Four elections, four political parties, and four losses. That is the state of the conservative movement nationally in Canada in the last decade. So it is quite correct that commentators are now hard at work trying to explain the state of conservatism in Canada.
The newest theory is that 2004 represents what 1964’s Goldwater loss was to American conservative and his big loss to Lyndon Johnson in 1964 laid the groundwork for future electoral victories. As Dan Dunsky tells at National Review Online
, “Barry Goldwater’s legacy was to unite social conservatives and Western anti-Establishment and anti-government populists.”
For Adam Daifallah
of the National Post
, the American model and success needs to be replicated. “If conservatism is ever to take hold here, the U.S. model must be replicated. Wealthy, conservative-minded benefactors must come forward with the dedication and resources necessary to fund alternative media. New foundations and think-tanks must be endowed. Political campaign schools must be started to find and train Canada's Reagan. Without a stable of intelligent, articulate and ideological writers, thinkers and political activists, conservative ideas are bound to continue to fall on deaf ears.”
Certainly all of that must be true and of course it would help matters. But, there is a major problem with simply translating American conservatism into a new Canadian version – as much as I would like that to become a reality.
Goldwater’s model worked in America just fine, but at first glance by uniting social conservatives, the west, and anti-government populists in Canada aren’t you really talking about the same set of voters in Canada. This is problematic.
The post-Goldwater conservative movement in America also didn’t have to contend with a place like Quebec. I didn’t see anyone mention that no right of center party has ever been able to win an election, at least a majority government in an election, without a huge share of the vote in Quebec.
Sure, places like the editorial board of the National Post are already arguing for the ousting of the social conservatives under Stephen Harpers watch. But have they said anything about attracting votes in “La Belle Province”? Not yet...
What conservatives south of the border have been able to do so successfully is market themselves. All the think tanks in the world can’t replace the simplicity and power of retail politics – something Canadian conservatives haven’t been very good at lately. Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, and Stephen Harper were never able to successfully show people they were the right guy. And that may prompt you to ask where Canada’s Ronald Reagan will come from. That’s another entirely scary proposition.