How Stephen Harper led me to do the unthinkable

Scott Gilmore explains why he abandoned his Conservative roots to vote for a Trudeau

Monday, October 19, 2015 - Calgary, Alberta -  Conservative party supporters arrive to an empty room as they wait for party leader Stephen Harper to speak from Calgary, Alberta on Monday, October 19, 2015. (Photograph by Chris Bolin)

Conservative party supporters arrive to an empty room as they wait for party leader Stephen Harper to speak on October 19, 2015. (Photograph by Chris Bolin)

There is no better illustration of the decline of the Conservative party than the fact that I voted for a Trudeau this week.

Gilmores have supported the Conservative party since they arrived in Canada. And, until Monday, believing in the rights of the individual and the importance of free markets, I maintained the family tradition.

My inclination toward conservative politics was matched by a personal dislike of the Liberal party. Growing up in Alberta, I was a first-hand witness to the devastation from Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Policy, watching family members go out of business and bankrupt as the oil patch was choked off. When I was 11 years old, he gave the finger to Western protesters, and I was naively shocked a prime minister could ever do something like that. For me, the Liberals were indelibly defined as arrogant, feckless and cynical.

Although I married a lifelong Liberal (who just ran and won under that banner), we could never agree on politics. Until these last few weeks.

Looking further back, it took a lot to kill this Tory, and he died slowly. An early blow was the unprecedented expansion of domestic spying, reaching its apotheosis with the notorious Anti-terrorism Act, C-51. This was a complete betrayal of the conservative ideal of protecting the rights of the individual against the intrusions of the state. Adding salt to the wound, the Conservatives ensured the bill excluded any genuine oversight or accountability.

Then there were the budgets. Every Tory I know, including those who have sat in the House of Commons these last nine years, describe themselves as sober-minded fiscal conservatives. Unfortunately, the party governed like a Vegas drunk with a stolen credit card. Year after year, deficit after deficit, the debt grew and grew. Not content to just run up a huge tab, they spent hundreds of millions on advertising their “Economic Action Plan,” billboards from coast to coast bragging about their unhinged spending spree.

And, my God, the things they spent that money on made Tories like me weep. The party that promised small government and to restrain Ottawa’s incorrigible instinct to bloat actually expanded the civil service to historic levels. The politicians that claimed to be fiscally prudent clamoured to spend billions on the F-35, a problem-plagued and chronically delayed fighter jet whose price tag was always 10 per cent higher than the last time anyone checked.

    That was not the only military-procurement failure. Although the Conservatives shamelessly vowed to “stand on guard for thee,” and campaigned on claims it was an unfailing ally of the Canadian Forces, they left behind a Navy that is no longer capable of conducting operations beyond the sight of shore. Appropriately, during the election, HMCS Athabaskan, Canada’s last destroyer, broke down and was stranded in Europe.

    All of these things cut deep into my Tory nature. Eventually, I found it difficult to promote the party’s policies. And then it became impossible to even defend their record. But still, I looked at the alternatives and instinctively recoiled.

    Besides, the Liberals were also proposing deficits, and the NDP’s promised balanced budgets belied their long list of expensive promises. I continued to call myself a Conservative. Until Oct. 2.

    Related: The Conservatives, the ‘party of the manly man’ no more

    Stalled in the polls, the Conservatives decided to abandon the pretense of their dog-whistle politics, and openly campaign on Islamophobia and bigotry. Chris Alexander and Kellie Leitch looked us in the eye and promised to establish a snitch line to report “barbaric cultural practices.” They darkly warned this was necessary to prevent women and children from being victimized.

    It had come to this. The Conservatives were telling us they were the only party that stood between barbaric Muslims hordes and our wives and daughters. It was the last knife. I was no longer a Conservative. Stephen Harper had done what I would have thought impossible. He forced me not only to vote Liberal, but to vote for the son of Pierre Trudeau.

    I always considered myself part of the “Conservative base.” But, over time, it became obvious to me that the Prime Minister was only interested in one part of that base: voters who were suspicious of the world, afraid of their neighbours, and jealous of other Canadians. As he chased those votes, he chased away others, like mine, and totally neglected attracting voters from other parties. On Monday night, that meant 60 seats and the loss of power.

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