I grew up in rural Canada, on the Alberta prairies, surrounded by political minded brethren. Members of my family worked as members of the Canadian Parliament and in municipal political positions, as representatives of the Conservative party. In other words, conservatism was in my DNA from birth. I listened as my newspaper man father, my grass roots conservative farming grandfather, my always polemical Uncle Joe and my cigar-wielding diplomatic Uncle Roy, amongst others, talk of the devastation brought to Alberta by Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Policy throughout the entirety of my childhood. By the time I was 10 years old, Liberals were already no less than a Western hating hoard. I considered myself a conservative thinker ever since. Then things changed. I did the unthinkable this past Monday. Something at one time I never thought possible. I not only voted Liberal, I voted for the son of Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
Looking back now, it wasn’t the irresponsible spending and soaring debt from those claiming to be fiscally sound or a government that became bigger and bigger by the year from those who claimed to stand for less. It was deeper than that. For me, it came down to philosophical undertows, to the core of who I am, and above all else… who we truly are as Canadians.
First, it was watching Canada’s reputation as a diplomatic and even-handed country disappear into a cloud of hawkish and xenophobic policy over 10 years of a Harper government. Watching what were once smiles and handshakes come my way simply because of the country I call home, become looks of uncertainty while fielding questions about government and aggressive foreign policy – uncertainty I could understand, policies I could not defend. Second, back on home soil here in Canada, after so many years abroad, I returned to see the Prime Minster of my country play upon divisiveness and fear for political gain; fear and suspicion of the world at large, of those who are different, fear of losing homes and jobs, fear of attack and lack of security. As a middle aged man, I had never in my lifetime seen a Canadian politician, liberal or conservative, so blatantly make bigotry and fear a part of his campaign platform. That was American politics. Not Canadian. Not Canadian at all.
Comparatively, I watched Trudeau open his campaign at the gay pride parade in Vancouver, watched his inclusiveness, his open mindedness, as he stood squarely on the liberal principles upon which this country was founded. I watched as Trudeau, throughout the entirety of his campaign, consistently send out a message of unity to Canadians, and the Liberals thus operated on the principle that we can appeal to the better angels of our nature. And that he did, remaining positive, always. When the Conservatives rolled out the He’s Just Not Ready attack ads and reduced him to having little more than nice hair, I watched him avoid counter attacks, and simply say, “Conservatives are not our enemies, they are our neighbours.” When asked early on in his campaign about his chances of bringing Conservative thinkers over to the Liberal side of the political spectrum, I watched him prophetically answer, “We don’t need to convince them to leave the Conservative party, we just need to show them how Stephen Harper’s party has left them.”
And that is what happened. That is why the Conservative Party is no longer in power. The Harper government stopped being Conservative. They stopped, philosophically speaking, being Canadian.
And then, like so many, I realized I could vote Conservative no longer. I still respect the choice of those who did. I would never attack one’s intelligence or morality for their opinions. Moreover, in terms of Trudeau’s economic policies, yes indeed, they will differ from conservatism, will cost some more and some less, but all of Canada will not drop into the ocean, neither will Alberta, and a Depression will not set in. Echoing Harper’s fear-mongering does not represent us as Canadians. We will go to work. We will carry on with life. We will continue to be a prideful bunch. We will continue to do our best. We will do well. We will continue to be Canadian. And we will do so just as the many generations before us have when dealing with the pendulum shift of Liberal and Conservative governments.
Lastly, let us not forget that throughout the entirety of 20th century Canadians lived under a Liberal government for approximately 70 of those 100 years. By extension, it is an undeniable fact that we are amongst the greatest countries in the world in which to live out the human experience. And one can no doubt draw a line between the two…