Now that the dust has settled on the 43rd federal election, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on the Conservative movement. As a former three-term Conservative MP and a former leader of the Ontario PC Party, I have some advice for my former colleagues. As the mayor of Canada’s ninth largest and most diverse city, I understand the needs and sentiments of urban Canadians about where the party needs to grow.
If the Conservative Party of Canada expects to win the next election, it will need a viable plan that combats climate change and stands up for human rights and equality. The party failed on these fronts in the recent campaign.
The Conservative failure to present a credible plan on the environment contributed to its inability to grow the party base. In 2019, you cannot stick your head in the sand on the environment. Canadians believe climate change is man made, real and we have to do something about it. Refusing to put a price on pollution (carbon) is not credible in Canada today.
Great Conservatives understood the environment is not a partisan issue. When Bill Davis was premier of Ontario, he created the Ministry of the Environment and put into place Canada’s first environmental land-use plan.
It was Brian Mulroney who was named Canada’s “greenest” prime minister. In 1987, Mulroney hosted world leaders in Montreal to get them to drastically cut the use of ozone-destroying CFCs. In 1991, Mulroney signed the Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement to reduce the pollution that caused acid rain.
German leader Angela Merkel has been nicknamed “Climate Chancellor” for her long-standing international engagement for emissions cuts. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron led record reductions in emissions and investment in clean energy. These conservative politicians pursued an environmental agenda as they knew the environment was not a partisan issue.
As Chantal Hébert, the Toronto Star columnist and CBC panelist, said on election night, “This should be the last election that any party believes it can win without having a serious plan for climate change.”
Another glaring weakness from the modern Conservative movement is the issue of equity. The Conservative Party needs to be the party that stands up for human rights and equality. Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker introduced the Canadian Bill of Rights, which was the country’s first federal law to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
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The Conservative Party has seen its finest moments in history when it stood up for equality. It was a Conservative prime minister who brought in voting rights for women. It was a Conservative prime minister who opposed apartheid in South Africa.
The Conservative leadership needs to stand up for all Canadians. We cannot pick and choose when we believe in equality for all people. No federal Conservative Party leader has marched in a Pride Parade. This is shameful. Love is love is love. It is an honour to be at events like these that celebrate the achievements of the Pride movement and to continue to push for equality, dignity, inclusion and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.
Another example of a lack of leadership on equity is the Islamophobia debate. I was bewildered when the Conservative Party opposed a bill condemning hate against Muslim Canadians. A big-tent Conservative Party must cut all ties with elements in our society that preach hate. Far right groups like Rebel Media may have applauded Conservatives for jingoistic votes like this but they turned off many more Canadians by doing so. Even more recently, the Conservative failure to challenge Quebec on its draconian Bill 21, which is an attack on religious freedom, is a failure of leadership.
I would like to see Conservative leadership that says with clarity it does not matter where you were born, who you love, the colour of your skin or what god you worship, we are going to build a strong Canada together.
I want to see a Conservative leadership that says you can be a proud Conservative and care about the environment at the same time.
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I want to see a Bill Davis-style Conservative, who will bring Canadians together. The failure to do so will only result in another Liberal re-election.