While not part of the official Manning Networking Conference, the Blue Committee.org, a not-for-profit group that seeks to grow Canada’s conservative movement, hosted an event at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa, examining how the Conservative Party could win in urban centers.
Joseph Ben-Ami, founding director of BlueCommittee.org, asked how Conservatives can win ridings by appealing to socially conservative new Canadians.
Tanya Granic Allen, president of Parents as First Educators and a Progressive Conservative leadership candidate, said that pro-life and pro-family values appeal to new Canadians so they “feel they have freedom to live their values.” She reported that her Croatian immigrant parents used to be Liberals but became Conservatives when the Grits no longer reflected their pro-life, pro-traditional marriage values. She also said most immigrants not only value parental rights, but take issue with government intrusions in family life.
John Robson, a National Post columnist and a documentarian, said it was possible to “reach new Canadians” is not difficult: “this is actually quite simple: reach out to new Canadians with social conservatives values by espousing them yourselves.” He also advised that if one’s political opponents “are thinking about it, you might as well say it” and counseled pro-lifers not to hide their views.
Noting that since the Great Depression conservative parties generally win once every generation, “make it count when it happens.” Therefore, he said, conservative politicians need “not disavow their beliefs in elections and forget them in office.” He added, “if our views are not majority views,” the answer is “not to pretend to believe things we don’t,” suggesting campaigns can help educate the electorate about issues.
He said conservatives should state their beliefs “proudly” suggesting that if those who hold certain views are “afraid” to proclaim them, why should the public embrace them.
Russ Kuykendall, deputy campaign manager for the Brad Trost leadership campaign, listed the lessons of that campaign. Kuykendall, a former Parliament Hill staffer, long-time political consultant, and co-founder of the BlueCommittee.org, said they went “full-on socon” and many people did not believe Trost had a chance to be a top-ten candidate. He finished fourth in the leadership contest. They knew nearly two months before the vote about their own strength but made a strategic decision to “tell no one” so the pundits and political class would be surprised by the strength of the socially conservative showing.
Kuykendall stressed many new Canadians have conservative values. The key to getting them politically engaged is “bridge-building” through personal relationships with key members within the community who then use their own networks to get their friends and family involved. He said listening to those within the community and what they care about can help in how socially conservative messages are crafted to best be heard by their intended audience.
Kuykendall listed the ridings in which Trost finished first or second, and they were all urban ridings including in Toronto and Montreal, where the Tories have no MPs. The message from this experience is that there is a constituency for social conservatism in the cities that the Conservative Party is not reaching. He said, “if you fail to speak for new Canadians, you may just find they will migrate to someone who does.”