Tories need new face, new ideas
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/08/2021 (466 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With Brian Pallister’s decision to not seek re-election and his announcement that he is leaving politics, his exit provides Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives with a real opportunity. In announcing his retirement, Pallister is giving the party, the future leader and, to some extent, the Conservative brand itself an opportunity for transformation and renewal.
The PCs are in a fortunate position with more than two years until the next provincial election, which will leave them ample time to choose a new leader and for the electorate (and the cabinet and caucus) to get to know our new premier. This new leader will be thrust into making significant decisions, including passing a budget and making the case to Manitobans that they ought to vote Progressive Conservative in the next election.
For the next two years, the Tories will remain in power and will have the opportunity to implement their ideas and show voters why they deserve a third term. To be successful, I suggest they make some changes to their brand and overall image.
To start, the Tories ought not to abandon their commitment to fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets and deep concern when spending the money of others. Balancing the provincial budget just prior to COVID-19’s onslaught was a godsend and meant the province could respond to the disruption of the pandemic with adequate public resources.
As the NDP and Liberal parties have effectively renounced fiscal responsibility and embraced modern monetary policy (in which public deficits and debts are regarded as insignificant), the Tories are the only party publicly proclaiming fiscal prudence. Most Canadians expect their governments to be thoughtful when spending their resources or borrowing from future generations.
I do, however, suggest that when implementing austerity — which is coming sooner than most Canadians think — Conservatives ought to shift the public narrative. The Tories should make clear that the preservation of the welfare state requires governments to use resources in a careful manner and that spending reductions, including those to public-sector wages, are the only means to protect our health, education and social-services sectors.
Difficult times are upon us. Public resources will become increasingly scarce, and this will require clear and honest communication with the electorate. Best to prepare for this eventuality.
Next, I suggest that they seek new solutions to the challenges we face. From child care to climate change and rising inequalities, the PCs need new policy ideas to challenge those being put forth by the other parties. They must eschew their conventional view that tax and regulation reductions and market-based solutions offer the best results. New, innovative, and viable alternatives must be presented to the public, and these can involve market-oriented solutions, but they must also draw on families, communities and, yes, the public sector to bring about tangible changes to how Canadians are governed.
The tired mantra that a smaller state, lower taxes and a freer market will resolve society’s problems will not do. Sean Speer, a public-policy analyst and former adviser to prime minister Stephen Harper, and his colleagues have initiated this dialogue through a new platform — The Hub — where they are seeking to broaden the appeal of the Conservative brand by engaging in thoughtful discussions and promoting real solutions to society’s problems.
The PCs must also broaden their appeal to attract suburban voters, especially women. They will only win a majority if they can increase their appeal to urban women — much like my wife — and to do this, they must pay close attention to the issues that resonate with this demographic. I would suggest that it is perhaps time for a woman to take the party’s helm.
Fortunately for the Tories, they have several capable, experienced women to choose from. A leading contender is Heather Stefanson, a seasoned MLA and cabinet minister who on Wednesday became the first to officially enter the leadership race. She has led vital organizational reforms, including reducing incarceration and child welfare involvement in the justice and families portfolios. Rochelle Squires and Shelly Glover also have extensive political experience.
Audrey Gordon, though new to the political scene, shows promise as a future leader within the party. While he does not meet the demographic criteria, Scott Fielding does have considerable political and cabinet experience and has managed well the province’s purse strings as finance minister. The Tories’ front bench holds numerous potential contenders.
Regardless of who wins this leadership race or even the next election, we, as a province and a country, face enormous problems regarding public finances and rising inflation. If poorly managed, both will bring about havoc. The former threatens to destroy our modern welfare state and all the goods and services it provides, and the latter will devastate living standards, especially for low-income individuals and families.
Bold, innovative and decisive actions are required to secure our future.
Malcolm G. Bird is an associate professor in the department of political science at the University of Winnipeg.