Columnists

Duncan Cameron
Building the charlatan movement

| March 12, 2013
Ron Paul and Preston Manning. Photo: Mark Blevis/Flickr

Whoever decided to invite retired U.S. congressman and perpetual presidential candidate Ron Paul to the annual Manning Centre networking event must be perplexed. The Manning Centre has as its official goal: Building the Conservative Movement. Paul admitted others call him a conservative, but he did not want to wear the label.

Paul told the conference attendees: Like you I believe in liberty. As reported by Aaron Wherry, Paul opposes "interventionism," his own word.

His creed is free markets, and a hands-off state. No income tax, no social programs, and no central bank. He wants competition, even in currencies.

No state-backed money for Paul. Gold will do, however. Paul likes the gold standard, which was legislated out of existence by the U.S. in 1933, because it was fingered as a main cause of the Great Depression that began in 1929.

Like Ron Paul, American conservatives may not appreciate the interventionist state, but they sure like the military: heroism, glory, nuclear weapons, bombs, guns, ammunition, military bases, volunteer armies, and combat. U.S. military spending exceeds that of the next nine countries combined, amounting to over 40 per cent of the $1.7 trillion expended worldwide.

Along with American conservatives, the Harper Canadian Conservative Party (CPC) likes the military as well. In fact most Canadian conservative ideas about the military come from the U.S. The prime minister has redefined Canadian defence policy as preparation for war. Not combat in self-defence, or as part of a UN force, but as an attack force equipped with F-35 fighters at a cost yet to be determined, ready to launch an offensive alongside Americans, wherever they decide to intervene. 

The Canadian headliner at the Manning Centre event in Ottawa was Jason Kenney, a dauphin of sorts among Western Conservatives. Kenney did the expected. Jason attacked Justin. More surprisingly, the Minister of Immigration talked about John Diefenbaker winning 54 per cent of the vote in 1958. Kenney wants the CPC to emulate that win.

John Diefenbaker won his massive majority in 1958 arguing for greater Canadian independence from the U.S., not for a closer military alliance. In 1956, Diefenbaker opposed Liberal plans to have Americans build a pipeline to carry Alberta natural gas East, and have the federal government lend them money to do it. The Diefenbaker Conservatives wanted Canadians to build it, and to own it.

The Liberals succeeded in forcing their project through Parliament using closure at every stage of debate, but Diefenbaker won a minority in the subsequent election of 1957, and went on to win a majority the next year.

Conservatives with a small "c" (those that embrace the conservative philosophy) respect history as a guide to policy. Kenney and Harper are now desperate to see Alberta bitumen exported to the U.S. and support the Keystone XL pipeline, the Northern Gateway pipeline, and the Kinder Morgan extension, all designed to rush crude oil and bitumen to U.S. markets. All three projects face substantial opposition.

The historical example chosen by Kenney shows the Harper Conservatives to be on the wrong side of the debate Diefenbaker used to win his overwhelming victory. As well as adopting consistent pro-American policies, the Harper Cons use closure routinely to pass legislation.

In his own mostly standard remarks, Manning inserted a reference to political philosopher Roger Scruton, and his recent book Green Philosophy, arguing conservatives need to embrace the environment.

Scruton is both a remarkable scholar and a strong conservative. Every once in a long while, a very talented conservative philosopher requires the attention of everyone across the political spectrum, and Scruton is such a figure. In Canada, George Grant once drew that kind of attention. 

Manning wants it acknowledged that problems are being created for resource development by the Harper government's neglect of environmental concerns. Manning understands that when prospective clients are under pressure to go green, suppliers must be ready to deliver green products.

When the Harper government subverts environmental review legislation, and undermines scientific assessment, it makes Canadian economic prospects worse, not better. Instead of reassessing its options, the Harper conservatives lie about environmentalists, deny evidence, play the public for fools, and the media for dupes.

In their work The Big Shift, Globe and Mail Ottawa bureau chief John Ibbitson and public opinion analyst Darrell Bricker argue that the CPC can look forward to decades of holding power. It remains to be seen if the CPC drawing on a conservative movement made of libertarians, militarists, resource extraction champions, and environmental charlatans can hold on to power, let alone build for future success.

Duncan Cameron is the president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Mark Blevis/Flickr