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Shift Happens

Do you ever look at video clips of NHL games from a decade ago and marvel at how brutally slow and amateurish those players look compared to the skill level of today’s game ? Go back to the heydays of the Oilers and Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s and 1980s, and it’s even worse.

We can still admire the abilities of a Guy Lafleur and a Wayne Gretzky for what they meant at that time. Yet nobody would think of comparing them with a Connor McDavid or Nathan MacKinnon of today. The game has changed and shifted dramatically.

The political landscape in Canada has experienced a similar evolution over the fifty years. Yet many pundits seem stuck in the 1970s and ’80s. They’re replaying old VHS cassette tapes of Red Tories in that era, thinking this is where today’s moderate conservatives still stand.

They’re wrong. The centre in Canadian politics has moved to the right on a number of issues. The first is fiscal discipline. Today’s conservative centrists have wholeheartedly embraced the need for strong fiscal policy, debt reduction, and the dominant role of private sector engagement, especially in health care. For this, we owe a debt to Preston Manning’s Reform Party for championing balanced budgets and forcing free-spending Red Tories to fall in line. Today, it’s the Trudeau Liberals who are the free spenders and have plunged Canada into over one trillion dollars of debt.

Second, centrist conservatives are more supportive of a robust military and foreign policy than were Red Tories of three decades or more ago. We’re more realistic about China; no longer is the country viewed as a mere market opportunity, but as a regime that poses a threat to the democratic integrity of other nations, including Canada. We also support increased military spending, in light of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the rise of authoritarian regimes around the globe.

Third, we’re dramatically more free-market when it comes to the deregulation of telecom, banking and airline sectors, which could all benefit from enhanced competition. Most of us would also prefer to end the archaic and inflation-supporting supply-management system, which penalizes consumers, especially in a time of high inflation.

At the same time, the centre’s shift to the right on these matters has not been accompanied by a loss of support for issues that were considered “progressive” back in the Red Tory heyday. These include abortion rights, women’s and LGBTQ2+ rights, diversity, equality and inclusion standards in business and all walks of life; increased immigration; and combatting climate change. We have now added to this list to include reconciliation with Indigenous people, including economic reconciliation.

These centrist positions are now mainstream. They don’t make noise. They don’t win media attention. They don’t dominate social media platforms. Yet they very likely reflect where the vast majority of Canadians see themselves.

At the same time, Canada’s two main political parties have also shifted, but in opposite directions and away from the centre. The Liberals have moved to the woke left and embraced the divisive practice of identity politics. The Conservatives have moved to the populist right and embraced anti-mandate policies and the “freedom convoy”.

So when former Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton recently voiced her concerns about the drift she sees in the party that she has served for more than five decades, an attack squad of populist pundits swarmed up, accusing her of being an outdated Red Tory and not fully grasping where today’s conservatives are heading.

This populist move, they say, is a “natural and necessary evolution” of the Conservative Party in a direction that’s been foretold by several observers, including former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. LeBreton is portrayed as being out of step with the Conservatives’ “contemporary environment”. A former Harper speechwriter called her concerns “rubbish” and accused her of wanting to bring the Party back to “massive public spending like Red Tories have historically favoured”. Instead, LeBreton and other centrists should just “come to terms with political reality and help defeat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals to achieve a better political future for Canada.”

Really? If that reality involves marching with far-right extremists, supporting conspiracy or anti-vax theories, and plumping cryptocurrency schemes while spreading fear of government spying through cell phone data, so be it. Party members will have the final say.

But that’s one lane many people won’t take. A lot of us are fine in the centre – today’s modern, pragmatic, fiscally responsible, mainstream centre. Many of us are gathering in Edmonton on August 11th to talk policy on all of these issues, from a centrist perspective.

We know we’re not alone. There is a large, silent crowd that thinks like we do: the crowd that decides the outcome of federal elections.

Let’s see who speaks for us.

Rick Peterson is a co-founder and director of Centre Ice Conservatives.

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