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Conservative meltdowns: the cure is at the centre

It’s an ugly scene on both counts: the long, painful and twisting campaign leading to Premier Jason Kenney’s ouster in Alberta and an increasingly nasty, personal and divisive race for the Conservative Party of Canada leadership.

If this continues, it will soon see both of these parties relegated to the opposition until the cows come home. That’s not good for Alberta, and it’s not good for Canada.

What’s the answer? Very simple: we need leadership from the centre.

Centrist leadership is based on three strong foundations, being simple traits that we’ve seen combined time and again on the road to conservative success both provincially and federally. None of them has anything to do with policy positions. Instead, they are maturity, convincing character, and iron discipline.

Maturity is born from experience in leading men and women through long campaigns, facing adversity, and then winning – which is key. This is no different than in business, sports, or community work. Lessons in patience, humility, grace and understanding in these situations – and how they lead to win-win outcomes – will equip any leader with the maturity needed to guide and manage a caucus. And that is ultimately what political leadership is all about.

Building on maturity, the power of convincing character is vastly underestimated in political circles. It’s not a policy that wins people over. It’s not wrecking ball adherence to dogma and narrow interests that move the masses. It’s being able to establish a position that balances competing and strident views from the outside, and brings them together with a focus and ability to rally a majority behind them. The most successful political leaders are those who are able to speak from a core of personal character that resonates with the public.

Finally, iron discipline is key. Politics is a team sport, not a stage for prima donnas. Discipline and enforcement of clear rules of conduct are key in any dressing room, board room, caucus room or living room. Having the ability to stand up and call out flagrant violations of the playbook that’s been agreed to is a necessary trait in any leader – and, perhaps most importantly, that standard must be met by the team captain too.

It’s hard to group these skill sets together when you’re playing on the fringes. Conservatives always complain about the successful internal discipline of the Liberal Party and lament its absence in the Conservative Party without understanding that this is not Liberal behaviour, but winner behaviour. The Tories are out of office so much they don’t realise their own failings are typical, not of conservatives, but of those distant from power.

Power is a wonderful glue; so is the realistic prospect of power. On the other hand, it’s impossible to rally a diverse group of followers on a long-term, successful strategy when you’re playing whack-a-mole with eruptions and disruptions from team members undermining your leadership. An overwhelming majority of the population wants a government focused on addressing key issues, rather than political gamesmanship in Ottawa, Victoria, Quebec City, or wherever else. Without maturity, convincing character, and iron discipline, that becomes impossible to deliver.

Who has demonstrated centrist conservative leadership, ignoring misleading party labels?

My list starts with Peter Lougheed, Bill Davis and Brian Mulroney. It would include Rona Ambrose, Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay.

It also includes Brad Wall, Gordon Campbell, Gary Filmon, Ralph Klein, Francois Legault, Frank McKenna, John Hamm, Blaine Higgs, Frank Moores and Pat Binns.

So, when UCP and CPC members look around at the crop of candidates they have to choose from, they shouldn’t let their heads swivel too far on either side of the centre ice zone.

That’s where games are won, majorities built, and where the mature, responsible leadership the country needs to be found.

Rick Peterson is an Edmonton businessman and co-founder of Centre Ice Conservatives.

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