Andrew Coyne sees Canada's Conservatives as heading down a dark road, one that may (hopefully) consign them to years in the political desert. He offers, as proof, this year's Manning Conference, now a love fest for right wing populism.
Consider what items might have been on the agenda. A forward-looking conference intended to help shape conservative responses to pressing national issues might have had sessions on how to address the sudden challenge to the international order, not to say the national interest, posed by Trump’s ascent.
It might have talked about how to preserve a world of open markets, and open societies, in the face of the populist-nationalist resurgence. It might have spent much time on the urgent problem of population aging, and the twin pressures — higher social costs, fewer workers to pay them — to which we will inevitably be exposed.
What, in fact, is on the agenda? There’s a session on Islamist extremism; another session on Islamist extremism; a session asking whether Trumpism can be exported to Canada, featuring a Trump campaign adviser; a session on how campus conservatives are being censored; another session on campus censorship; a session on the media; a session on the CBC (“Time to pull the plug?”).
It isn’t that these aren’t legitimate, even pressing issues in themselves — I’m hawkish on security myself, also hate political correctness, and have long called for the CBC to be defunded — or that the proposals under discussion are not valid.
But it cannot fail to be noticed that they are all pitched to a certain corner of the conservative tent, reflecting the particular obsessions of
the populist right. Indeed, there’s also a session entitled “Down with the Elites? Understanding the rise in anti-establishment sentiment,”
featuring inter alia that voice of introspection and understanding, Doug Ford.
Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with inviting any or even all of them — I’m friends with some — nor could a conference on conservatism in 2017 fail to pay some heed to the populist insurgence. But the scale of it, the disproportionate emphasis, and the uncritical stance, is telling.
The Manning Conference may not have gone so far down the populist road as its U.S. counterpart, the American Conservative Union, whose own conference, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), is coincidentally on this week (it was the ACU that first invited Milo, then disinvited him in the storm over his latest norm-busting pose, on the blessings of pedophilia) but it is clearly less interested in resisting the populist wave than riding it.
But conservatism and populism make uneasy partners at best, and it is unclear what will be left of the former if the latter continues to go