pm Pacific.