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The Conscience of a Canadian Conservative on October 20th

2015 election map2015 Election MapYou can pick your friends. You can’t pick your family. You can pick your government, but mostly you’re struck with what several million others have picked for you.

As it happens – I and the vast majority of Albertans – are stuck with what others picked for us. That’s the way democracy works.

While I have deep concerns about the capacity of Prime Minister-elect Trudeau and his Liberals, it is not the end of the world to be on the losing side, as many partisans feel during or after elections. As a mature democracy, we are capable of surviving a restoration of the Trudeau dynasty, however painful it may be.

And while no political party ever volunteers for it, losing an election can on occasion be a positive and regenerating process. The Conservative Party of Canada could benefit from such a process.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has left his mark on Canadian history and will be remembered as a giant. He united two dilapidated warring conservative factions facing oblivion into a single party that ended Liberal hegemony. He steadily increased the vote share of the Conservatives in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2011.

Beyond electoral success, he did many things for Canada. He ended the Wheat Board’s oppressive monopoly over Western Canadian grain farmers. He scrapped the Long Gun Registry and the per-vote subsidy to political parties. He passed the Accountability Act following the Liberal Sponsorship Scandal. He wrestled the federal government’s deficit to the ground, and he cut taxes on the middle class and job creators.

There is much to be proud of, but it wasn’t an unblemished record.

While the Liberals, NDP and Bloc certainly deserved much of the blame for the corporate auto bailout and the plunge back into deficit in 2008-09, the Conservatives adopted these ideas as their own and arguably went further than was politically required by the opposition. This left federal spending out of control for several years and resulted in significant unnecessary increases to the national debt.

While taxes were cut, not all tax changes were necessarily positive. The Income Tax Act is now 3,314 pages long and riddled with dozens upon dozens of exemptions. These countless exemptions narrowly target tax relief, making it difficult to provide broad-based tax relief.

The Equalization program continues to suck money out of Alberta to reward the Ontario Liberal government for driving that once proud economy into the ground.

While the Conservatives never had a scandal that held a candle to the Sponsorship Scandal, they have had their ethical breaches, a la Mike Duffy. While no prime minister has ever taken Senate reform more seriously than Stephen Harper, many of the appointments made to the Red Chamber have been as poor as those made by Liberal prime ministers before him.

On balance, Stephen Harper has been a successful prime minister, but it is hard not to feel that the last four years contained more than a few missed opportunities.

An important lesson from this election is that if your opponents are going to hate you, then your supporters need to back you with equal vigor. Thatcher and Reagan were similarly hated by the left in their own countries, but their supporters saw and felt a real sense of mission in what they were doing.

Many Harper Haters have driven themselves into a mad frenzy in their vitriolic hatred of the man.

Canadian conservatives may overwhelmingly support the Conservative Party, but they no longer do so with the same enthusiasm that they once did. The zeal and mission that possessed the Conservatives to storm Ottawa in 2004, 2006 and 2008 waned by 2011. It waned further in 2015.

The Conservatives appear to have relied on the self-evident insufficiency of Trudeau and Mulcair to bring a default victory to them. The Conservatives gave Canadians many reasons to vote against Trudeau, but failed to provide Canadians a compelling reason to vote for the Conservatives.

I have a hard time understanding what the Conservatives were seeking in a new mandate, other than to deprive Justin Trudeau of his first real job.

I am worried about what a Trudeau Restoration means for Canada – and especially for Alberta.  But clearly Conservatives – and especially conservatives – need to reflect and learn from Monday’s defeat.

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