In May 1996, conservatives of all stripes and political parties met in Calgary at a Winds of Change conference. Their purpose was to find common ground, in order to “unite the right.”
Christian Heritage Party leader Ron Gray went to the conference but was refused entry. He says many fiscal conservatives don’t want moral conservatives as part of their coalition. He says they think it could doom their chances at forming a government.
“Citizens are concerned about moral decay,” Gray says, arguing a united right can include the CHP if the new entity commits to the biblical principles upon which Canada was founded.
But considering how far many fiscal conservatives are from moral conservatives, a commitment to biblical principles seems impossible.
The trouble is, without unity on the political right, it’s virtually certain the Liberals will hold on to power. In response to that reality, the Reform Party is currently advocating the idea of a United Alternative, an attempt to form a broad-based—but not specifically right-wing—coalition to defeat the government.
Reform MP Jason Kenney, caucus liaison for the project, encourages voters concerned about life and family issues to become involved in the upcoming UA conference, “or their issues will be marginalized in the broad-based coalition.” He says that he’d like to see marriage defined as traditionally understood, and to have the sanctity of life protected, but argues neither will happen if citizens concerned with these issues don’t become involved. There are some on the right pushing “a libertine social agenda,” he says.
Darrell Reid, President of Focus on the Family (Canada), says moral conservatives can be an effectiveelement of a right-wing party, noting there is public support for their positions. But their constituency must be willing to compromise, “to forbear small differences,” he believes. Reid suggests pro-lifers should take advantage of the widespread opposition to abortion on demand, and work on projects such as a ban on late-term abortions and an end to tax funding of abortion.
Getting involved is key, says Gwen Landolt, vice-president of REAL Women of Canada. “If social conservatives become involved, they can effect change.” The best way to become involved, she argues, is to engage fiscal conservatives and educate them about the economic benefits of moral conservatism. She adds a recent example how the two sides can achieve what they want when they work together: the federal government promised $400,000 to EGALE (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) to study alleged discrimination against homosexuals. By uniting to defund special-interest groups, we could save money and end the pro-gay, pro-feminist lobbying of groups dependent on federal handouts.
Landolt says uniting the right on a morally conservative agenda is difficult, but possible. Fiscal conservatism, she says, requires a secure and ordered society to function smoothly, which is possible only when moral conservatism is practised.
Ottawa journalist Tim Bloedow sees moral and fiscal conservatism “as two sides of the same coin.” An example he offers is the way Reform pitched tax reform in the 1997 election: tax relief benefits families.
Gray says fiscal conservatives should learn to make economic arguments in moral terms. Deficit spending, for example, should be spoken of as theft from future generations. The case for the free market, he says, is moral. “It is the most honest form of economic endeavour,” he argues.
There are, however, many conservatives who don’t want a strong moral plank in a united right or think it isn’t viable. Financial Post columnist and Winds of Change organizer David Frum says “it is not possible” for a united right party to pay attention to moral issues.
Since the 1980s, he says, conservative-leaning governments have “put economics first,” in part because the public sees politicians who focus on non-economic issues as “frivolous.” Furthermore, he says a strong moral plank would only attract 20 per cent of the vote, and might turn off voters, especially in Ontario.
The good news for social conservatives, according to Frum is that policies such as those pursued by the current Ontario Tory government—tax reform, reforming public services, reining in the judiciary—will have a positive, trickle-down effect on families. Lower taxes will “reduce the pressure on families to put mothers of young children into the workforce,” and reining in activist courts could undo the damage of “abolishing our law of marriage and replacing it with a law of cohabitation.”
Author and broadcaster Michael Coren doesn’t think a united right will heed moral conservatives. “There are too many fiscal conservatives who are social liberals,” he explains. To him, fiscal and moral conservatism aren’t necessarily compatible, so a union of the groups in one party is doubtful.
The best hope for moral conservatives, Coren says, is at the provincial level. There they can fight for defunding abortion and for conscience-clause legislation.
Campaign Life Coalition National President Jim Hughes says experience so far has shown unite-the-right initiatives can be treacherous for moral conservatives. He says, for example, that with notable exceptions, all that’s left of the federal PCs are Red Tories, who often have nothing in common with pro-life, pro-family voters. Right-wing factions, he warns, may not be able to work together “without watering down what moral conservatives believe.”
Former Reform MP and current National Citizens’ Coalition president Stephen Harper says if moral conservatives want to be part of a united right, the right should oblige. He suggests that their common ground might be to expose the social liberals’ claim to be morally neutral.
That said, as a conservative strategist, Harper sees “moral issues as dangerous to any coalition.” He argues that the moral plank is either so strong that it defines the party narrowly and excludes many voters, or too weak to attract social conservative voters.
Landolt says the united right must define the family as husband, wife, and children, and recognize the family as vital to the stability of society. She says social policy must not recognize homosexual or common-law couples as equal to married couples, and that the government should end tax discrimination against single-income families.
Parental authority and the rights of families in general must be strengthened, says Bloedow. Not only should conservatives stop “accommodating the latest advance by the radical homosexual political movement,” he argues, they should start rolling back the gay lobby’s many victories in recent years.
In addition to working to end abortion, Bloedow says, the right should push to abolish the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which he describes as “a kangaroo court that ignores the fundamental principles of law and justice we inherited from the Bible and the British common law system … It is used by special-interest groups to advance their anti-family, anti-life agenda.”
For now, the right is anything but united. Pro-life, pro-family voters must choose between small parties with solid values, and individual moral-conservative candidates in more “electable” parties – parties which are ambiguous at best on most life and family issues.