What does conservative mean?

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The National Post is on my list of websites I visit first thing in the morning to scan headlines and read stories that capture my interest. The Globe and Mail used to be on that list, but they’ve gone behind a pay wall, which means access to their stories is limited without a subscription. I only mention this because it’s interesting being both a journalist and a consumer of journalism. Newspapers generally are at an interesting point in their history, where they are navigating the (relatively) new online world, and trying to figure out how to continue doing what they do, pay salaries and produce profit for shareholders. As a journalist I understand the pay wall model and in theory would benefit from it, but as a consumer, I avail myself of the Post’s free content.

That’s a sidebar, but also an explanation of why many of the stories I link to are from the Post: it’s the free, national paper.

Andrew Coyne has a hard-hitting editorial today about Canada’s conservative movement. I like this guy’s writing. He takes a swing at whoever deserves it, and today it’s the conservatives: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/03/11/andrew-coyne-manning-conference-makes-one-wonder-how-long-conservative-movement-can-keep-from-tearing-itself-apart/

It’s fair, to an extent, for the party faithful to defend themselves with the argument that ideological consistency is for purists who will never attain office. Perhaps I just don’t have the stomach for the compromises power demands. But the level of hypocrisy it requires to cast oneself as a conservative and then outspend your opponents is truly galling. And what I don’t get is what exactly is so complicated or unappealing about a very simple, logically consistent conservative concept called small government.

Small government means fewer taxes, fewer public services, smaller bureaucracies, and less interference in individual choice. Not everyone likes that agenda, but it’s entirely coherent and can be a rally point for everyone from fiscal conservatives to civil libertarians. Social conservatives might not appreciate the laissez-faire approach to morality and those who live on a government cheque will understandably fight tooth and nail to protect their income. But for many of us, conservative or liberal, there’s something to like in this platform. And yet no conservative is selling that vision in this country, and the reason isn’t pretty: the bureaucracy may already be too entrenched and the entitled may already be too big a group. Let’s not forget the politicians either: politics has ceased to be the expression of a people, or a position of trust assumed as a public service; instead, it’s a career aspiration, and doing anything your superiors don’t like is career suicide.

So, do politicians refuse to implement small government because it can’t be sold to the public? No. Small government has broad (albeit, not universal) appeal.  They refuse to implement it because it would stop them from buying votes, and it would make the civil service rebel. I think it’s really that simple.

This isn’t just an academic argument. The future’s calling and it could look a lot like Greece. We need courage and we’re not getting it. Is courage in Ottawa even on the horizon?

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