What should a Conservative look like in 2016?

Sara MacIntyre, a former Stephen Harper press secretary, lays down her controversial blueprint for a modern Conservative

Sara MacIntyre
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Surrounded by members of caucus, Rona Ambrose speaks after being named as the interim-leader of the Conservative party following a caucus meeting Thursday November 5, 2015 in Ottawa. Adrian Wyld/CP;

Surrounded by members of caucus, Rona Ambrose speaks after being named as the interim-leader of the Conservative party following a caucus meeting Thursday November 5, 2015 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/CP)
Surrounded by members of caucus, Rona Ambrose speaks after being named as the interim leader of the Conservative party following a caucus meeting Thursday Nov. 5, 2015 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

sara macintyreSara MacIntyre is a national columnist at Sun Media, and a corporate communications consultant at Elbows Up Communications. She was a press secretary for former prime minister Stephen Harper and a director of communications for B.C. Premier Christy Clark.

It’s 2016, and I am Canadian, conservative and a woman. Like anyone who has gotten involved in politics, partisan issues or campaigns, I have a love of country first. We may have different routes, but I truly believe we all, regardless of political stripe, share a common destination: a better Canada. A country where there is opportunity for all to succeed, to raise a healthy family with bright futures for our children in safe and secure neighbourhoods, and with elected representatives who truly represent our values at home and abroad. We differ, quite significantly, on how to reach those goals, with fundamentally different beliefs on how wealth is created and sustained, and, at its most base, the nature of man and our rational decision-making processes when presented with choices.

Cynics claim that conservatives are cold and heartless because at our basic level, we believe individuals can and do act in their own best interest first, while all other considerations are secondary. But here is the fascinating dichotomy that fuels our values: Conservatives have an astonishingly optimistic belief in our fellow man, that the individual is best to make decisions for their own life.

Our belief and faith in the individual, our fellow man and woman, should be our guiding light; it is positive, it is human, it is conservative. As the party brass and the rank and file of the Conservative Party mull their future iteration and consider what it means to be a modern, contemporary conservative in Canada in 2016, let us not get caught up in what it will take to get us back to power and winning, but first and foremost, remain steadfast in our belief in the power of the individual to create a better community, economy and country.

Before I lay down my blueprint for a modern Conservative, let’s dispense with some of my own personal beliefs:

I am agnostic. I believe in the free market. I don’t think carrying a semi-automatic is anyone’s right. I believe that because we live in such a prosperous and free country, we have a duty to help the world’s most vulnerable. I believe in freedom of speech, freedom of religion and a very strict separation of church and state. I believe Canadian values include compassion, freedom, respect for others, a hand up—not a hand out—rule of law, personal accountability and responsibility, opportunity to participate and succeed in our robust economy, diversity with inclusiveness, equality before the law and in the law, and a drive toward excellence.

I don’t believe the government should be responsible for raising your children, either through mandated daycare, baby bonuses, tax credits, income splitting or any other Orwellian incentive. I do not believe the government (federal or provincial) should be treating households differently based on their marital status, age, race, religion or number of offspring. It is simply the worst kind of political pandering.

Now here’s where I get controversial and fully expect to be booed by large elements of my own brethren. I believe we should fully legalize prostitution and marijuana, and bring in a compassionate and practical law for assisted suicide. Conservatives are killing themselves on these issues, with the usual fear-mongering, head-in-the-sand, Leave it to Beaver rhetoric.

Just as conservatives believe in the individual to make their own best decisions, so too should they have the faith that corporations, companies and businesses (they are just individuals after all) know best how to run their operations. Scrap the gravy, transfers, loans, tax write-offs, write-downs and grants. Be confident that Canadian businesses can compete and thrive in a free market. Commit to further free-trade agreements and new market access; invest in roads, ports, bridges and building the infrastructure to move goods within the country and abroad.

Embrace and encourage the sharing economy; it’s the real free market at work and it is inherently conservative. From Airbnb and Uber to Netflix, new technologies are leapfrogging lawmakers and regulators, breaking down archaic and protected oligopolies to the benefit of consumers. Be on the right side of history with these fights, free and fair for the consumer: The individual should be the first and only consideration.

Recognize we are a resource and commodity economy but don’t own or apologize for the often poor and disgraceful public relations fiascos that are Canadian resource companies. The industry wanted a carbon tax; they got Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau. It is incumbent upon the industry to inform the public of their strategic importance to our economy. Instead, focus on those nascent technology hubs, like in Waterloo, that simply need you to stay out of their way.

Be compassionate, be empathetic and be human. The refugee crisis isn’t simply in Syria—it’s in Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, Lebanon and Northern Africa, and these are real people caught in the crossfires of the worst quagmire of a generation. Imagine how horrific life must be for you to put your children into a raft to cross a sea, how bleak tomorrow must be that you would take such a risk. Stop criticizing the Liberals for failing to bring in 25,000 refugees on a timeline when you stood against the promise to bring them here in the first place. Abandon the fear-mongering, the intolerance and scare tactics.

Fight only for those things that matter and only those things you can actually change. Too often Conservatives have looked for cleavages, being comfortable only when in a fight of “us” or “them.” Take a page from our competition: We need not fight in order to motivate. Perhaps it is the latent tendency and stressors of being in a minority government, where everything was a battle, but our first majority government often behaved simultaneously like it was still in the trenches and with its head in the sand.

Know our friends and stand with them. Know our partners and trade with them. Know our allies and stand beside them. Know what a coalition is and work within it, and only in strict parameters.

Build in a natural reflex to say yes and an inclination to be transparent. Say yes to benign media requests, yes to interviews that may inflict a five-second gotcha moment; take risks to show that you are out front, available and not hiding. If we believe in what we stand for, what is there to hide from? I understand the necessity and utility of message discipline, and I’m sure the Trudeau cabinet will be quickly whipped into unison by year’s end. Yet I also think the Conservative battle mentality with the national media is adolescent, short-sighted and damaging to the brand. We have no wizard behind the curtain, no hidden agenda, and no need to run and hide. Be out front, be Conservative and be proud.

It’s a great time to be a Conservative in Canada. There is nothing to lose. Let’s not water down our core beliefs in an attempt to be more centrists. Rather let’s change the litmus test of what it means to be Conservative back to truly principled positions and ideals, based on our belief and faith in our fellow man. We need not become the “hopey/changey” vanity fair caricature of modern politics in order to be more palatable. We need to set clear markers down about our beliefs and values and communicate them in a manner that the average Canadian can identify with and that invokes inspiration again. Where the average person believes they can be Conservative and believe in a Canada that is great, hard-working, diverse and compassionate.