Thursday, July 08, 2004

Big Tent, Expanded. Part 2

Harper to steer party to centre
Tells caucus he wants more former PCs in inner circle

Sean Gordon
CanWest News Service

OTTAWA - Stephen Harper, whose bid to be prime minister foundered on Liberal allegations he would violate Canada's social values, yesterday told Conservative MPs he wants to put a more moderate stamp on the party.

At the Tories' first post-election caucus meeting yesterday, sources said Mr. Harper told MPs he planned to include more members from the Progressive Conservative tradition in his inner circle.

Mr. Harper made private assurances to his caucus he wants to steer the party closer to the political centre, and will start by making changes to his office, bringing in people that will help make the party more palatable to Quebec and urban Ontario voters, sources said.

"If he didn't know before the election that it needed to happen, he does now," said a caucus source who did not wish to be identified.

Manitoba MP Vic Toews said the leader's office would do well to bring in "new people, fresh blood into that circle to ensure that Mr. Harper is getting the best possible advice."

Sources said many Conservatives yesterday expressed dismay at the lack of party discipline during the election, when several MPs made controversial remarks on such issues as bilingualism and abortion, and that all eyes will be on Mr. Harper to see how he handles the miscreants.

Many MPs said that will be a key part of reassuring voters the party is responsible, and worthy of being entrusted with power.

Mr. Harper said yesterday he did not want to embark on a public post-mortem of the election.

"I think a big part of the problem is the party had come together very quickly. I don't want to single out individuals, or individual comments or individual incidents, things happen in campaigns, it's the nature of the beast," he said.

Harper moves along the path to PM once more. I personally think that the party has got to move as close to the Liberals as they can on social issues, but only a little bit to the right. There is no other right wing party, and no competition for right's votes. They can lock up the socon vote without having their policies be "socon".

Imagine for a second that there are two ice parlours thinking of locating on a beach. The first guy decides to move close to one end of the beach, the second vendor has a choice: His opponent is at one end, should he locate himself at the other end? The answer, as in politics, is to position yourself right beside your opponent, to the side which is available to the most people: that is, when your opponent is all the way to the left, go over to the left...but just right of your opponent. You will expose your position to the highest possible number of voters/consumers.

This is a zero sum game they are playing, and the conservatives are out there in the middle of the right, and not even close to the Liberals on social issues. Yes, there is a branding issue here, and differentiation is key in choosing a brand. But:

#1. Earth to Conservatives: there are no votes on the social conservative end of the voting spectrum. In polling, it does not matter if half of all Canadians think that abortion, capital punishment or homosexuality are good or bad or whatever. In elections, all Canadians think of themselves as tolerant, and they won't vote social conservative. Its a fact. Drop this plank from the platform. Be open to the socon votes, but don't let them decide the platform.

#2. Don't give up on Environmental issues. This an issue that the right has considerable intellectual backing. What about market trading of CO2 emissions? Market solutions to emissions? Tax incentives for keeping the market clean? Non-Kyoto alternatives?

People can understand that Kyoto is flawed, but they want an alternative. Offer one. I'm right wing, but I want the right to care about the environment, too. Ask a Canadian "Do you care about the environment?" and you'll get an 'yes' response about 99% of the time.

Don't drop the ball on typically "non right wing issues". You have think tanks all over the place that will back you on these issues. Use them to come up with viable alternatives to the left's scare tactics and junk science.

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